The impact of foreign building traditions on Chinese architecture had been limited until the beginning of the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, dramatic changes in construction occurred as the result of the introduction of Western architectural practice and methods of architectural history, as China transformed from an imperial society to a republic to a communist state. In Chinese Architectural History in the Twenty-First Century, Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt examines the state of architectural history in China at the end of the twentieth century and the impact that recent social and cultural transformations are likely to have on the field in the future.
Chinese architectural history became part of modern global discourse at the end of the third decade of the twentieth century, when a group of students known to the Chinese as the First Generation (of architects) returned from study abroad. In studio and lecture hall alongside American classmates, and in a few instances in Japan, they had studied the profession of architecture, and in most cases also architectural history, and some had learned about historic preservation. Almost every one returned home with the personal mission and mandate to build a new China. Less than a decade after their return, they had established departments of architecture and practices in major cities across China, while simultaneously seeking out old buildings and writing about them in a historical narrative, restoring and modernizing some of China’s most significant architecture, and sifting through historical treatises and local records to glean documentation about a building system that until the fall of the last dynasty, the Qing (1644–1911), had been legislated by and for imperial officialdom and constructed by craftsmen.1
The backdrop to this glorious and frenzied period was unrelenting warfare, internally between the Nationalists and Communists and internationally with Japan, while other powers continued to seek opportunities to encroach on China’s borders or determine her political and economic destiny. By the late 1930s, when conflagration made it impossible to stay in Beijing and some of China’s other major research centers, the majority of influential Chinese architects and teachers of architectural history relocated with their institutes or universities to Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in the Southwest, where they attempted to continue projects, research, and teaching initiated in the years immediately after the return of the First Generation. The achievements of this group, which included Liang Sicheng (1901–72), his wife, Lin Huiyin (1904–55), Yang Tingbao (1901–82), Tong Jun (1900–1983), and Japan-educated Liu Dunzhen (1987–68), along with others who had become their students, were remarkable.2 Yet perhaps more remarkable, research and writing conducted primarily between the late 1920s and the early 1940s continued to dictate the course of Chinese architectural history for the rest of the twentieth century and into the present one.
One reason a single group would have so much influence for so long lies in the political realities up to that point and in the dramatic decades that followed. Imperial rule ended in 1911. As long as dynastic history prevailed in China, education was controlled by the central or local government, with a position in officialdom the pinnacle to which an educated citizen might aspire.3 China’s most important construction projects were under the aegis of government bureaus, whose officials made sure that craftsmen-builders raised structures according to court-sponsored handbooks and manuals. Innovative designs had no place in the imperial system; there were no schools in which to study architecture in China under imperial rule. During the nineteenth century in China, the writing of architectural history meant gathering the names of extant or lost buildings into local or regional or provincial records, or compiling from those records an occasional separate publication about buildings or palaces in one city or in cities through the ages.4 It was this body of material that informed the First Generation when they began to write Chinese architectural history. Once imperial control of the building industry was lifted, only those few trained in architecture, most of whom had studied abroad, were available to implement new designs. By the Second Generation, warlords and aspiring presidents of a republic had been replaced by a People’s Republic, ruled by a premier whose authority over construction was at least as tight as that of imperial rulers. Yet by the Third Generation, students were again studying both design and history outside China. Still, the architectural history writings of the First Generation reigned almost unchallenged. The other reason for the influence of the First Generation’s writing about China’s architecture lies in the buildings themselves.
The Field-Defining Problem and Ten Principles behind It
It hardly escapes notice that many Chinese buildings look like many other Chinese buildings. Even in a heavily controlled imperial environment, building designs and styles can change. Dynastic change and new religious practices often are the causes. Yet during more than a dozen dynasties and in scores of kingdoms and states, some of them foreign, in the territory that is today China, a ninth-century Buddhist temple, a thirteenth-century Daoist temple, a fifteenth-century mosque, a fifteenth-century funerary hall, a seventeenth- century Confucian hall, and a nineteenth-century residence exhibit unmistakable similarities (Figures 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). Adding an eleventh-century pagoda to the comparisons does not alter the basic fact that all seven buildings constructed in five different provinces for different purposes over a period of more than nine hundred years were elevated on platforms, supported by wooden pillars, and employed wooden bracket sets and roof frames to support ceramic tile roofs (Figure 6). Stone and brick construction existed in China before the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE; interregnum 9–23 CE). Mud-earth buildings stood in desert environments. A few copper structures appeared by the Ming period (1368–1644).5 But the timber frame reigned supreme.
