Traditional Culture As Manifested in Ancient Chinese Architecture
China's traditional architecture is an important part of traditional Chinese culture, reflecting an aspect of the features of the culture.
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Traditional architecture development of Traditional evolved and changed along with the culture. During the early Paleolithic Period about 500,000 years ago, primitive men made use of natural caves as Their habitats. They knew nothing about architecture at that time. During the Neolithic Age, tribes of clans in the middle reaches at the Yellow River built Their simple houses in the caves or half caved-in houses with wooden frames and mud and grass. Later, houses were built on the ground. Along the reaches of the Yangtze River, buildings supported by stiles high above the ground appeared. During the Xia Dynasty dating from the 21st century BC, buildings constructed with rammed earth appeared, like palaces built on high and large rammed-earth terraces. More important was that constructions began embodying the relationships between men and the introduction of a hierarchy. According to the hierarchy, "the Son of Heaven may have a nine-chi (foot) sized residence, and princes a seven-chi sized house, minister a five-c~# sized house and literati a three-chi sized house. At the same time, special officials in charge of building called Si Kon(minister of works) appeared. From the Spring and Autumn Period (770- 476 BC) to the period of the Qin (221-206 BC) and Han (206 BC- 220 AD) dynasties, as architecture further developed and varied types of buildings were introduced, a complete construction system was gradually built up to create the simple and open style of the early stage.
From the period of the Wei (220-265) and Jin (265-420) to the period of the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-581), the social turbulence caused the split of the state. Under the conditions, Buddhism was widely popularized. Influenced by the Buddhist culture, Buddhist constructions such as temples, pagodas and grottoes mushroomed. Buddhist art introduced from India and the Western Regions began to blend with traditional Chinese art. This cultural communication and mixing-up further expanded in dimensions and deepened in content in the period of the Tang (618- 907), resulting in the formation of an elegant and poised style of the prosperous Tang Dynasty.
Since the Song Dynasty (960-1279), urban economy had developed and great change had taken place in the 'cultural field. The function of construction was more stressed to suit the demand of cultural life and its shape and appearance tended to smoothness and beauty. By the period of the Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qin (1644-1911) dynasties, the architectural style of the late stage represented by the constructions of the Qing period was formed on the basis of further blending of cultures of different ethnic groups and regions and the growing influence of foreign cultures. By now, the form of building had tended to stylization with dexterity and perfection in workmanship.
From the history of Traditional architecture, one can find that architecture has developed alongside the development of the material and spiritual cultures of society and reflected the changes of Traditional culture
First, it embodied the Traditional ethical idea. The construction of houses of ordinary .people or palaces of emperors, and the planning of a courtyard or the layout of a city, all reflected the relationships between people in social life and the political and ethical standards to be observed by them through the stiff pattern and strict order symbolized by constructions. Take the planning of a capital, according to The Book of Rites published in the Warring States Period, "The capital to be built by workers has a size of nine square li [0.5 km], and has three wall gates on its three sides. Within the city, it has nine roads going through from north to south, and nine roads from west to east. On the left, a temple of ancestors is located, and on the right, lies the sacrificial altar of the state. The buildings of imperial court were set in the front, and the marketplace at the back. In the center is the group house of the palace." This style of layout emphasized order and the ritual system, expressive of the ethical conception of feudal society.
The layout of the Forbidden City (Imperial Palace) in Beijing was also designed in line with the Traditional system with its grand halls in front and living quarters behind, all built along the central axis from north to south. Those grand hails, a symbol of center, were the places for the emperor to issue his edicts, known as the Outer Palace. Located at the back along the central axis were the residences of the emperor and his consorts, known as the Inner Palace. But the residences of the emperor's father, empress dowager, great consort and heir-apparent should be built on both sides of the former. The layout remarkably stressed the importance of hierarchy in Traditional culture, giving prominence to the Supreme authorities of a ruler of feudal society.
In another example, the Traditional courtyard buildings in Beijing are also built along a distinct central axis with houses in individual and separated courtyards. The few houses in the front courtyard are for guests. The main buildings are located behind this courtyard. The main chambers are all built facing south along the north-south axis, with other rooms built on either side. The main chambers are for senior generations of the family and other rooms are for younger generations. This arrangement shows the order of superiority and inferiority in a family and the ethical relationships between people in daily life.
Second, China's Traditional architecture attached great importance to the idea of "unity of Heaven and man," emphasizing the unity of nature and man, the organic combination of buildings and nature and the injection of human feelings and spirit into and the natural environment "Imitating nature" is the fundamental rule of China's art of horticulture. Whether in the magnificent imperial gardens, or in private gardens, much attention is paid to the re-creation of a natural environment in the garden. In the design of a small garden, the aim is to make a small space suggest an effect of more space. The settings in the garden should be disposed in such a way as to give a continuation of appeal. The design of a large garden should make good use of the hills and water in the natural environment to form a main scene, complemented by a number of subordinate ones. Particularly in a small private garden, every possible way is tried to condense a landscape scene to reproduce a picturesque miniature. In the harmonious relationship between man and nature, all things in nature are personified.
The idea of unity of nature and man was expressed both in palaces and common buildings. Discussing the layout of a city, The Book of Guan Zi stressed natural factors, saying that "it must be built either beneath a high mountain or by a broad river. It should not reach so high into uplands that it lacks sources of water, nor so low into marshland as to have to build a dam."
