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Cultural Spirit and World Status of Chinese Architecture - Chinese Architecture
An ancient civilized nation and a great country on the East Asian continent, China possesses a vast territory covering 9.6 million square kilometers, and a population accounting for over one-fifth of the world's total, with 56 nationalities and a recorded history of 3,000 years, during which it has created a unique, outstanding traditional Chinese Culture. China's architectural art is a particularly beautiful branch in the tree of Chinese civilization. 


Generally speaking, there were about seven main independent architectural systems in the ancient world, some of which had long been interrupted, or had not been widely circulated. Therefore their achievements and influence were relatively limited, such as ancient Egyptian, West Asian, Indian and American structures. Only Chinese, European and Islamic structures are considered to be the world's three major architectural systems. The Chinese and European structures continued over the longest period of time and spread over the widest area and therefore they gained more brilliant achievements.

Traditional Chinese architecture is based mainly on Han architecture, comprising roughly 15 types such as city, palace, temple, mausoleum, monastery, Buddhist pagoda, grottoes, garden, government office, folk public building, landscape, tower and pavilion, imperial palace, residential house, great wall and bridge.

China's earliest prehistoric structures were born at the juncture of the Old and New Stone Age about 10,000 years ago, when primitive agriculture began to emerge and people's desire to settle in one place began to become stronger. Structures (such as caves), which showed the earliest initial demand for beauty, i.e., the artistic demand in its broad sense, appeared in the middle and later parts of the New Stone Age around 4,000 years BC.

In the long process of development, China's architecture has consistently kept intact the basic character of the system. In the Shang Dynasty (17th century-11th century BC), palaces and mausoleums of large scale appeared. It is during the Western Zhou and Spring & Autumn periods that cities came into being, and the appearance and wide practice of tiles at that time was a great step forward in Chinese architectural history. In terms of a structural system, traditional Chinese structures ended in the early 20th century.

Based on the soil of China's long-term patriarchal society, China's architecture has gained the greatest achievements in palatial and capital city plans, giving prominence to the supremacy of authoritarianism and strict obsession of hierarchy, which are obviously different from the still higher achievements gained by European, Islamic or ancient Indian architecture in temple, church, mosque and other religious structures. The palace had its roots in the Xia Dynasty and reached its pinnacle in the Sui and Tang dynasties and became even more exquisite in the Qing Dynasty. The pattern of the complete capital city plan had been formed in the Western Zhou Dynasty. Importance was paid to standard rule and symmetry, giving prominence to the pattern of the imperial palace. In the Spring and Autumn Warring States Period when "courtesy disintegrated and music destroyed", the standardized pattern was somewhat damaged. But the Han Dynasty began to restore the standard rule and this process was completed in the Sui and Tang dynasties, and was enriched during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Chang'an(present Xi'an), capital of the Sui and Tang dynasties, Dadu of Yuan Dynasty and Beijing of the Ming and Qing dynasties are the three capitals enjoying the highest reputation in Chinese history.

China's patriarchal and ethical concepts also influenced almost all structural types. For instance, the quasi-religious architectural altars and temples for worshipping deity and wise men and sages, as well as imperial mausoleums developed against the cultural backgrounds where in particular emphasis was placed on blood and clan relationship, and importance was attached to such concepts as "carefully attending to the funeral rites of parents and following them when gone with due sacrifices" and "taking death as life". They were structural types almost unique to China, their grand scale and their solemn and respectful atmosphere became the focus of attention.

Buddhism from India was the main religion prevailing in China, and Buddhist structures such as temples and pagodas emerged. But although subjected to Indian influence in the early stages, they quickly began the process of becoming Chinese-style structures, giving expression to the esthetic standards and cultural character of the Chinese, filled with the atmosphere of tranquillity, peace and introversion, completely different from the extroverted, turbulent atmosphere of Western religious structures. Taoism is the indigenous religion of China, and Taoist temples, like Buddhist ones, have a serene charm. The pagoda occupies an important position in the history of China's architectural art, and find seven more distinctive expressions in terms of diverse types, rich forms, and the character of times and regions.

The Chinese cultural spirit, based on its high coordination with nature, shows ardent love and respect for nature. Structures seem to bean organic component of nature and are different from other architectural systems which place more emphasis on the contrast between artificiality and nature. This finds visible reflection in various types of Chinese structures, such as the selection and layout of sites for cities, villages, towns, tombs or residences. They find outstanding expression in garden sand belong to a natural type, different from European or Islamic geometric gardens. Chinese gardens are mainly imperial and private gardens. The latter give more expressions to the esthetic state of mind of literati and scholars. Existing gardens have the highest accomplishments in regions south of the Yangtze River, a fresh, beautiful and refined style and exquisite and ingenious technique; the former are developed mostly unearth China, and the largest existing concentration is in the Beijing area, which are huge in scale and have a beautiful style. Chinese gardens enjoy a high reputation in the world and are acclaimed as "mother of world gardens", by Europeans.

