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traditional Chinese architectural

the primary construction material. As one of the three famous architectural styles, together with Western and Islamic architecture, Chinese architecture is distinguished by the following main characteristics: 1)its greatest achievements are the royal palaces and city planning, which reflect China's supreme imperial authority and social estate system; 2) its courtyards were built around an axis; 3)it is in perfect harnmony with nature. Chinese architectural styles resonate the moral principles, aesthetic conceptions and values of Chinese people.

It is generally accepted that traditional Chinese architectural style can be classified into several categories: royal palaces, residential houses, and religious temples and pagodas and tombs. However, the architectural styles of different regions and nationalities in China may vary in characteristics and functions. Travelling all the way from the Northern China to the South, from the Yellow River down to the Yangtze River, from the province of Heilongjiang, Shandong, and Shanxi to Tibet, Yunnan, and Guangxi, you will be moved by the works of Chinese architects whose differences styles, structures, and materials can be found in various regions, even in different districts within the same city.

A map of Chinese Architecture based on the above-mentioned classifications will help you to understand Chinese architectural style, showing you the splendid architecture of China.


   Hutong, the unique feature of Beijing, is a kind of ancient city alley or lane typical in Beijing. The life of ordinary people in these lanes contributes greatly to the charm of this ancient capital. No one knows exactly how many lanes there are in Beijing. It is said that if we connected all these lanes, their total length would be longer than the famous Great Wall, which is more than 6,000 kilometer' long.

Beijing's hutongs are also a kind of architecture. It reflects the vicissitude of society. Most of the Hutongs look almost the same with grey walls and bricks. However, in these small lanes, you'll find many siheyuan, called “quadrangles”. Quadrangles are the living quarters of ordinary Beijingers, which are a kind of enclosure of buildings complex formed by four houses standing on the four sides. Beijing Hutong 

Quadrangles (Siheyuan)

Dwelling compounds or quadrangles (Siheyuan) in Beijing are one important aspect of the city's architectural heritage. Beijing's dwelling compounds are generally rectangular, with the four sides squarely facing the cardinal points. Almost every dwelling compound is surrounded by high walls, with an open courtyard in the centre. The buildings on four sides are usually one storey high. Stepping over the high wooden base of the front gate of a large compound, you will find a brick screen located a few feet inside. In front of the screen is the outer courtyard, which is flanked by structures to the east and west. In former days, these were the kitchen and servants' living quarters. A red-painted gate leads through the north wall of the outer court into the inner courtyard.

The main building faces south to get the maximum possible sunshine in winter, and the eaves provide a pleasant shade in summer when the sun is high. The building is divided into three or five rooms: living or community rooms in the centre with smaller bedroom or studies at each end.

The buildings facing east and west on each side of the court were constructed to accommodate married children and their families. Some dwelling compounds consist of several courtyards. With no steel or concrete, the entire dwelling was built of bricks and wood. The compounds are quiet, beautiful and compact. Therefore, you will definitely feel a friendly and harmonious atmosphere. Children living in one courtyard play together and grow up like one family. The elder people just live together and communicate with each other very easily. Beijing residents like to live in them and even foreigners find them attractive.

The rickshaw hutong tour will give you fresh insight into Beijing's local life. The drivers are all from rural village in central China. They are strong, friendly and fun. In addition to the rickshaw tour, in the spring, summer and fall, you may cruise in the traditional man-paddled wooden boats for further appreciation of Beijing. Other interesting places on this tour include: the Drum Tower, the Residence of Prince Gong, and the residence of local people. Beijing's Siheyuan

Zoomorphic Ornaments

Chinese palaces, temples and mansions have on their roofs a special kind of ornaments called wenshou or zoomorphic ornaments, some on the main ridges and some on the sloping and branch ridges. The monstrous thing at either end of the main ridge, called chiwen, appears roughly like the tail of a fish. Fierce and formidable, it looks as if it were ready to devour the whole ridge; so it is also known as tunjishou or the ridge-devouring beast.

It is, according to Chinese mythology, one of the sons of the Dragon King who rules the seas. It is said to be able to stir up waves and change them into rains. So ancient Chinese put a chiwen at either end of the main ridge for its magic powers to conjure up a downpour to put out any fire that might break out. But for fear that it might gobble up the ridge, they transfixed it on the roof with a sword. At the end of the sloping and branch ridges there are often a string of smaller animals, their sizes and numbers being decided by the status of the owner of the building in the feudal hierarchy.

