Chinese Architecture Features1

Ancient Chinese architecture enjoys a long history and great achievements, and created many architectural miracles such as the Great Wall. In the process of its development, superior architectural techniques and artistic design were combined to make unique Chinese architecture be one of the three greatest architectural systems.

Ancient Chinese architecture features unique timber framework that clearly identifies supporting structure and bonding structure. The top load of a structure will be transferred to its foundations through its posts, beams, lintels and joists. Walls bear no loading and separate space only so that windows and walls will not be restricted to certain locations on the walls. Timber framework decides that color is the main ornament used on ancient Chinese architecture. In the beginning, paint was used on wood for antisepsis while later painting became an architectural ornament. In the feudal society, the use of color was restricted according to strict social status classification. Since yellow was deemed noblest color and green the second, they were often applied on palace painting.

Colors—red and yellow

The use of the color had to be explained from Chinese cultural perspective.Only Chinese architecture belonging to the Imperial (royal) family or “sacred religious temple” (such as Confucius’s temple, some Imperial tomb, Imperial garden) had orange (or Yellow) roof top. This is because “Orange (Yellow in fact)” was the Color of the Chinese Imperial family, and thus anything associated with the Emperor such as gowns, clothing, chair, buildings had the color “Orange” (or Yellow). Common people were not allowed to use ‘orange’ (yellow) as the color of their items. Some of the temples had yellow roof top because it symbolized the importance of heaven, or the historical/religious figure revered (equal in par with the Emperor, son of heaven).

According to the theory of 5 elements (metal, wood, water, earth, fire), the earth was positioned in the center. And because Chinese civilization originated from “yellow earth” (in particular the Yellow river), the color “Yellow” came to symbolize a form of birth, reverence and worship. That’s why from Tang dynasty onwards, the Imperial family began to use “Yellow” (orange) as their color to symbolize the fact that they gave the birth of the Chinese nation. Certain religious buildings also used Yellow (orange). Ming and Qing Imperial buildings typically had orange yellow roof top.

As for ‘red color’, ‘red’ had the symbol of auspiciousness, beauty and wealth. It also had the symbol of warding off evilness, as it symbolized ‘fire’ and heat to ward off evil spirits. That’s why red was commonly used as the color for many Chinese festivals and celebration such as Chinese new year (see ‘red packet’), Chinese marriages (see rooms covered in red, dowry in red). The same thing happened to buildings of great importance such as Imperial architecture, religious building. Red was used primarily to symbolize auspiciousness, luck and to ward off evilness.


It was for this reason that ‘red’ and ‘orange’ were commonly used in Imperial architecture or religious buildings of great importance.

Note that some Chinese religious buildings used “blue” as their roof top, for e.g. temple of heaven in Beijing, simply because blue represented the color of the heaven.




Architecture Styles

Imperial Architecture

Imperial mausoleum

Imperial mausoleum architecture accounts for a major part in ancient Chinese architecture since they usually stand for the highest architectural techniques of the time. Emperors would often force thousands of the nation’s best architects to build these structures. They would withdraw millions, even billions from the exchequer to fund their tombs. These tombs were always magnificently deluxe and consisted of finest structures of the period. In vicissitude of the history, imperial mausoleums scattered around places which used to be capitals of different dynasties. These mausoleums were usually built against hills or mountains and facing plains. Most imperial mausoleums have broad ways called Shendao (the Sacred Way) at the entrance. Along both sides of the Shendao, there are stone sculptures of men and animals which guard the tombs. Other imperial structures were also built beside the tomb. Under huge hills of clay, splendid and superior structures were constructed with fine facilities such as drainage systems.


Imperial palace:

during the long Chinese history; emperors of different dynasties kept building palaces. Since palaces are where emperors live and practice their reign, palaces of different dynasties integrates essences of Chinese architecture. The famous palace complex, Efanggong built by and for Qin Shi Huang Emperor. Can you imagine that its Front Palace, built more than 2,000 years ago, covered 80,000 square meters and could hold 10,000 people? The Weiyanggong of the Western Han Dynasty had more than 40 palaces within a periphery of 11 kilometers. The Forbidden City, also called the Imperial Palace, which was set up under the reign of the Ming dynasty and still stands intact, covers an area of 720,000 square meters and consists of more than 9900 palaces and other structures. It is the grandest and biggest palace in the world.The Number “Nine” and Imperial architectureNine carried a special meaning in ancient China when it was deemed that odd numbers represent Yang while even numbers Yin. Since nine is the largest odd number under ten, it was regarded the extremely lucky number. So, emperors liked to monopolize it to symbolize their superiority. Designs related with nine appeared almost on every imperial structure such as palace. For example, on gates of the Forbidden City, there are 81 gold-plating bronze studs which were arranged in nine columns and nine rows. Ancient palaces usually were designed to be nine-section architectural complex. Based on the same reason, number or size concerning imperial architecture often equals or multiples nine.Dragon and PhoenixDragon and phoenix, called Long and Feng in Chinese respectively, are totems of Chinese people. They were used to represent emperors and their consorts and were the main decorative patterns to be seen on various imperial structures. Palaces, columns, pathways and screen walls were all inscribed or carved or painted with their images.

