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Chinese Architecture - Examples

( Originally Published 1921 )


The Temple of the Great Dragon, Pekin (A.D. 1420), circular and triple-roofed, stands in an enclosure measuring one square mile and containing the priests' dwellings. The Temple proper, facing south, on the upper platform, consists of hall with double encircling aisles with roofs round the central roof, which is supported on four gigantic columns, and the altars are on raised terraces, north and south. There are three other single-roofed temples, of which one is the " Hall of Central Peace " and the other the Temple of Agriculture (p. 814 D). In all these circular buildings there is the characteristic bracket frieze under the widely projecting eaves.

The Temple of Ho-nan, Canton, is a typical Buddhist temple, enclosed by a wall with gateway, porch, ante-chapel, successive halls, and sanctuary with the idol, and seats for the monks, with a " dagoba," offices and kitchens beyond.

The " Temple of the Sleeping Buddha," Pekin, in the Summer Palace, built of brick in two storeys, is unusual in having circular-headed windows in a clear-story, as well as in the ground storey. The columns are faced with brilliant glazed bricks, and between them are tiers of niches with the statue of Buddha ; while the roof has an elaborate cresting with finials and flamboyant dragons.

Most Chinese temples, however, are of the simple T'ing type, consisting of a concave roof on uprights, like the dwelling-houses and differing only in size. There are monastery temples containing the image of the Buddhist triadójust as in England there were monastic churchesósurrounded by a wall and approached through the typical " pai-lou " or gateway. The whole monastic group consists of temple, " dagoba " or relic shrine, bell-tower, pagoda, library, and dwellings for the monks.


The Pagodas (" t'ais "), derived from Indian prototypes, are distributed in considerable numbers over the country, and form the most important structures in the temple enclosures (pp. 813 B, 814 E). They vary from three to thirteen storeys in height, a usual number being nine, sometimes with staircases to each floor, and are constructed in brick. Pagodas had formerly a religious significance, but those erected latterly are secular in character and are sometimes monuments of victory. They are usually polygonal in plan, and the roof angles in each storey are elaborately ornamented.

The Pagoda, Nankin (A.D. 1412, destroyed A.D. 1856) (p. 814 E), called the " Porcelain Tower," erected as a temple of gratitude, contained 2,000 images, and was octagonal, 40 ft. in diameter and 200 ft. high. The whole of its brick walls and projecting roof eaves were clothed in the beauty of coloured porcelain tiles, while the roof eaves to each of its nine storeys curved upwards and, like the chains to the spire, carried some 150 tinkling bells. Conspicuous amongst many are the Tung-chow Pagoda of thirteen storeys, the Tang-chow Pagoda of nine storeys, both at Pekin, the " Flowery Pagoda," Canton, the Hang-chow Pagoda, the Sao-chow Pagoda of nine storeys, and others at Shanghai, Ning-po, and Nankin. There is a somewhat lifeless example in Kew Gardens which was designed by Sir William Chambers, and there are models in the Indian Museum, South Kensington.


The Pai-lous of China (p. 813 C) bear a family resemblance to the torans of India (cf. the Sanchi Tope, p. 790) and the torii of Japan, and were erected as memorials to deceased persons of distinction. They were constructed of wood or stone and have one or three openings, formed by posts supporting horizontal rails bearing an inscription and crowned with bold projecting roofs of gaily coloured tiles. The Great Pai-lou, Pekin, shows the type of construction which is one of the most salient features of Chinese architectural design, with its three openings and horizontal beams, and on it was lavished all possible richness of decoration.


Tombs, though associated with ancestor-worship and therefore sacred, are not of great architectural value because the pai-lous were the real memorial monuments. Tombs are sometimes cone-shaped mounds surrounded by stones, sometimes cut in the rock or designed in the hill-side, with a horseshoe back in stone sloping to the front and covered with symbolic carvings, while mythical animals guard the entrance.