The largest number of zoomorphic ornaments is found on the Taihedian Throne Hall or the Hall of Supreme Harmony of the Forbidden City. Leading the flock is a god riding a phoenix, after whom come a dragon, a phoenix, a lion, a heavenly horse, a sea horse and five other mythological animals, all called by unusual names. Qianqinggong (the Palace of Heavenly Purity), which the emperor used as his living quarters and his office for handling daily affairs, being next in status to Taihedian, has a band of nine animal figures.    

Still next in importance is Kunninggong (the Palace of Female Tranquility), which served as the empress's apartments; it has a group of seven zoomorphic figures. This number is further reduced to five for the twelve halls in side courtyards, that used to house the imperial concubines of different grades. Some of the side halls have only one animal figure each on their roofs. These small animals were also believed to be capable of putting out fires. While this can be easily dismissed as superstition, they do add to the grandeur and magnificence of the imperial buildings.

The earliest ridge animals so far discovered in the country came to light in 1960 in a suburban area of Shashi, Hubei Province. On the interior wall of a roll tile which served as the body of a ridge animal figure was engraved "first year of Yuanguang," which means the year 134 B.C. It can be seen that installing animal figures on roof-ridges has been an established practice for at least 2,100 years. 

Archway (Pailou)


The pailou, also known as paifang, is an archway of a memorial or decorative nature. It could be made of wood, brick or stone, with or without glazed tiles, often carrying some inscriptions on the middle beam. The normal places where such archways stood were thoroughfare crossroads, shrines and temples, government offices, bridges, parks, tombs and mausoleumns, and they generally carried inscriptions to propagate certain moral principles or to extol government achievements.

The pailou could also serve as the facade of a shop to prettify its entrance and attract customers. Many a pailou was erected to praise the "lofty virtues' of certain individuals in the locality. Fettered by the feudal ethical code, many widowed women refrained from remarriage just in the hope to have "pailou of chastity" built for them when they reached a ripe old age. According to relevant records, there used to be some 57 archways in old Beijing. Among the well-known ones were one each at the crossroads of Dongdan and Xidan, four each at Dongsi and Xisi, one at Qianmen and a couple standing astride Chang'anjie, the main street running east-west in front of Tian'anmen.
Nearly all of these have been taken apart or moved elsewhere. A well-preserved pailou is the one in front of the main entrance to the Summer Palace Park. Built 200 years ago, it is composed of four columns forming three arches and carrying on top seven roofed ornamental units. Inscribed in front and at the back are two Chinese classical characters each, succinctly summing up the beauty of the hill and the lake in the park. Painted on it amidst rich colour are 176 golden dragons and 36 golden phoenixes, giving the visitor a foretaste of the sumptuous splendour that he is going to witness.

Among the pailou of imperial mausoleums, the best-known is the great archway standing at the southern end of the grounds of Beijing's Ming Tombs, the first structure that the visitor will see. A pailou of 6 columns, 5 arches and 11 superstructures, it is built entirely of white marble, and its stone columns are engraved with dragons, lions, unicorns and other mythical animals to display the power and dignity of the imperial house. Majestic and simple, it measures 28.86 metres wide and stands 14 metres high in the middle, one of the greatest of its kind in the country. In the city proper of Beijing, a few other ancient archways have survived down to this day. There is a glaze-tiled pailou of 3 arches and 7 superstructures in Shenlujie Street, Chaoyang District. Not far from the Lama Temple (Yonghegong), in the side street of the ancient Imperial College (Guozijian), two pailou have been renovated recently and are shining with new lustre.Tangyue Memorial Archways

Chinese Stone Lions

Lion is a special animal to Chinese people. A pair of stone lions, a male and a female, can often be seen in front of the gates of traditional buildings. The male lion is on the left with his right paw resting on a ball, and the female on the right with her left paw fondling a cub. The lion was regarded as the king in the animal world so its imagines represented power and prestige. The ball played by the male lion symbolized the unity of the empire, and the cub with the female thriving offspring.

