Brief Introduction to Chinese Architecture
China's distinctive architecture makes up an important part of China's splendid civilization. Together with Western and Muslim architecture, the three styles comprise the world's major architectural systems.
In the Paleolithic Age, Chinese ancestors lived on fishery and hunting, and were sheltered in trees and caves. In the Neolithic Age, Chinese ancestors engaged in raising animals and farming, and settled down by digging caves and by building simple houses with twigs and lumber, thus commencing their architectural activities.During the 3,000 years of the feudalist society, Chinese ancient architecture formulated gradually its unique system, coupled with a considerable progress in urban planning, garden designing, and house construction technique. In 221 B.C., the First Emperor of the Qin Empire mobilized the resources of the country to do construction works on a massive scale, including A' Fang Palace, the Emperor's Mausoleum, the Great Wall and the Dujiangyan Water-Conservancy Project. In the Later dynasties, many more massive construction works of lasting fame were carried out.
China's wood frameworks are unique in the world. They reflect the values, aesthetic and ethical standard of the Chinese people. Chinese architecture is rooted in cultural tradition and features several characteristics. It highlights absolute imperial power and strict social status. The best examples of this can be found in the palaces and forbidden cities. Chinese architecture also stresses overall beauty and its axial layout pattern is widely used in buildings. The Chinese style also incorporates elements of nature and emphasizes a graceful, reserved and easy-going beauty. Apart from the Han ethnic group, architecture in the ethnic minorities is also diversified and distinct.
Chinese architecture can be categorized into imperial palaces, religious temples, ancient gardens, tombs group and ordinary ethnic residences.
Architecturally, the roof is the dominant feature of a Chinese temple. It is usually green ore yellow and is decorated with figures of divinities and lucky symbols such as dragon and carp. Stone lions often guard the entrance to the temple. Inside is a small courtyard with a large bowl where incense and paper offerings are burnt. Beyond it is the main hall with an alter table, often with an intricately carved front. Here you will find offerings of fruits and drinks. Behind is an alter with its images framed by red broche, embroidered with gold characters. Depending on the size and wealth of the temple, there are gongs, drums, side alters and adjoining rooms with shrines to different gods, chapels for prayers for the dead and displays of funerary plaques. There are also living quarters for the temple keepers. There is no set time for prayer and no communal service except for funerals. Worshippers enter the temple whenever they want to make offerings, pray for help or give thanks.
The most striking feature of the Buddhist temples are pagodas. These were probably introduced from India along with Buddhism through Silk Road in the 1st century. The early pagodas were constructed of wood, they were easily destroyed by fire and subject to corrosion, so materials such as brick, stone, brass, and iron were substituted. they often built to house religious artifacts and documents. During the Northern Wei Period(4th to 6th century) the construction of cave temples began, and cave temples continued to built during later dynasties. The caves at Longmen near Luoyang, at Magao near Dunhuang, and Yungang near Datong, are some of the finest example.
In Buddhist art the Buddha is frequently displayed in a basic triad, with a bodhisattva on either side. The latter are Buddhist saints who have arrived at the gateway to nirvana but have chosen to return earth to guide lesser mortals along righteous paths. Their faces tend to express joy, serenity or compassion. Sometimes the bodhisattvas are replaced by figures of Buddha's first two disciples, the youthful Ananda and the older Kasyapa.
Since ancient times, Chinese architecture has heavily influenced builders in Japan, North Korea, Vietnam, and Mongolia. Today, while preserving traditional style, Chinese architecture has absorbed elements from western countries and keeps growing.