From the earliest evidence of wooden architecture, circa 5000 BCE, at Hemudu, about 22 kilometers northwest of Ningbo in Zhejiang province, to the most recent renovations of buildings in the Forbidden City in the Qing dynasty, post-and-lintel timber framing was the core of Chinese construction.6 In the Han dynasty, miniature buildings and excavated remains indicate the employment of ceramic tile roofs, another feature still in use in the Forbidden City (Figure 7). In the centuries following Han until the eighth century, from which wooden architecture survives, relief sculpture on cave-temple façades and interiors rendered the same kinds of structures (Figure 8). The duration of a structural system that is both so recognizable and so straightforward makes Chinese architecture unique among building traditions worldwide.
Why Chinese architecture has so many shared features— for such a variety of purposes, in so many geographic and ecological regions, over the course of millennia—is the field-defining problem. It has not been adequately addressed or explained. Yet it will be argued here that this underlying feature of the Chinese building system is a primary reason that writing about China’s premodern architecture has continued, into this century, to resemble that of architectural historians of the First Generation. If buildings are so unchanging, what would compel the narrative to change?
Ten fundamental principles of Chinese construction, both of individual structures and their arrangement in space, are prominent in the majority of Chinese buildings and building groups through the nineteenth century: (1) Space develops horizontally. Buildings stand along major and less major axes. One axis usually dominates a building complex, although in a palatial or religious complex or an urban plan, two or more clear building axes may be present.7 In any case, spatial magnitude is expressed by longer and longer lines along horizontal planes, not vertically. Tall buildings look like anomalies in Chinese space (Figure 9). (2) Space builds around four-sided enclosures. Four directions plus a center have defined Chinese conceptions of space and time since the Han dynasty. South is the cardinal direction, and thus south is often the focus of aboveground construction.8 (3) Every Chinese building complex has one focal building that stands on the main axial line of a spatial unit, but Chinese buildings are not considered independent structures. Implicit in the designation of a building type, such as palace (gong), is that it is part of an architectural complex of interrelated buildings, courtyards, and enclosing arcades. (4) Gates mark entries to the whole and to individual complexes. They are psychological as much as physical structures. A gate, like the enclosing spaces to which it may join (gates are attached to enclosing arcades), marks the boundary between more sanctified or imperial space behind it and the profane world outside. (5) Chinese architecture is human-size, rarely more than two stories and small by comparison with the greatest imperial or religious architecture of other civilizations. (6) The core of a Chinese building is the flexible timber frame, easily adapted to increase or decrease the number of columns or the size of the structure or to move columns to make room for an altar, a table, or a throne. Palace hall becomes temple when interior pillars are moved, yet the decorative roof above, the bracket sets inside and outside, the covered arcade or wall that encloses it, and the courtyard in front are all unchanged. (7) Every component of that frame is modular. Once one knows the module (defined by a component of the bracket set), which prescribes a proportional relationship to many other wooden members of the structure, it is simple to replace damaged parts or to move parts of the structure. (8) The module indicates a building’s rank. It is easier to determine the rank, or eminence, of a structure, from its exterior or interior than to determine the function. In addition to the module—which generates the size of timber parts—the height of an elevation platform (or lack of one), the use of marble for that platform or other architectural decoration, the presence of a balustrade and its decoration, the number and components of bracket sets, and the roof type all determine rank. They never determine a building’s purpose. (9) Chinese architecture is polychromatic or otherwise decorated, both the wooden members outside and wooden components and walls inside. The walls and ceilings of cave-temples and of tomb interiors similarly are often molded or covered with paint to imitate wooden building parts. (10) Only behind the façade that specifies no particular purpose, beyond the gate, behind the outer wall, in the courtyard is the space completely private. A garden, for example, may contain a pavilion or other structure that breaks out of these principles of construction, but it is visible only to a private, select, personal audience.