The stone lions were also used to indicate the ranks of officials by the number of lumps representing the curly hair on the head of the lion. The houses of first grade officials had lions with 13 lumps and the number of lumps decreased by one as the rank of the official went down each grade. Officials below the seventh grade were not allowed to have stone lions in front of their houses.     
It is interesting to note that China had no lions originally. It is believed that when Emperor Zhang of the Eastern Han reigned in AD 87, the King of Parthia presented a lion to him. Another lion was given by a Central Asian country known as Yuezhi in the next year.

The earliest stone lions were sculpted at the beginning of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220 AD) with the introduction of Buddhism into ancient China. It is said, Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, was seen after birth "to point to Heaven with one hand and to Earth with another, roaring like an lion." In the Buddhist faith, the lion is considered a divine animal of nobleness and dignity, which can protect the Truth and keep off evils.

It was also popular to decorate bridges with sculpted-stone lions for the same reason. The best known of this is the Lugouqiao (also as Marco Polo Bridge), built from 1189 to 1192. The stone lions on the posts of the bridge are most famous. It is said there are 485 lions in all, but there may be 498 or 501. A famous proverb says "the lions on the Lugouqiao are uncountable."

Chinese Classical Gardens

Garden architecture, an important part of ancient Chinese architecture is a combination of structures and man-made landscape with natural scenery. It does not only provide lodging but also landscaping with architecture, environment and human in full harmony. The ancient Chinese garden originated in the Shang and Zhou dynasties, when monarchs began to build parks for their own leisure and pleasure. During the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period, it was a fashion to build gardens. Until the Han dynasty private gardens appeared. After the Jin, and Northern and Southern dynasties, private gardens came into vogue as the rich and powerful sought to express their sentiment in landscaping.Famous Chinese Gardens

During the Tang and Song dynasties, a poetic touch was added to the layout and scenes of a garden, and became a general feature. In the Qing dynasty, garden architecture reached its peak. There are many classifications according to different criteria. Herein garden architecture falls into four categories. Imperial gardens: These gardens, usually spacious, exquisite and grandiose, were built for royal families by thousands people. Images of these gardens will linger in one's mind forever.
Now most former imperial gardens are in Beijing. Private gardens: These gardens are usually built in urban areas, neighbored with residences. Since land is expensive in cities private gardens are generally small and simple but delicate and look tasteful and play multiple functions. Most famous private gardens are situated in Suzhou, Jiangsu.

Monastic gardens: These gardens are commonly found in monasteries against quiet and verdant mountains. With natural beauty, these gardens are solemn within the sacred atmosphere. Garden architecture in scenic resorts: These gardens usually occupy large public areas since they are based on the combination of natural scenes and man-made landscape and structures in suburb area or mountains.  Chinese Garden

Suzhou Gardens

The Classical Gardens of Suzhou was listed on the List of World Heritage in 1997. During the prosperous Ming and Qing Dynasties, from the 16th to the 18th century in particular, Suzhou saw a booming economy. Consequently, the number of gardens in the city of Suzhou and its environs increased a great deal, mounting to 200 odd. Dozens of them have survived to the present and are kept in a good state of preservation. With their numerical superiority and artistic perfection, the classical gardens of Suzhou have had a good reputation in this part of China, popularly known as "the earthly paradise".

Classical gardens of Suzhou are located in the city of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, which lies on the bank of Tai Lake of the Yangtze Delta, favorable in natural conditions, and advanced in social development, economy, and culture. The history of the classical gardens of Suzhou can be traced back to the royal gardens of King Wu in the 6th century B.C., and the earliest record of private garden is the Pijiang Garden in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (4 century A.D.). The garden design and construction in Suzhou came to its prime time between 16th and 18th century, when private gardens could be found everywhere in and out of this ancient city. According to the records, there were more than 200 gardens at that time, dozens of which survived to today.   
Classical gardens of Suzhou employs the unique garden design and construction technique in China, recreating poetic and picturesque natural landscapes in miniature within the limited space beside civilian residences by adding ponds, lakeside rocks and rockeries, planting flowers and trees, and building interesting constructions. Those "hills and forests within the city", full of natural taste, succeeded in creating an environment featuring the harmony between man and the nature, and indicated people's honor to the nature and their wish to be blended into the nature in ancient times. The classical gardens of Suzhou are the material evidences of the history of Chinese garden design and building, the model for Chinese garden art, and the important examples for the studies in Chinese garden theory. "China is the country who can build best gardens in the world, and gardens of Suzhou are the most outstanding examples of Chinese gardens."