Ancient planners paid attention to the combination of palace construction and city layout with natural scenes. For example, the Forbidden City'; qx3cated on the central axis of the city from north to south, harmoniously combines its regular rectangular pattern design with the landscape of Jingshan Hill, making the magnificent palace constructions shaded by the majestic natural scenery
Natural factors were also used in constructions for ritual ceremonies, to increase Their beauty. The Temple of Heaven in Beijing was built against a backdrop of a forest of cypresses. Contrasting with the shape of cypresses and Their grave hue, the limited group constructions achieve a great artistic appeal.
Traditional civil buildings have developed into various styles. In the north, common buildings are usually designed in a regular and closed pattern with simple colors. Their shape is steady and solemn. In the south, the houses are freely designed and have bright and simple colors. Their shape suggests a sense of vividness. Houses in mountainous areas are built along the topographic curve of mountains. Those by the water are usually built together with bridges and piers to link buildings with water as a whole.
Third, the principle of integration of variety is another feature of Traditional architecture. Importance is given to group composition and design in line with the order of sequence in space. It is skillful to unite individual multifunctional constructions of different styles with each other according to actual need to achieve a harmonious and unified artistic effect.
In the composition, various ways and means are used to combine large buildings with small ones, complicated structures with simple ones, and to regard the hollow as solid and the solid as hollow, and to complement each other. For example, the entrance of the Zhuo Zheng Yuan (Humble Administrator's Garden) in Suzhou leads to a circular gate through a meandering narrow lane between houses. A rockery." stands in front of the gate as a screen to prevent one from getting a full view of the garden. Walking along the corridor and around the hills, one finally arrives at the Hall of Remote Fragrance, suddenly seeing an open and bright area with clears water in a pond, rocks upon rocks, and dense trees amid which are scattered buildings and pavilions.
This scheme of scenery, providing a changing view of space, can often be found in the layout of gardens, particularly in ancient private gardens.
In the layout of the Imperial Palace (Forbidden City) in Beijing, for example, in front of the magnificent Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), the spacious courtyard is flanked by many chao Fang (chambers where courtiers met before court was held). Between each is a two-storied pavilion. The varied appearance and simpler structure of the comparatively smaller pavilions stand in contrast to the larger and more elaborate Hall of Supreme Harmony, thus making the latter stand out, but not alone.
The order and sequence in the layout is important in China's traditional architecture, producing an effect of smooth flow and contrast which stresses the relationships between individual buildings and reflects social rank and order. This can be Seen in the group constructions of the Forbidden City. From the Daqing (Great Purity) Gate to the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Palace group of constructions stretches through a series of five gates and six courtyards. In the course of 1,700-meters, there are three climaxes: the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen), the Meridian Gate (Wumen) and the Hall of Supreme Harmony. The order in which these climaxes occur emphasizes the progressive increase in importance, until one reaches the strict order and ultimate superiority of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
Fourth, China's Traditional architecture also embodies communication and blending of Traditional culture with other cultures. This ethos of communication expressed in ancient constructions lies in the exchanges of architectural skills and art between different regions and different ethnic groups and the blending and assimilation of outstanding foreign cultures. Traditional architecture stresses the learning from history and new creations, showing the broadmindedness of the Chinese nation and its cultural maturity and richness. It is not simple absorption and copying, but a culture of creativity in which foreign culture which has been assimilated bears a distinct national stamp. Cultures of different regions and ethnic groups have been blended with each other and developed as architecture has advanced. Religious constructions, especially, absorbed foreign culture in the process of Their development. Their forms, in the initial stage of development, changed along with the introduction of foreign religious cultures, such as the introduction of Buddhism During the Western Han period, Islam During the Tang period, and Christianity During the Ming and Qing periods. When new forms of religious constructions were introduced, they combined with traditional Chinese culture and developed to become part of a Chinese national style.
A typical example of this is the pagoda, which has various forms and appearances as a result of absorption from other cultures. The pagoda has a mainly spiritual function. It originated from the Indian stupa in which the Buddhist sarira and relics were preserved. Stupas, after being introduced into China, developed into various types of pagodas. Pavilion-style pagodas were modeled on Traditional multilevel wood-framed constructions. They were the earliest and chief form of Chinese religious towers and were widely built across the country. Apart from storing Buddhist sarira, relics, scriptures and images, a pavilion-style pagoda can be ascended to provide a distant view from its height.
After the Tang period, wood-framed pagodas were replaced by brick towers. Most close-eaved towers were built with bricks and stones, could not be ascended and had a different purpose from pavilion-style pagodas. During the Yuan period, Tibetan Buddhism was widely popularized. Accordingly, bottle-shaped Lamaist dagobas were built everywhere. Built in the Yuan Dynasty, the white dagoba in the Temple of Divine Response (Miaoyingsi) in Beijing is the largest of its kind in the country. It is a memorial construction built by both Chinese and Nepalese workers for friendly and cultural exchange between the two countries. The Mian-style tower built by the Dai and Va minority ethnic groups in Yunnan Province is similar to the Myanmese-type pagodas, a different style which also originated from the stupa. The Vajrasana pagodas, built in the Ming and Qing periods, are symbols of Mount Sumeru in the Buddhist sutras, and are composed of five pagodas built on a high terrace.