Sunday, September 7, 2008


Paifang , also called pailou , is a traditional form like an archway.

The word Pai-fang originally was a collective term used to describe the top two levels of administrative division and subdivisions of ancient Chinese city. The largest division within a city in ancient China was a ''Fang'' , equivalent to current day precinct. Each fang was enclosed by walls or fences, and the gates of these enclosure were shut and guraded every night. Each fang was further divided into several Plate or ''Pai'' , which is equivalent to current day community. Each pai , in turn, contained an area including several hutongs. This system of urban administrative division and subdivision reached an elaborate level during Tang Dynasty, and was remained in the following dynasties. For example, during Ming Dynasty, Beijing was divided into a total of 36 fangs . Originally, the word ''Paifang'' was used as a term to describe the gate of a fang and the marker for an entrance of a building complex or a town; but by the Song Dynasty ''Paifang'' had evolved into a purely decorative monument.

Paifang comes in a number of forms. One form involves placing wooden pillars onto stone bases, and bound together with wooden beams. This type of Paifang is always beautifully decorated, with the pillars usually painted in red, the beams decorated with intricate designs and Chinese calligraphy, and the roof covered with coloured tiles, complete with mythical beasts - just like a Chinese palace.

Another form of Paifang is in the form of true archways made of stone or bricks; the walls may be painted in white or red, or decorated with coloured tiles; the top of the archways are decorated like their wooden counterparts.

Yet another form of Paifang, built mainly on religious and burial grounds, consists of plain white stone pillars and beams, with neither roof tiles nor any coloured decoration, but feature elaborate carvings created by master .

Outside of China, the Paifang has long been the symbol of Chinatowns.

, "Chastity Paifangs" were given to widows who remained unmarried till death, praising what was seen as loyalty to their deceased husbands.

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