In spite of the overriding similarities, there are discernible features, such as bracket sets, that mark change over time and across regions.9 Because the shapes of pillars, batter, and roof slopes also often distinguish buildings of certain time periods, they are important indicators of a building’s date. These features were studied by First Generation architectural historians and have remained part of the narrative of Chinese architectural history ever since.10 Yet research also confirmed for these early architectural historians the fundamental immutability of Chinese buildings, no matter the specific design of their components or the number of stories.
Some of the discussion of architecture above applies to the study of Chinese art more generally, particularly painting. Chinese painting has a long history of intentional imitation, by painter-copyists who work before an original in front of them and by those who work from memory or inspiration: old masters were revered, and painters learned by copying their predecessors.11 Still, painting broke out of its past earlier and, one could argue, more dramatically than architecture. By the seventeenth century, painters had developed individual styles, including styles that used techniques inspired by European painting.12 Names of painters and their works were recorded in the fourth century, and long treatises and lists of painters of every generation since then have been compiled, in contrast to the few names found in historical records associated with building construction.13 Moreover, a painting can be made in private, rolled up and put aside, shown selectively, or hidden, whereas a building requires large sums of money and land—whether for an emperor, a private family, or religious practice—and often a sizable organized labor force.
The Archetypical Architecture
If there is a dominant building type in Chinese architecture— one with pillar supports along longitudinal and latitudinal building lines, beams that join those pillars, bracket sets that interface the pillar layer and that of a roof frame, and a ceramic tile roof—there exists an archetypical building complex as well: the Forbidden City in the capital city, Beijing. It is easy to present an argument concluding that the Forbidden City is one of China’s greatest architectural achievements, the culmination of two thousand years of Chinese imperial planning.14 One could probably argue, moreover, that it is China’s greatest architectural achievement. All ten of the principles stated earlier are present in the Forbidden City: timber-frame buildings sized according to modules and arranged on long axial lines with dominant structures clearly among them, courtyards, almost exclusively one-story buildings, extraordinary use of color, and private gardens. Furthermore, China’s showcase palace complex offers attention-getting stories of imperial intrigue and data about the use of the finest materials available, expenditures, and craftsman hours. Yet underlying this spectacle of imperial excess and embellishment are nearly complete column grids that leave only the minimum space required for thrones, lattice ceiling patterns that repeat ad infinitum, and marble balustrades with similarly repetitive decoration. Bracket sets between columns are tightly positioned, often six sets along architraves between pillars. “Sparrow braces” (queti) that support points where columns and beams join repeat on the exterior of almost every building. The framework and details present a competition between rigidity and repetitiveness (Figures 10 and 11).
Occasionally Chinese buildings appear to have broken out of these molds. Ceilings of Liao (907–1125) buildings, for example, confirm that tenth- and eleventh-century builders took the Chinese timber frame to new heights (Figure 12). Still, analysis of Figure 12 and comparable Liao structures confirms that each wooden component of these ceilings and their support systems existed in some form in an earlier Chinese building.15 Analysis further confirms that most building parts in a grand hall from the tenth to the thirteenth century had successors in buildings of the Ming-Qing period.16 If the Forbidden City is China’s greatest architectural achievement, Chinese palaces and temples built of wood in the millennium preceding its construction anticipate it, and to the extent that comparable sections of those buildings are different, the distinctions owe more to changes in modules or technical advancements than to any fundamental change in a modular system; or they are caused by changes in decoration, not by innovation.
