Internal Characteristics of Chinese Architecture
Deeply rooted in traditional Chinese culture, ancient Chinese architecture boasts the following national cultural characteristics:
Ancient Chinese architecture, like a silent cultural language, bears rich cultural symbols that reveal Chinese beliefs in life and society. For instance, houses belonging to people of higher social status will definitely have different types of roofs, steles, and couplets, compared with those of lower-status people.
Unlike many foreign buildings, which attach much importance to external appearance, some Chinese ancient buildings are simple externality but enjoy internal richness. Two typical examples are the Chinese Quadrangle (Siheyuan) and Gardens in Suzhou of East China’s Jiangsu Province.
Ancient Chinese architecture has remained almost unchanged over thousands of years due to a long history of feudal society in which people embraced similar values and lifestyles.
When appraising ancient Chinese architecture, instead of jumping into mere favorable or unfavorable comments, one should never neglect the fact that the architecture have weathered the storms of time and survived till today. Therefore, critics should be objective by taking historical situations into consideration when making comments.
The most influential idea in Book of Changes is that everything in the world is interdependent and one can never learn anything without placing it into a more general environment; Ancient Chinese architecture is no exception.
For instance, the reason why ancient Chinese buildings are made of wood rather than stones lies in the Chinese belief that wood symbolizes spring, green, and new life and therefore is used to build houses for the living. Stones, however, are usually used for mausoleums and graves.
What’s more, the Eight Diagrams (Bagua, relating to divination), the Yin-Yang Principle (concerning opposing elements), and Feng Shui (dealing with attracting positive energy) all have exerted great influences on ancient Chinese architecture.
External Features of Chinese Architecture
Configurations and functions of ancient Chinese architecture, if necessary, can be easily changed, and rooms within them are easy to be dismantled, rebuilt, or shifted for other uses. China’s architecture focus particularly on the beauty of group combination, and often adopts a central-axis, symmetric compact composition method. But some types, such as gardens, certain mountain forest Taoist temples and certain residences adopt the method of free combination. The focus is paid to the pursuit of neutral, easy, reserved and deep esthetic characters, giving expressions to the esthetic habits of the Chinese nation.
Chinese architecture constitutes the only system based mainly on wooden structures of unique charming appearance which differs from all other architectural systems in the world which are based mainly on brick and stone structures. A structure not only has its engineering and technical significance, but the structural and decorative beauty manifested in its resourceful and ingenious combination are themselves part of the architectural beauty.
In the case of a wooden structural system, in particular, its complexity and delicacy are unmatched by brick and stone structures, and therefore demonstrate the wisdom of the Chinese. Further processing of the frame members of organic structures and other affiliated frame units forms unique Chinese constructional decoration, including interior and exterior decoration, color painting, wooden, brick and stone sculptures and color glaze, all of which contain very rich techniques and a vivid development process.
Chinese architecture prefers to use the symbolized decoration on the surface of the building. The most frequent used standards are dragon and phoenix. The dragon and the phoenix are the principal motifs for decorative designs on buildings, clothing and articles of daily use in the imperial palace. The throne hall is supported by columns entwined by gilded dragons, the central ramps on marble steps were paved with huge slabs carved in relief with the dragon and phoenix, and the screen walls display dragons in brilliant colors.
Graceful Chinese Garden Architectures
The Chinese garden architecture is one of the four essential factors for garden landscaping. It’s a kind of architecture used for providing a place for rest and sightseeing to people. The essential buildings of Chinese garden architectures include halls，pavilions，corridors and bridges, etc. The garden architectures should satisfy the requirements both for practical purposes and aesthetics purpose. They should blend with the environment within the garden and the natural environment, either as a central scenic spot or as an individual small scenic spot easy to access.
One of outstanding characteristics of Chinese garden architectures is taking advantage of the environment so that the natural scenes and human interest could be merged. The classic garden architectures are often embellished with calligraphy of poems and paintings. They shun symmetry along an axis and adopt an irregular and complicated layout with plenty of large and small spaces. The appearance of a garden building should be aesthetic and expressive, and enhance the beauty of the surroundings. In its details, exquisite decorative means should be made use of, such as pretty guardrails, patterned windows, grilles, etc. A garden building is a place for viewing the scenery within or beyond the garden and is a key point of the garden. So both the direction of the building and the positions of its doors and windows should take into consideration the viewing angles and the routes.
Chinese garden architecture
Style in North China and South China
The styles of garden architectures are different in north China and south China. Gardens in south of China are mainly private gardens, while in north of China are mainly imperial gardens. Besides the scale and natural environment are different, the main difference is the architecture’s form. Gardens in north of China is magnificent and stress the intense colors of paintings, and the structure is much more official. Elaborate gardens in south of China, with green tiles and white walls is totally different from magnificent colorful gardens in north of China. And it’s common to see that elaborate wood carvings are used to decorate the gardens in south of China.