Laid out within a limited area by the house, a classical garden of Suzhou is a microcosm of the world made of the basic elements of water, stones, plants and different kinds of buildings with literary allusions. Like a freehand brushwork in traditional Chinese painting, it is the creation of "urban scenery" or an amicable environment that brings man into harmony with nature. Built in a period when privately-owned gardens were most flourishing, the Humble Administrator's Garden, the Lingering Garden, the Master-of-Nets Garden and the Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty, noted for their beautiful scenes, elegant buildings and literary connotations, represent the concentrated essence of wisdom of the Chinese and the finest specimens of all classical gardens of Suzhou. Like shining pearls, they are a brilliant part of Chinese cultural heritage.the Classical Gardens of Suzhou

China is a great country with a written history of about 5000 years. She has a vast territory, topographically higher in the northwest and lower in the southeast. Networked with rivers, she has the best-known valleys of the Yangtze River, the Yellow River and the Pearl River, which are the cradle of the Chinese nation and her brilliant culture. Throughout history, the Chinese nation has erected thousands of bridges, which form an important part of her culture.

Ancient Chinese bridges are universally acknowledged and have enjoyed high prestige in the bridge history of both the East and the West. Ancient Chinese bridges can be classified under four categories: the beam, arch, and cable suspension bridges. The earliest reference to the beam bridge in Chinese history is the Ju Bridge dating from the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th century B.C.). King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty launched a campaign against King Zhou (Zhou Wang), and having captured Zhaoge -capital of the Shang Dynasty (now northeast to Quzhou County, Hebei Province), at the Ju Bridge, he ordered a hoard of millet distributed to the relief of the poor. From the Zhou Dynasty through to the Qin and Han Dynasties, bridges with timber beams and stone piers were predominant. 
There are different views on the origin of arches. Some believe the first arch was a natural formation over the caverns, others claim that it was brought into being by the piling of the collapsed stones, and still others hold that it was evolved from the "false arch" which was formed by the openings in the walls. However, a study of the tombs and the extant old arches in China indicates that the joint of the beam and sides evolved gradually into isometric trilateral, pentalateral and septilateral arches and finally into semicircular arch. The span, too, was gradually elongated, from 2m or 3m up to 37.02m (clear span). And it has kept the world record for more than a thousand years.

Cable suspension bridges vary in kind according to the material of which the cables are made: rattan, bamboo, leather and iron chain. According to historical records, 285 B.C. saw the zha bridge (bamboo cable bridge). Li Bin of the Qin State, who guarded Shu (256 -251 B.C.), superintended the establishment of 7 bridges in Gaizhou (now Chengdu, Sichuan Province), one of which was built of bamboo cables. Ancient Bridges

Domestic architecture

Homes all over China in pre-modern times had a lot in common. The way of laying out a house was similar among the rich and poor, both in earlier and later times. Certain materials and techniques, such as pounded earth foundations, timber framing, and use of bricks and tile were present throughout the country. Nevertheless, houses were by no means identical in all parts of China. If we look at houses in different regions we can see much that differed from place to place.

Although few examples of Chinese homes have survived from antiquity, and using archeological evidence, scholars have determined that many of the basic principles of Chinese house design, such as the emphasis on orientation, layout, and symmetry go far back in Chinese history. Detail from the Ming dynasty Carpenter's Manual showing the best places to site a house. The text for the house to the right says: "If there is a rock resembling a wine jar, the house changes into a 'site of fullness.' The family will be rich and as soon as a wish is pronounced, gold and silver will come pouring out.”

One of the most striking aspects of Chinese domestic architecture is the practice of making houses face south. Archeologists have found that many Neolithic-period houses were rectangular with a south-facing door. Zhou period settlements were also organized on a north-south axis. These early dwellings no longer exist, but houses in China, the earliest of which date from the Ming dynasty, also show a tendency to face south. Houses built today are also built facing south, if space allows.