Chinese architecture has spread to the vast East Asian region, including the countries of Korea, Japan, Viet Nam and Mongolia, which combine to form the East Asian architecture centered on China. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, China's architecture, particularly its horticulture differed completely from the Western one. It began to become known to Europe and exercised some influence. As far back as the Han and Jin dynasties, Chinese architecture had accepted influences from South and Central Asia, which had been merged into an organic part of Chinese architecture through the long process of history.

China's architecture pays particular attention to the beauty of group combination, and often adopts a central-axis, symmetric compact composition method. But some types, Such as gardens, certain mountain forest Taoist temples and certain residences adopt the method of free combination. No matter which composition method is adopted, great attention is paid to the pursuit of neutral, easy, reserved and deep esthetic characters, giving expressions to the esthetic habits of the Chinese nation.

Chinese architecture constitutes the only system based mainly on wooden structures of unique charming appearance. This differs from all other architectural systems in the world which are based mainly on brick and stone structures. A structure not only has its engineering and technical significance, but the structural and decorative beauty manifested in its resourceful and ingenious combination are themselves part of the architectural beauty .In the case of a wooden structural system, in particular, its complexity and delicacy are unmatched by brick and stone structures, and therefore demonstrate the wisdom of the Chinese. Further processing of the frame members of organic structures and other affiliated frame units forms unique Chinese constructional decoration, including interior and exterior decoration, color painting, wooden, brick and stone sculptures and color glaze, all of which contain very richtechniques and a vivid development process.

The structures of various minority nationalities of China, each with its graceful bearing, have enriched the overall charming appearance of Chinese architecture. Tibetan structures are deeply rooted in the soil of the unique Tibetan Buddhist Culture, although they have absorbed some images and techniques of Han nationality structures. Tibetan structures, however, have formed their own system. They contain unique features, Such as a grand scale, bright colors, and an unsophisticated and magnificent character .The Uygur has gained the greatest achievements in Islamic construction, which belongs to the global Islamic architectural system, a simple and charming model of quiet, meditative character. The Dai nationality believes in Buddhism, and their buildings are deeply influenced by Thai and Myanmar structures. Apart from balustrade-type residences of unique features, the graceful and exquisite temples and pagodas are even more charming. Although buildings of the Dong nationality are largely influenced by Han structures, they are renowned at home and abroad with their unique drum towers and weather-proof bridges. In addition, the Islamic structures of the Hui nationality, residences of the Naxi, Bai, Tujia and Korean nationalities all radiate their own splendor The architectural works of art of these ethnic groups, like stars glittering in the sky, jointly form the splendid Chinese architecture together with Han nationality structures.

Today, based on its traditional soil, Chinese architecture has absorbed foreign architectural culture and continued to forge ahead by complying with the requirements of our time and using new architectural techniques. Over the past 10 to 20 years, in particular, Chinese architecture, with the new period of reform and opening up as the turning point, has stridden forward at a rapid pace and gained initial, gratifying achievements.

Palaces -- A Structure of the Utmost Maturity and Highest Accomplishment - Chinese Architecture
A palace was a structure of the utmost maturity, highest accomplishment and largest scale in China's development, clearly reflecting the characteristics of traditional Chinese culture which stressed a stable social and political order. A palace was the place where the emperor met his ministers and lived. In addition to meeting the emperor's material living demands, it provided strong spiritual influence to the people and prominence to the emperor's authority mainly through its solemn and magnificent majesty, its grand scale and compact spatial pattern.

To achieve this, ancient Chinese architects adopted three kinds of architectural artistic techniques: first was showing the (volume and quantitative) difference of architecture: the more respectable structure, the greater its volume and the quantity of single structures that form this building complex; the second was that the axial symmetric method was stressed in the layout of the complex; the third was expanding the axial symmetric layout to all capital cities, further setting off the importance of the palace. Therefore, there was an inseparably close relationship between China's palaces and capital cities. Their development represented the process of continuous enrichment and perfection of the above-mentioned concepts.

There were several famous palaces during the Qin and Han dynasties (221BC-220AD), such as the Epang Palace in Xianyang of the Qin Dynasty, the Weiyang Palace and Jianzhang Palace in Chang'an of the Han Dynasty. This marked the first upsurge in palatial construction, but due to remote antiquity details are not very clear.

The second upsurge was set off during the Sui and Tang dynasties (581-907), such as the Daming Palace of the Tang Dynasty, and the perfectly preserved Forbidden City of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911).

Chinese architecture is most famous for the Great Wall of China. But, there is so much more to Chinese Architecture than just that huge wall. Their temples are large and extravagant. Their palaces are a pleasure to look at. Even their roofs are breathtaking and detailed to the last drop of gloss or paint. Probably the most under-appreciated structure in all of China is the Forbidden City. If you would like to find more information about Chinese architecture, then you have come to the right place.