Archetypes, Not Chronotypes
If the dilatory pace of change in Chinese timber construction through the ages is impressive, the composition of this enduring structural type is at least as remarkable. The Chinese timber frame easily reduces to a stick figure: foundation, pillars, beams, purlins, and sloping roof (Figure 13). In each drawing, three of the fundamental features of Chinese construction noted earlier can be observed: modularity, flexibility of the timber frame, and rank, all without regard to function. It goes without saying that Chinese civilization is not “simplistic.” Rather, one finds purpose in the fact that a Chinese building can be rendered this way.
The simple lines of the stick figures represent structures of varied purpose and in multiple media. The pottery building excavated in a tomb dated circa 600 in Henan and now in the Henan Provincial Museum in Luoyang is an example of a three-dimensional version. It is elevated on a podium, supported by a timber frame, and has bracket sets and a ceramic tile roof (Figure 14). Pilasters are lotus petals, here with a beaded ring where they join the columns; pillars are eight-sided and fluted; a band draws together lotus petals or sheaves on both ends as decoration on the columns; all roof rafters are parallel, with long rafters emerging from the main roof ridge and short ones emanating from side ridges; owls’ tails dominate the ends of the main roof ridge; and six-petal lotuses decorate the circular ceramic roof tiles. Atop the columns are single-step two-arm bracket sets, so tiny that they can only be decorative: they top cap blocks, but they do not support the roof frame. Some details, such as the mullioned windows and the studs of the doorframe, may be realistic.17 In most instances, however, the details of stone and pottery buildings, such as bracket sets and the position of the roof on the structure below it, are exaggerated and inherently nonfunctional because of the material. Always one observes an artisan’s contribution: in the decorative figures on the roof of the Han building in Figure 7, and in the deity encircled by sheaves positioned at the top of each side bay of the front of the Sui miniature building.
Other achievements of such a profound archetype in structurally untenable miniature buildings are that it lends itself to reproduction on both a small and a large scale and it can easily become symbolic. The building is a powerful symbol of China and thus of Chinese civilization. From afar, on horseback or on a boat at sea, anyone approaching China would see ceramic tile roofs projecting above walled enclosures and know he was coming upon a Chinese environment. As an unambiguous and unique identifier of China, the wooden hall has the potency of the Great Wall.
Yet another aspect of such a clear archetype that lends itself to small-scale or symbolic forms is that because the timber frame is easy to construct, it is easy to adapt and export. From the late sixth to the seventh century, for example, the timber frame and tile roof with parallel rafters and corner decoration was employed on Sogdian funerary couches and sarcophagi; in murals in a Turkic tomb in Shoroon Bumbagar, Mongolia; on a Buddhist tapestry for the Japanese court that is now housed at the Chūgūji nunnery; as well as on the walls of dozens of tombs and Buddhist cave-temples of the early Tang period in China.18 The purposes were different. They ranged from self-identification of a lord seated as a Chinese ruler with a Chinese wife in a Chinese environment, for the Sogdian; to Chinese construction in a remote region within the Chinese sphere, in Shoroon Bumbagar; to imagery that placed Japan in the realm of East Asian Buddhism.
A millennium later, the features that made Chinese architecture so recognizable rendered it recognizably exotic out of context. The clarity and simplicity made it easy to export and reproduce Chinese architectural features. Thus William Chambers (1723–96) could design a Chinese pagoda in Kew Gardens, perhaps a symbol of colonialism or Orientalism, but surely one inspired by Chinese architecture, and later, Tivoli Gardens could present a Chinese pavilion as an example of exotica for pleasure. In both European cases, as well as in the sixth and seventh centuries in Asia, the message of the architecture was first and most obviously that a Chinese building was represented. Because the Chinese building is as recognizable as it is straightforward to copy, Chinese civilization has been able to present a clear cultural model, architecture, on almost any landscape. Part of the success of the Chinese architectural system, and surely an explanation of its long endurance with so little change, is that the standardized parts, because their number is small, so readily lend themselves to imitation. “China” and “architecture” are the dominant messages of a Chinese-style hall of any size and in any material. Whether Buddhist, Daoist, Confucian, Jewish, Islamic, Manichaean, imperial, residential, funerary, or garden structure; built for the delight of imperialists and aspiring colonizers or just pleasure seekers; located north, south, east, or west, on a mountain, or at sea level—all such categories are secondary, and often they can be used to label an actual structure only when one gets inside or reads an inscription.
