Information on ancient China Architecture
Ancient Chinese Architecture
China is a country with a long history, a rich cultural tradition and an ancient civilization. On this land, our ancestors left us an abundance of splendid, time-honored architectural legacy, which has undergone thousands of years of development to become a distinct part of world architectural history. These features are demonstrated mainly in the following aspects:
1. Chinese Architecture Wooden Framework
Wooden frameworks for buildings appeared at a very early period of Chinese history. First, rows of wooden pillars are raised from the ground, on which horizontal wooden roof beams and crossbeams are placed. The roof timbers are laid on the beams, so that the weight of the roof is all transmitted to the ground by way of the beams and the upright pillars. The advantages of this form of structure are as follows: First, the wooden framework bears all the weight of the building, which makes the installation of both the outer and inner walls flexible and able to be placed in accordance with practical needs. For example, the outer walls can be substantial, thick and made of bricks or stones in the north, and thin, made of bamboo and wooden planks in the south. Doors and windows can be installed between the erected pillars, or the pillars can be left open. Inside, the house can be divided into spaces with different purposes using wooden partitions and screens. Second, the wooden framework is shock resistant, because the parts are linked by mortise-and-tenon joints. So, when subjected to a violent shock such as that from an earthquake, a wooden framework is less likely to break or fall down than a brick or stone one. The wooden pagoda at Fogong Temple in Yingxian County, Shanxi Province, is a 67-m-high wooden structure. In its over 900 years of existence it has been jolted by several earthquakes, but it still stands erect and firm. Third, a wooden framework is easy to construct. Wood is a natural material, not like bricks and tiles which are manufactured. Compared with stones which are also natural materials, wood is much easier to obtain, refine and work on. Covering an area of 720,000 sq m and with nearly 1,000 wooden-framework buildings totaling 160,000 sq m, the Forbidden City (the former Imperial Palace) in Beijing, built in its present form in the Ming Dynasty, took 13 years from the preparation of materials to total completion, in which almost ten years' time was for the preparation of materials, and the time for construction on the spot was no more than three to four years.
Of course, wooden structures also have their disadvantages. Their durability is not as good as structures of brick or stone. Wood is vulnerable to fire and humidity, and attacks by insects. Thus, wooden structures tend to last a shorter time than brick or stone structures. For example, such an important building as the Taihedian (Hall of Supreme Harmony) in the Forbidden City had had to be rebuilt time and again after being destroyed by fire. Besides, wood grows very slowly and cannot be cut on a large scale recklessly.
2. Chinese Architecture Collective Layout of Structures
Traditional Chinese buildings are always found in pairs of groups, whether they are residences, temples of palaces.
The siheyuan (courtyard house or quadrangle) in Beijing is the typical form of residence in north China. It is a compound with houses around a square courtyard. The main house in the courtyard is occupied by the head of the family, and the junior members live in the wings on each side. This layout not only conforms to the feudal Chinese family moral principle of distinction between the older and younger, and male and female members, but also provides a quiet and private environment for family life. In the north, the land is vast and the population is not so large, and so the courtyard there are large, and the buildings one-storied; in the south°™in Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangxi provinces°™there is comparatively little land for the large population, and so the courtyards are small, and the buildings two-storied and located on all four sides of the courtyards. This is called a tianjing (skylight) courtyard house. In the case of very large families, several tianjing courtyard houses can be connected to make a large residence with several courtyards.
Temples and palaces also sometimes display this layout. In the Forbidden City in Beijing, there are nearly 1,000 halls of varied sizes which are all grouped around large or small courtyards. Of these courtyards, the biggest is in the Outer Palace, formed by the Taihemen (Gate of Supreme Harmony), the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Tirenge (Hall of Manifested Benevolence) and the Hongyige (Hall of Enhanced Righteousness). It has an area of over 30,000 sq m. In the Inner Palace in the rear section of the Forbidden City, the Six Eastern Palaces and the Six Western Palaces were the residences of the imperial concubines, the empress and the empress dowager. They are all small-scale separate courtyard connected by lanes, and compose the largest palatial complex in the world.
In some mountain areas and other places with complicated landforms, structures or courtyards cannot be connected with each other regularly and symmetrically. They can only be laid out according to the local topography. In the mountain areas in southeast Guizhou Province, the Miao and Dong peoples build their houses on wooden or bamboo stilts. Built according to the rise and fall of the landform and arranged in rows with the mountain contours, these houses compose one village after another in picturesque disorder.
In garden architecture, in order to create an environment with hills and waters of natural beauty in a limited space, structures are usually carefully separated and laid irregularly to make variable spaces and different landscapes. Although occasionally grouped around courtyards, the pavilions, terraces, towers and halls are often separate scenes with a tenuous connection between them.
In both regular and irregular architectural complexes, decorative archways, pillars, screen walls, and stone lions and tablets besides small buildings play an important role in dividing space and forming scenes.
Most structures in traditional Chinese architecture are simple rectangles, and it is the architectural complex composed by single structures rather than the single structures themselves that expresses the broadness and magnanimousness of ancient Chinese architecture.