Chinese architecture has a time-honored history and great achievement. The Chinese ancient architecture is one of the important parts of art appreciation. As to appreciate architecture art, besides knowing the main characteristics of architecture art, we need to know some of important aspects of the Chinese ancient architecture.

The detailed elements, colonnades, sandalwood, foundation supports and cornices extracted from Chinese ancient architectures have become the modern architectures languages. Compared to masonry structure system of western ancient architecture, Chinese ancient architecture has its own system. The top four characteristics are as following:

1. Wood-based. Wood-based structure architecture has many advantages: the protection structure and supported structure are separated, therefore, the architecture has nice earthquake resistance, and the materials are easy to get. While it also has some disadvantages such as: easy to get fire, and suffer termite damage, so it’s keeping time is shorter than masonry structure architecture. In China, masonry structure is used inpagoda. The metal used in architecture is bronze,such as: Bowen Palace in forbidden city, Golden Temple at WuDangshan Temple, Bronze Hall of the Taihegong Taoist Temple.


Tulou means ‘earth building’. It is named from its outer walls, which are made from rammed earth. Generally speaking, the large multi-storey Tulou was seldom seen in the areas where early Hakka lived. However, they are appeared in the perimeters of Hakka and other ethnic groups or around locations where Hakka fast developed after Ming and Qing dynasties.

•Types of Fujian Tulou
The Tulous in the Fujian Province are divided into three types, Wufeng, Rectangular, and Round. Wufeng are located mainly in Yongding, and rectangular and round Tulou are distributed in Nanjing, Pinghe, Zhao’an West and Yongding East. In most of the villages, round and rectangular tulous are mixed together. Among three kinds of Tulous, the rectangular Tulous were the original ones.

Wufeng Tulou: The Wufeng tulous are obviously the results of a redesign of the Chinese courtyard by the Hakkas. Three halls and two side rooms’ are a feature of the Wufeng tulou. The side rooms are the heightened wing-room of the Chinese courtyard. The center hall in the back yard becomes a multi-storey building. The earth walls in the four sides are enclosure. This was not only for defense reasons, but also as an expression of traditional Chinese architectural forms.

Chinese traditional and ancient architecture Fujian Province

Rectangular Tulou: In reality, the rectangular Tulous were built earlier than round ones. For example, in the northern part of the Guzhu, Yongding, the rectangular tulou, named Wuyun Tulou was built five or six hundred years ago, while the round shape, Chengqi had only been built for three or four hundred years.

Round Tulou: The round Tulou has distinct characteristics. It is high, giant, and complex. Generally speaking, round Tulous can be divided into small, medium, and large types. Small round tulous are normally two or three storeys and consist of a single ring; medium round tulous are three or four storeys high and have wide diameters or two rings; large ones are four or five storeys with two rings or even three rings. A large number of round tulous are of medium size. The Tulou is occupied normally by a kin group. As a result it is more like an apartment or a small village rather than a single building.

Round Tulous normally have only one fortified door. Behind the door is the foyer. This is not only the major access, but also the public space for the occupants. The natural ventilation is ideal. No matter what size and how many storeys of round Tulous, the room sizes are the same at the same location on each floor. The ground floor is always the kitchen.

Tulou in Fujian province

If there are only two storeys, the first floor becomes the bed-room. Most round Tulous are three or four storeys. The first floor becomes a storage room for food and furniture. The storage room does not have any windows. The second floor and above are bedrooms in this case. They have small windows, which open to the outside, and a larger widow opening to corridor. The corridors are built on the extension of the beams of the lower floor. As a result, the ground floor is free of columns, and creates a large open space. The interesting thing is the small eaves on the second or third floors. The obvious function is for drainage. However, the space created under the eaves can be used as a storage place.

•Related Interesting News about Tulou
As the shape of Tulou is special, America mistakenly assumed that it’s nuclear silo in the Cold War era. After 20-year study, American Scholars can’t still know the confidential of these 1500 nuclear silos. Finally, Central Intelligence Agency asked two staffs as visitors to Yongding County to investigate these nuclear silos. What was so astounding was that these architectures are time-honored Tulous, not nuclear silos, which made America relieve.

2. Staging system is the main principle in wood-based structure architecture: four columns and sandalwoods consist of a room. Generally speaking, Chinese ancient architecture always has an odd number of rooms, such as three rooms, five rooms, seven rooms, nine rooms. The larger numbers of rooms the architecture has, the class of the architecture is higher, for example, the Taihe Temple in Forbidden City has eleven rooms, and it’s the existing architecture at the highest level. Actually, the shape of roof of Chinese official architecture is large, and magnificence is the most obvious characteristic of ancient Chinese architecture.