The earthenware example dated circa 600 does remarkably well as evidence of the standard vocabulary of Chinese architecture alongside a building in the Forbidden City (see Figure 10 and Figure 14). Still, it remains a challenge to come to terms with the degree to which certain basic principles and ideas about Chinese architecture change so little over long periods of time. Old concepts and forms are expressed in later times in part because of the simple truth that historically China turns to the past to guide the present. Fundamental tenets of Qing, early modern, and post-1949 government and society can be traced to writings of China’s Classical Age (the Zhou [1046–221 BCE] and Qin-Han [221 BCE–220 CE] dynasties), which prescribe the role of the individual in society and the relation between government and those ruled.19 If in premodern China, to construct a palace, ritual altar, or tomb in the manner of one’s ancestors was to demonstrate reverence for the past and express hope that one’s successes might be as great as those of one’s ancestors, in the twentieth century Mao Zedong interpreted these ideas as letting “the past serve the present (gu wei jin yong).”20 Mark Elvin expounds on continuities in Chinese civilization with a focus on China’s technological and economic relation to its past.21 James Watson uses the phrase “cultural standardization” to describe the perpetuation of ritual, particularly funerary rites, over long periods of time, writing: “Herein lies the genius of the Chinese approach … the system allowed for a high degree of variation within an overarching structure of unity.”22 The sociologist Frank Dikötter observes yet more of these continuities with the past in China today.23
To the extent that frustration compels one to keep probing for a deeper meaning, it is because in Europe and then the Americas one has been trained for more than a century that the role of the architect is to conceive, think, and construct.24 It is a further challenge to view China as a society without architects because Chinese philosophers and historians wrote about and interpreted so many aspects of the human contribution to society since the last millennium BCE.25 To advance one’s understanding of what Chinese architecture is and is not and thereby, one hopes, the important work to be undertaken in the twenty-first century, one must accept a simple truth: Chinese architecture is archetypical, but not chronotopic.
Dangling Precariously on Fletcher’s Tree
The single, supraclear image, whether a stick figure or a building from the Forbidden City, had one very positive effect in the early twentieth century. The Chinese hall was so recognizable that it was hard to ignore. The famous Tree of Architecture in Banister Fletcher’s History of Architecture has a pillar-supported building with bracket sets and a ceramic tile roof whose eaves slope broadly, a drawing probably based on a building in the Forbidden City, as one of twenty-eight icons, and one of the twenty-four large ones, that represent the major architectural traditions of the world. The icon of China occupies the lowest position branch at the right—dangling, precariously perhaps, in a position comparable to the that of Mexico—on a planting whose core is occupied by the icons of Greece and Rome, but present nevertheless (Figure 15). The above-mentioned First Generation saw this tree in their textbook for the history of world architecture. The image confirmed that China had a place in the global narrative.26 The strong and clear visual image of a Chinese building made it easy for Fletcher to put China on the tree.
It probably did not escape the attention of those writing China’s architectural history from the 1920s through the 1940s, whether the father and son Fletcher or a Western-trained scholar in China, that China was grouped with Japan on that tree or that they were the only paired nations. No matter what the personal feelings of a patriotic young nation at war with Japan, China was aware of its geographic proximity to the islands across the East China Sea. Several of China’s earliest architectural historians, including Liu Dunzhen, had been educated in Japan.27 Since the late 1920s Liu had been writing China’s architectural history as one interwoven with Japan’s.28 He had turned to Tamamushi Shrine as a prime example of the relationship between Chinese and Japanese architecture. The delicate 2.33-meter lacquered structure, which received its name from the beetles’ wings (tamamushi) inlaid at one time into its surface, was dedicated by a court lady in the mid-seventh century. It is another example of the ease with which the Chinese archetype could be transferred, in this case to a votive shrine that exemplified the aesthetic of the Japanese court in the mid-seventh century.29 Just as the First Generation would have to make sure that China had a place in the global narrative, its members would also have to justify or otherwise establish China’s relation to Japanese architecture.