Daming Gong2

The Daming Gong (Daming Palace) is a political, economic and cultural center of the Tang Dynasty. In 1950s, China began the archaeological excavations of Daming Palace in the principle of protecting cultural heritage, improving surrounding environment and enhancing residents’ living standard, setting a good example of achieving the harmonious coexistence of cultural heritage and urban life. Visitors will have a fantastic 3D experience of touring the palace as it was 1300 years ago. In interactive programs such as “Seek Treasures in Daming Palace”, visitors can feel the cultural charm of the palace and China’s ancient capital Xi’an.




Yuan Ming Yuan3

The most magnificent garden in the history, the great Yuan Ming Yuan (Garden of Perfect Brightness) spanned a three-hundred-fifty hectare area with a fairyland of hills, ponds, lakes, ancient trees and palaces filled with one and half centuries of imperial treasure collections. However, it was tragically burned by the allied forces of the eight powers in 1860.

In the ancient and vast country of China, there are three construction works enjoying world-wide fame even today: The Great Wall, Stone Niche Temple of Dun Huan and Yuan Ming Yuan. Yuan Ming Yuan was the latest, yet the most ruined one.

For 139 years, Yuan Ming Yuan served for administration, vacation and living purpose for the six generations of emperors YongZheng, QianLong, JiaQing, DaoGuang and XianFeng in the Qing dynasty. The emperor and his wives would live in Yuan Ming Yuan after Chinese New Year until the end of autumn. Yuan Ming Yuan was the largest and most luxurious imperial garden, with a host of scenery sites representing different Chinese gardening styles. In terms of artistic and architectural values, Yuan Ming Yuan has a number of unique characteristics.


The Summer Palace

Feng Shui4

Fengshui, a special Chinese tradition in architecture, usually links the whole process from site selection, designing, construction and interior and exterior decorating in ancient times. Feng means wind and shui is water. Fengshui combines the trinity of the Heaven, the Earth and humans, and seeks harmony between selected site, orienting, natural doctrine and human fate. It repulses human destruction of nature and stresses cohabitation with the environment, which is regarded as perfect and occult.In China, a fengshui practitioner, or a diviner, usually applies theories as Yingyang, Sixiang, Wuxing and Bagua, based on the principle of the Heaven and the Earth in harmony, to select an optimum place for burial site or accommodation. Qi, deemed as the basic element of the physical world in ancient Chinese philosophy, is the essence of fengshui. The art of fengshui advocates there is a certain field, sort of like magnetic field, termed as qi field. An auspicious qi field is what fengshui practitioners seek while an evil one is what they strive to avoid. There are five elements – long (dragon), xue (cave), sha (sand), shui (water) and xiang (orientation). They are used to avoid evil qi and gain auspicious qi. In order to keep qi of the Heaven and the Earth in harmony in the construction of a new structure, earth vein should not be spoiled. The best orientation is a building with its face facing a river or a lake in the south and back against a hill in the north.Most ancient cities in China were built under guidance of fengshui, which was the main principle used to select locations based on their environmental surroundings. Fengshui helps to plan placement of structures of significance and confirm the location of city central axis. Usually the central axis of a city, or certain other architectural complex, ought to face certain peak of mountains nearby to make the city magnificent and solemn. For example, the Imperial Palace in Beijing was placed on the very center of the city, and its central axis points at Jingshan Mountain which was called Guard Mountain of the Palace.Fengshui practitioners also emphasize pagodas and their site location since pagodas are believed capable of protecting residents around them.Although there are still many people who believe it, many people now doubt this theory.

Historically, feng shui was widely used to orient buildings—often spiritually significant structures such as tombs, but also dwellings and other structures—in an auspicious manner. Depending on the particular style of feng shui being used, an auspicious site could be determined by reference to local features such as bodies of water, stars, or a compass. In feng shui as in Chinese martial arts, it refers to ‘energy’, in the sense of ‘life force’ or . A traditional explanation would include the orientation of a structure, its age, and its interaction with the surrounding environment including the local microclimates, the slope of the land, vegetation, and soil quality.



~ by xilain on November 25, 2011.

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