3. Dou-gong is the critical part of the timber frame. It has special external frame: many layers of stylobate, colorful curving-slope roof, courtyard type buildings. From the culture relics being unearthed from mausoleum of Han Dynasty, we can find the courtyard type buildings appear in the more than two thousand years paintings. And the magnificent Forbidden City of Ming and Qing Dynasty adopted the complicated enclosed forms.

4. Chinese ancient architecture embodies Chinese ritual system thoughts. And Chinese ancient architecture stresses the hierarchical idea, pattern, scale, color, structure; all of these have strict regulations. To some extent, it developed the architectural form; meanwhile, it restricted the development of architecture. Besides, the ideology of the unity of heaven and man is also demonstrated in the development process of Chinese ancient architecture, which promotes the mutual coordination and integration of architecture and nature.


The Siheyuan is a building complex formed by four houses around a quadrangular courtyard. The siheyuan is a typical form of ancient Chinese architecture, especially in the north of China. And Beijing Siheyuan is the most classic. They are designed to make it as comfortable as possible to live in a climate that is at times inhospitable. For instance, the Siheyuan are enclosed and inward facing to protect them from the harsh winter winds and the dust storms of spring. Their design also reflects the traditions of China, following the rules of Feng Shui and the patriarchal, Confucian tenants of order and hierarchy that were so important to society.

Characters: Siheyuans are arranged in rows and vary in size and design according to the social status of the residents. The big Siheyuans of high-ranking officials and wealthy merchants were specially built with roof beams and pillars are beautifully carved and painted, each with a front yard and back yard. The specially built Siheyuans all face the south for get enough sunshine and resist cold wind from the north because the air-conditioning is our of the question in those houses at that time.

Rooms: It is normal for the four rooms to be positioned along the north-south, east-west axes. The room positioned to the north and facing the south is considered the main house and would traditionally have accommodated the head of the family. The rooms adjoining the main house are called “side houses” and were the quarters of the younger generations or less important members of the family. The room that faces north is known as the “opposite house” and would generally be where the servants lived or where the family would gather to relax, eat or study.

Quadrangle dwellings in Beijing

Architectural Style

China is a united multi-ethnic nation of 56 ethnic groups, including Han, Miao, Korea minority, and Mongol minority, etc. for the natural environment is totally different in the southern, northern, western, and eastern China, and the building materials are also different. According to their own production needs and living needs, they adopt the materials the natural environment provides to build different architecture, and create their own architecture style.
In loess covered areas of China’s Northern provinces, ancient people use loess as material to build their house, then they use loess to make brick, and the building using bricks made of loess is convenient and durable. In the southern part of China, the weather is wet and humid, people build building by bamboo. In Mongolian area, according to the habit of nomadic people, yurt is specific to them. The yurt is easy to disassemble and move. In northwest of China, some architecture has Muslim characteristic. All in all, ancient people would like to use the materials the nature provides to build, which make the architectures with different styles, and make their contributions to Chinese ancient architecture.

Chinese traditional architecture in northwest of China

Ancient Villages in Southern Anhui: Xidi and Hongcun

Xidi and Hongcun, located in Huangshan city, Anhui Province, are two exceptionally well preserved traditional Chinese villages from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Their townscapes are developed in harmony with the natural environment, using the geomantic principles of Feng Shui. Therefore, most ancient villages are set up against mountains and facing waters. It is believed to bring good luck to all villagers. In fact, this brought about convenience both to living and to farming for the villages. Furthermore, the village is segmented by winding and narrow lanes.

The Huizhou style is the predominant architecture in the villages: white walls, dark tiles, horse-head gables, stone drums or mirrors and open interior courtyards are common features. It was the style favored by the local merchant class. Reputed as “A Living Ancient Residential Museum” by experts and tourists at home and from abroad, they were listed as a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO in 2000.

Hui style architecture

The two traditional villages of Xidi and Hongcun preserve to a remarkable extent the appearance of non-urban settlements of a type that largely disappeared or was transformed during the last century. Their street plan, their architecture and decoration, and the integration of houses with comprehensive water systems are unique surviving examples.

As one of the representative traditional Chinese vernacular dwellings, the dwellings in Xidi Village and Hongcun Village are the most classic of Hui style architecture. With their perfect layout, elaborate structure, beautiful decoration, it’s hard to find another place to see this kind of traditional Chinese vernacular dwellings.

Development of Chinese Ancient Architecture

In the Paleolithic Age, men lived on fishery and hunting, and were sheltered in trees and caves. In the Neolithic Age, men 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. From then on, many more massive construction works of lasting fame were carried out in the history of China.



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