Rank, Not Size or Function
China’s First Generation writers of architectural history made a decision to focus on textual sources. Or perhaps it was less a decision than, simply and obviously, what a group of scholars responsible for opening a new area of discourse was expected to do in that cultural milieu. China, as I have mentioned, was a civilization with a multimillennial and extensive history of writings and commentaries about those writings. In addition, as it became increasingly difficult because of war to conduct fieldwork in remote locations in the countryside, anyone with a basic library of historical writings could do primary source research at his desk. Furthermore, the European tradition that Chinese students abroad had studied included masterworks of architectural history of Europe’s classical antiquity, such as Vitruvius, and a well-identified body of literature and buildings on which the classical world and its writings had had a profound impact in the Renaissance, the baroque period, and later. China possessed a treatise that both could occupy a scholarly lifetime and could be juxtaposed to the best of the European tradition as exemplary of what China had to offer. It was Yingzao fashi (Building standards).
Today Yingzao fashi is widely known and well studied, but—a testament to its complexity and ambiguities—large portions of its twenty-eight juan (chapters) of text have not been fully explained or translated, and the six juan of illustrations raise questions of whether they date to the year 1103, when the text was first presented; to the 1145 edition; or to later redactions. There is no question that the Song court issued a manual of government standards for building technology, materials, and labor named Yingzao fashi, that it is the most comprehensive writing about China’s pre-eighteenth-century building practices, or that it was known through the ages: after presentation at both the Northern and Southern Song (960–1127; 1127–1279) courts, it was included in two of China’s most magisterial encyclopedic compendia, the Yongle dadian (Encyclopedia of the Yongle reign), compiled in the first decade of the fifteenth century, and Siku quanshu (Comprehensive writings of the four [imperial] treasuries), of the eighteenth century.30
Three subjects addressed in detail in Yingzao fashi have had a broad impact on the writing about and understanding of Chinese architecture since First Generation scholarship: the modular basis, with extensive discussion of the modules cai, fen, and zhi; the differentiation of high- and lower-ranking buildings, particularly the most eminent structural type, diantang, and the less, but not least, eminent, tingtang; and bracket set formations. Even though a building is constructed by human hands and the wooden pieces used to make it rarely measure precisely what the module prescribes, since the 1930s a fundamental relationship has been acknowledged between the measurements of key wooden members of several of China’s most significant structures and prescriptions in Yingzao fashi.31 The third in-depth subject of Yingzao fashi fuels what seems an intrinsic primary interest of the field of Chinese architecture: the bracket set. Its components, their composite form, and the rank of a structure indicated by them are prescribed and illustrated in the text.
Scholars have studied and written highly sophisticated books and essays about bracket sets since the earliest modern writing on Chinese architecture. The bracket set is a primary identifying feature of Chinese construction, a component of the archetype that helps date a building and determine regional aspects of Chinese architecture. In the twenty-first century, one challenge is how to move beyond the scholarly appeal of comprehending the nuances and implications inherent in Chinese bracketing and instead to use such technical aspects of construction to enhance the study of broader issues in Chinese architecture.
Indeed, study of the bracket set, like study of Yingzao fashi, offers appealing research challenges for a Sinologist as well as an architectural historian. The study of bracketing takes one deep into the sophisticated literary basis of Chinese architecture. Behind Yingzao fashi lies a body of lexicographical works, compendia with sections on architecture, and lost treatises known by name or partial survival. The first-century BCE Erya (Elegant [language]), the Han-period Shuowen jiezi (Explaining depictions of reality and analyzing graphs of words), the later Han-period Shiming (Explanations of words), the tenth-century Mujing (Wood classic), and the eleventh-century Wujing zongyao (Essentials of the military classics) are among them.32 Comparison with these writings quickly shows that Yingzao fashi is unique, and even more impressive; no later work is comparable. The closest treatise to Yingzao fashi is Gongbu gongcheng zuofa zeli (Engineering manual of the Board of Works), which includes the names of several specific buildings at the Beijing summer palaces and has dates for some of them that range between 1727 and 1747.33 The eighteenth-century work had no illustrations. First Generation scholars identified and studied it and produced an illustrated companion volume.34Gongbu gongcheng zuofa zeli reinforces the understanding of Chinese architecture as a codified textual tradition whose vocabulary can be explicated through philology.
