Article

Chinese Architecture

Nancy S. Steinhardt

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online April 2013 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0034
Chinese Architecture

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Chinese architecture stands in every Chinese province and autonomous region and has been a profound influence on construction in every East Asian country. China’s earliest building remains are from around the sixth millennium bce. Through all these centuries and across so much space, almost no architects are known by name. Until the fall of imperial China in 1911, the patrons of China’s most significant architecture were rulers and aristocrats, and all Chinese architecture, for emperors and for the most humble subjects, was built by craftsmen. The classical Chinese language has no word for “architect,” only one for “craftsman-builder.” Instead, in every aspect of Chinese construction, public or private, imperial or vernacular, religious or secular, principles and standards established in the first millennium bce dictated building practices for the next several millennia. Traditionally, Chinese buildings have been categorized in two ways, by purpose and by material. The main purposes of Chinese architecture are palatial, religious, funerary, and residential; the roles of architecture in urban planning and landscape also are recognized. The major material of Chinese architecture is wood. Less often, Chinese buildings are made in brick and stone, and very occasionally metal. Small-scale architecture is made of other materials, such as pottery. Chinese architecture in any material is modular. The module of one component of a Chinese building generates the rest of its pieces. Similarly, a bay unit can be repeated lengthwise or crosswise to turn a small structure into a large one. A result of this process is that traditional Chinese buildings are always recognizable, usually by their roofs as well as by the use of pillars and bracket sets. Critical study of Chinese architecture did not begin until the 20th century. Most of the writing on the subject even today is in Chinese.

Article.  6576 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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