When you have a tour especially to Beijing's hutongs, some travel agencies may arrange with local people to visit their courtyards and rooms. Some travel agencies may also bring you to a kindergarten after you finish your visits to hutongs. In the kindergarten, you can see how the lovely boys and girls study and live. You can also talk with the teachers and the children to feel the development of modern China for yourself.

Altars and Temples
Altars and temples occupy an important place in ancient Chinese Architecture. They are ceremonial sites between religious and non-religious buildings and are served for offer sacrifices to the heaven, the earth, the sun, the moon, the country, mountains, emperor and scholars of the past, as well as ancestors.

Temple of Heaven: The temple was where the Emperor came every winter solstice to worship heaven and to solemnly pray for a good harvest. Read More

Confucian Temple
The Confucian Temple locates in the center of Qufu City. It is famous for the oriental architectural features and large scale. Together with the Imperial Palace in Beijing and Mountain Resort in Chengde of Heibei Province, the Confucian Temple is one of the three great building complexes in ancient China.
Temple of Guanyu
The Temple of God of Warrior is also called Temple of Guanyu because it is a place to worship Guanyu, a famous warrior in the Three Kingdoms Period. Guanyu was greatly praised and was granted titles by emperors after the Song Dynasty for many times. He was regarded as a good example of man with faith, filial piety, justice and moral integrity. So he is called God of Warrior.

Mausoleums make a very important part in ancient Chinese architectures. In ancient times, people in China believe that the sprit dose not die with the body. They attached importance to the funeral so much that every class of the society designed the mausoleums elaborately. In the long history, Chinese mausoleum buildings have well developed. The large scales of kings’ and queens' mausoleums are rarely seen in the world. The mausoleums are integrated with various arts, such as painting, calligraphy, carving and so on. Therefore, mausoleum architecture is a synthesis of achievements in many artistic fields. The overall arrangements of Chinese mausoleums always include walls around, doors opened to four directions, as well as turrets on four corners.

Mausoleums are the most majestic and also the biggest building complexes in ancient China. These mausoleums are always built back on the mountains; some of them are also on the plains. There is usually a paved path leading to the tomb with stone persons and stone beast on both sides. Many trees, usually pines and cypresses, are planted around the mausoleums, which add to the atmosphere of solemn, respectful and quiet.

City Walls
Ancient Chinese cities often circled by two huge walls. The inner wall is called " cheng", while the outer wall is called " guo". " Cheng Guo" is used to refer to the ancient city walls.

There are also moats surrounding the walls. In the past times, the moat was called " chi", and the inner city was called " geng". The city wall and the moat are called " cheng chi" as a whole. The ancient cities had an integrated architectural system, for example, there are 2 to 3 gates to the city. (Big cities usually have more gates. The Beijing inner city has 9 gates in the Ming and Qing Dynasties). There is always a tower over the city gate. The number of the tower is always the same as that of the gate. There are also four watchtowers at each corner of the city wall. In order to reinforce the city wall, a section of the city wall, also known as " ma mian" is projected to the outside in every certain distance. In the inner side of the city wall, cavalries with their horses can climb up the wall by the horse path.

Nanjing City Wall was built during the Ming Dynasty. The wall is 14 meters wide at the base and it's 14-21 meters tall. There are 13,616 crenels, 200 sheds, 13 gates on the wall, among which the most spectacular gates are Jubao Gate, Sanshan Gate and Tongji Gate. The solid wall was made of huge stones as the base and huge bricks.

Irrigation Systems
Dujiangyan Irrigation System
The Dujiangyan Irrigation System is a historical Chinese irrigation and flood control system constructed around 250 BC by governor of Shu, Li Bing and his son, 56 km west of present day Chengdu, which it still supplies with water. This irrigation system diverts part of the Minjiang River into an aqueduct leading to Chengdu.
Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal
The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, also known as Grand Canal of China, is the largest ancient canal or artificial river in the world.

As a kind of unique architecture rooted in India, pagodas in China were constructed since the Buddhism was introduced to China. The pagodas, generally known as the carrier of Buddhism culture, found its integration in the traditional Chinese architecture and the design was greatly changed. The nationalization of Indian pagoda demonstrates the good virtues of the Chinese of both highly intelligent and willing to incorporate things of diverse culture.

Old Bridges
Zhaozhou Bridge: Since it was build, this bridge has withstood 10 floods, eight battles, and many earthquakes including a 7.2 degree earthquake in 1966. Yet, the support structure remains intact and the bridge is still in use.
Lugou Bridge (Marco Polo Bridge):
Lugou Bridge was constructed in the 29th year of the Dading Era in the Jin Dynasty (1189 AD) and completed in the 3rd year of the Mingchang Era (1192 AD). The bridge is 266.5 meters long. It has 501 stone lions (another saying is that it has 502) on the balustrades and 11 arches. The bridge has a history of more than 800 years.

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