The existence of only two architectural manuals, separated in time by six hundred years, did not change the narrative of an enduring architectural tradition. In the second decade of the twentieth century, when Yingzao fashi came into focus as the text through which one would understand China’s architectural tradition and before the later text was carefully studied, it was believed that the Qing palaces one saw in Beijing maintained the imperial construction system promulgated in Yingzao fashi, that of Song China.35Gongbu gongcheng zuofa zeli raised the question of change in the course of millennia. In the end, First Generation architectural historians proposed three periods of Chinese building history: before Yingzao fashi, from Yingzao fashi to Gongbu gongcheng zuofa zeli, and the period of Gongbu gongcheng zuofa zeli, which was considered the period of Ming-Qing and the Forbidden City.36 In spite of the tripartite division, a single, archetypical building continued to represent all Chinese architecture.
One Narrative, Two Texts, Four Outstanding
With one narrative and two powerful texts that support it, it is not surprising that the movers and shakers in the field of Chinese architectural history have been very few as well. Four architectural historians from the First Generation are known as the Four Outstanding (sijie).37 Liu Dunzhen was the oldest. After receiving a strong education in classical Chinese studies at his clan school in Hunan province, he moved to a progressive school in the provincial capital, Changsha, and in 1913 became a student in Japan on a Chinese government scholarship. He entered an engineering program in 1916 and the next year transferred to architecture. Liu graduated in 1921 from Tokyo Higher School of Technology, where his education was based on the late nineteenth-century curriculum for architecture at Tokyo Imperial University, which combined the study of Japanese and European architectural history with practical design. In 1923 Liu returned to China to establish a program in architecture at Suzhou Specialized School of Technology with Liu Shiying who had been trained in Japan slightly earlier. In 1927, as part of the wave of educational reforms promulgated by the Republican government, the Suzhou school was transferred to National Central University in Nanjing.38
The other three came to the University of Pennsylvania on Boxer Indemnity Scholarships, a program initiated by the United States after concessions by China at the termination of the Boxer Rebellion in 1901: China would pay partial reparations to the United States in the form of scholarships for Chinese students to study in U.S. universities. Most who came to the United States had received the equivalent of an American high school education at Tsinghua (Qinghua) Preparatory School, a “feeder” into the indemnity program. The most famous of this group is Liang Sicheng, who studied at Penn from 1924 to 1927, spent the next year at Harvard, and returned to China in 1929 to establish, along with Penn colleagues, departments of architecture that included the study of architectural history—at Northeast University in Shenyang and subsequently at Tsinghua University in Beijing— as well as design firms.39 Liang is still considered China’s premier architectural historian and the central figure in architectural education in Beijing: Second Generation disciples, their students, and their students’ students, into the current Fourth Generation in China and in Taiwan, have continued to rely on methodology used by Liang.40 Liang’s Penn classmate Yang Tingbao is perhaps China’s best-known architect of the period from the 1930s through the 1970s. He is largely responsible for major civic construction projects for the Republican government in Nanjing and for many university buildings in Nanjing and Chongqing. Yang continued as an architect (even serving under Mao) until the end of his life. He participated in the training of almost every architecture student at National Central University, subsequently Nanjing University and then Southeast University, all in Nanjing, also until his death.41 Tong Jun is the fourth. Born in Shenyang and a classmate of Liang’s during his years at Tsinghua (1921–25), he left China for Penn in 1925. He taught alongside Penn classmates in Shenyang from 1930 to 1931. In 1932 Tong established the practice Allied Architects with his Penn classmates Chen Zhi (Benjamin Chen) and Zhao Shen. In the 1930s Tong became increasingly interested in Chinese gardens and designed his most significant buildings, many of them in Shanghai. He, too, spent the majority of his career at Southeast University and its predecessors. Tong is least known in the United States, perhaps because he did little design work after 1949 and because so much of his oeuvre concerns late imperial and modern Chinese architecture.42