The Tombs of the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644), north of Pekin, are entered through triumphal gateways or pai-lous of white marble and along an avenue a mile in length, flanked by thirty-two large monolithic figures (12 ft. high) *f camels, horses, priests, elephants, lions, and griffins. Each of the thirteen tombs consists of an earthen mound, half a mile in circumference, supported by a retaining wall 20 ft. high, and they seem to be founded on such monuments as the Sanchi Tope in India.

The Tomb of Yung-1o, Pekin (A.D. 1425), consists of a tumulus, surrounded by a crested wall with a three-storeyed tower, two entrance gateways and an ancestral hall of the T'ing type in the entrance court.


Imperial palaces and official residences were erected as isolated, one-storeyed pavilions resembling temples in general design, and crowned with the typical roof, but these detached buildings are not imposing as are the large homogeneous palaces of Europe.

The Imperial Palace, Pekin (p. 813 A), in the centre of the " Forbidden City," has three vast halls, all similar in design, of magnificent proportions and resplendent in oriental decoration. The " Tai-ho-t'ien " or Hall of Highest Peace (A.D. 1602) is the most important, with terraces and open verandahs, and is formed of nave and aisles, parallel to the facade, separated by great columns, with the Imperial dais at the centre. A Pavilion (p. 814 F) of the Summer Palace, Pekin, destroyed A.D. 1860, gives an idea of some of the smaller buildings. Within the enclosing wall there were residences for Emperor and officers of state, and the groups of buildings were set amidst pleasure gardens, lakes, and grottoes on a magnificent scale.


Houses, generally of one storey like the temples, are constructed with timber supports, filled in with brickwork (p. 814). The building regulations not only govern the dimensions, but also the number of columns, and thus had a marked effect on the plan and arrangement of Chinese houses ; for, while the Emperor had his hall of nine bays, a prince was restricted to seven, a mandarin to five, and an ordinary citizen to three bays. Roofs are of steep pitch with boldly projecting eaves and highly ornamented ridges. of coloured and glazed tiles, with the angles turned up and finished with grotesque animals or fantastic ornament. The roof framing in bamboo and other wood is frequently painted red, green, or blue. The houses owe much of their character to their environment of gardens planned to suggest a natural landscape, elaborated with fountains, artificial rocks, woodland scenery, lakes, flower-beds, hanging plants, bridges, watercourses, stepping-stones, and garden temples (p. 814 M). Town houses of importance are also made up of a collection of isolated pavilions, surrounded by gardens. There are three principal divisions, viz.: (a) Vestibule or porter's lodge on the street ; (b) audience chamber and family rooms ; (c) kitchen and servants' rooms.


The laying out of towns was on a well-recognised plan, regulated by their importance. There are four classes, mostly quadrilateral or circular, protected by walls and moats with four principal gates facing the cardinal points. Pekin, the capital, is a triple city the outer is the Tartar city with an enclosing wall, 16 miles in length ; within is the Imperial city, surrounded by a wall of g miles, while in the centre is the " Forbidden City " which contains the Imperial Palace.


Bridges form conspicuous features in a country of rivers and water-ways, and originally they were of timber in the form made familiar by willow-pattern plates. This timber type of construction was sometimes applied to the bearing arches of stone bridges, and their dilapidated condition shows the unwisdom of using stone in horizontal corbelled courses, instead of in radiating voussoirs. The Marble Bridge of seventeen arches in the Summer Palace, near Pekin, and the immense bridge across the river at Pusilanghi are, however, formed with radiating voussoirs to the arches.


The " Great Wall " (B.C. 214), the most famous of Chinese building undertakings, is 1,400 miles long, 20 to 30 ft. high, 25 ft. thick at the base, sloping to 15 ft. at the top. There are square towers at intervals in this immense mileage of masonry which, like Hadrian's Wall in England, follows the contour of the country, climbs mountain tops, descends deep gorges, strides across lofty table-lands, and spans wide rivers, like a huge snake wrought in stone.

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