The foundation of a house generally is made of pounded earth, and in some situations where wood was rare, earth was used in the construction of walls. Earth can be pounded into shape or made into bricks for walls. Click here to see how buildings are made of pounded earth and how bricks are made. Nine Types of Residential Houses Chinese People Live In

For roofs, depending on the wealth of a family, the material could vary. Clay is a fairly common material for making tiles for roofing. Click here to see how tiles are made. In some areas, for poorer people, thatch and bamboo were also common material. Where wood was available and affordable, it was used to frame houses, providing support for the roof. The wood framework systems for Chinese homes and other buildings were standardized by the Ming dynasty and differ from wooden frameworks used in other parts of the world. Ordinary people could do much of the construction, but often experts were needed for framing. Click here to see examples of wooden framing.

Wood framework systems are important to consider because they determine the size of the house. The basic building block of Chinese architecture is the bay or "the space between," which is the space defined by roof supports. Chinese houses almost always consist of an odd number of bays; an even number of bays is considered unlucky. Therefore, three- or five- bay houses are common.

The three-bay house can be understood to be the basic unit of Chinese homes. Depending on the size and the wealth of the family, these houses were added on to, often in standard ways. One common extension of the three-bay house was the creation of a courtyard dwelling. Traditionally, one family would share a courtyard space. In Beijing, depicted here, such courtyard residences have been typical since the Yuan dynasty. A notable feature of the courtyard house is that the complex is fully enclosed by buildings and walls.    Earth Towers of the Hakkas

There are no windows on the outside walls, and usually the only opening to the outside is through the front gate. It is not easy to see what a house contained by peeking through the front gate. Courtyards were constructed so that when one looked through the first doorway of the house only a brick screen was visible. Access to the rest of the house required first turning a corner. Ideally, the main door did not line up exactly with the inner quarters.

The sizes of courtyard houses vary greatly depending on the wealth, size, and the taste of the family, but generally the compounds had an inner courtyard (or a series of inner courtyards) and were built on a north-south axis. Like the simple three-bay house, the door of the main building faced south. The line drawings below show how the courtyard shape could vary while retaining balance.Chinese architecture residences.


Buddhism came to China during the Eastern or Later Han period. The oldest monastery on Chinese ground is the White Horse Monastery (Baimasi) in Luoyang. The monastery is not only a place for praying, but also houses - like European monasteries during the Middle Age - dwelling quarters for monks, schools, libraries containing the sutras or holy scriptures of Buddhism, and farm buildings because most monasteries were self-subsistent although believers granted donations to the monks; but the monastery actually had to use these donations not only to built up Buddha statues or pagodas, but also to feed the poor, like Christian monasteries. After Buddhism has become a prevalent religion among all social classes of the Chinese people, the Taoist communities also organized themselves in monasteries.

The early pagodas in China had many storeys. Since pagodas were originally built to preserve Buddhist relics, which were considered the most sacred objects in the world, representing Buddha, they should be majestic and striking in style. Also, multistorey buildings were traditionally used by the ruling class to show off its power and wealth; they were also believed to be the residences of the immortals; therefore they were most suitable for enshrining the mysterious Buddha, the highest saint among the immortals. Third, high buildings of many storeys were usually awe inspiring and mysterious looking.

The structure of Chinese pagodas can be divided into three parts: the top, the body and the base. The top resembled the original image of the stupa from India. The body, or main part, of the pagoda, often used to enshrine a statue of Buddha, held to various styles of traditional Chinese architecture, unless the pagoda had a domed steeple. The base, for burying Buddhist relics, usually took the form of an underground chamber or underground hole attached to a tomb in ancient China. This kind of pagoda structure was recorded in ancient documents and shown in sculptures and murals in grottoes dug during the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589).

The earliest pagodas in China were either multistoreyed or pavilion-shaped structures, representing the most popular and exquisite styles in ancient Chinese architecture. Later, with the development of architecture, changes in Buddhism and progress in engineering technology, pagodas of greater variety were built in China, such as multi-eared, pagodas with flowery ornaments, pagodas built on vajrasanas, and pagodas built across roads. All the different kinds of pagodas, including the Lamaist dagobas most similar to the original style of Indian stupas, have assumed Chinese characteristics in architectural style and ornaments.  china pagodas

Temples and monastery

It is difficult to estimate how many temples there are throughout China. Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism are three main religions in China. Although they have never acquired such important roles to be considered to dominate the political system in China's history as Christianity or Islam has done to some western countries. However, they do have deep influence on the development of China's politics, philosophy, art and social cultures. Chinese temples, range in size from back-alley Taoist hut to magnificent Tibetan Buddhist Drepung Monastery, the largest and richest monastery, which covers an area of over 200 thousand square meters.
Chinese Buddhist temple takes the layout of traditional Chinese palace architecture. It usually has a group of courtyards and halls set on the north-south axis with side rooms flanked symmetrically on each side. Taoist temples are so much like their Buddhist counterpart, taking the form of traditional Chinese courtyard and palace structure. 
But unlike a Buddhist temple which has two warriors guarding the gate, a Statue of Dragon and Lion play the same role in a Taoist temple; in the main hall, the trinity San Qing (Three Gods), are represented as Yu Qing (Jade Pure), Shang Qing (Upper Pure) and Tai Qing (Great Pure), the four Heavenly Emperors in Taoism replace the Buddha trinity and four Heavenly Kings in Buddhism; and the stories illustrated in Taoist murals depict a more earthly world of common people rather than holy or sacred Buddhist world and clay figures set in the hall are more like common people.

Confucius was the founder of Confucianism in China, a philosopher, moralist, statesman and educationist, but no religionist head. The thoughts and teachings of Confucius have had a great influence on Chinese feudalist society in the political, philosophic and cultural fields. People built thousands of Confucius Temples, called Kong Miao or Wen Miao to commemorate him. Nowadays, nearly 300 of these temples have survived through the ages. ChineseArchitecture--Monasteries and Pagodas


Tombs are crucial components of ancient Chinese architecture. The ancient Chinese believed that souls lived on after death and they attached much importance to burials. People of all social classes had their tombs meticulously built. Throughout history, Chinese tombs have seen great developments. Kings and queens had huge clusters of tombs constructed on a scale rarely seen elsewhere. Over the centuries, the craft of tomb construction gradually merged with arts like painting, calligraphy and sculpture. It eventually became its own art form.

Chinese tombs are some of the most magnificent and colossal structures in ancient architecture. They were generally built in accordance with the surrounding terrain, either on the side of mountains or on the plains. The layouts of Chinese cemeteries typically include city walls with gates on four sides and turrets on four corners. In front of the tombs are paved paths with pines and cypresses. The cemeteries are solemn and peaceful.
Tombs of the ancient emperors and other nobles were often very elaborate. Around the 4th century BCE, Chinese people began to build large mounds over the tombs, erecting small temples next to the mounds so family members could leave offerings to their ancestors. The temples were also used for rituals to honor the deceased family member, who was believed to have influence over the fortunes and well-being of the living. The path leading to these tombs was called "spirit paths", and these paths were guarded by carved figures of soldiers, animals, or imaginary creatures called chimeras. Chimeras were one of the most common tomb guards and came in pairs facing each other on opposite ends of the spirit path.

There were many rulers and nobles who were honored with a tomb built in their name; however, there are only a handful of extraordinary tombs that are visited today by millions of visitors each year. These particular tombs stand out for many reasons: some are vastly large, and others are filled with exceptional tomb goods. Of the most recently excavated tombs, the Qin Shihuangdi tomb, the Han tombs and the Quanling tomb from the Tang dynasty are the most notable.

Tombs are crucial components of ancient Chinese architecture. The ancient Chinese believed that souls lived on after death and they attached much importance to burials. People of all social classes had their tombs meticulously built. Throughout history, Chinese tombs have seen great developments. Kings and queens had huge clusters of tombs constructed on a scale rarely seen elsewhere. Over the centuries, the craft of tomb construction gradually merged with arts like painting, calligraphy and sculpture. It eventually became its own art form. Chinese tombs are some of the most magnificent and colossal structures in ancient architecture. They were generally built in accordance with the surrounding terrain, either on the side of mountains or on the plains. The layouts of Chinese cemeteries typically include city walls with gates on four sides and turrets on four corners. In front of the tombs are paved paths with pines and cypresses. The cemeteries are solemn and peaceful.Chinese architecture tombs