The group at Penn studied with Paul Cret (1876–1945) and his studio master and successor in his Philadelphia firm, John Harbeson (1888–1986). Thus in the 1920s the students were deeply engaged in Beaux-Arts education.43 Among the experiences that had a strong impact on their views of education were the study of watercolor as part of their architectural training—it is still part of many architecture curricula in China, though it has largely disappeared from architectural training in the rest of the world; configuration of a classroom with a studio master at the center or back center of the working group—still the arrangement in many design programs in China; and the integration of design, history, and preservation in architectural education. All returnees to China engaged in at least one of five aspects of their training abroad, but the Four Outstanding engaged in all five: they founded practices; they established what are still China’s most important architecture schools and departments at major universities; they pursued scholarly studies in architectural history; they were the researchers whose fieldwork identified China’s oldest architecture; and they became China’s first historic preservationists. Thus the standards for membership in this group were high, perhaps on a par with the superlative importance of Yingzao fashi. One contribution of the First Generation is more impressive when one considers that they were China’s educated elite: their awareness of educational opportunities in the early 1920s—and their knowledge that study at Tsinghua Preparatory School or College and, in Liu’s Dunzhen’s case, in Japan was a prerequisite for their education abroad. Although they belonged to a generation in which their cohort rarely mingled with the local populations, known at the time as the peasantry, the new researchers embraced the people in China’s villages and countryside, who helped them find old buildings, and they lodged in the villagers’ fields while conducting research. China’s architectural history today includes as many pre-fourteenth-century buildings as it does because of the efforts of the First Generation to study old structures anywhere they remained. Several that they measured and photographed thoroughly were lost in the conflagration of the 1940s and during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) (Figure 16).44
Yang Tingbao’s most famous classmate at Penn was Louis Kahn. A comparison of their early careers demonstrates both how daunting the task of the First Generation was, and how successful they were in accomplishing it. Like other Penn graduates of his time, Chinese and non-Chinese, Yang worked in Paul Cret’s office for a year. Kahn also worked for Cret. Immediately upon his return to China in 1927, Yang was commissioned to design Shenyang Railway Station, a 7,000-square-meter space. He received commissions for a bank in Tianjin, six more buildings in Shenyang, and five buildings and a bank in Beijing before 1930, while working on historic preservation of the Hall for Prayer for a Prosperous Year in the Altar of Heaven complex and the Hall of the Five Hundred Luohan at the Biyun (Precious Cloud) Monastery, both in Beijing. From 1931 to 1935 he designed some of the greatest buildings of his career, many of them in Nanjing for the Guomindang (Republican government). University buildings, libraries, hospitals, and pleasure spaces were among them. Only in 1935 did Kahn receive his first commission, the storefront synagogue Ahavath Israel in northeast Philadelphia. During the period 1936–44, when the First Generation and their compatriots in other fields relocated to southwestern China, Yang designed much of Sichuan University, hotels, and numerous public buildings. Perhaps most remarkable, and again in contrast to Kahn, the majority of Yang’s designs, including every building mentioned in this paragraph, were realized.
After the war, Liang returned to Beijing while the other three went to Nanjing. All worked to formalize the Chinese educational system in architecture. In Beijing, however, Liang Sicheng became embroiled in the politics of architecture. He fought vigorously and publicly for the preservation of Beijing’s walls and gates, a subject that was debated in the press and brought him into direct conflict with Mao Zedong. Liu Dunzhen helped in these efforts. Both men were denounced in print beginning in the 1950s. When the Maoist era ended, in the 1980s, Liang Sicheng, on account of the ill treatment he endured from the 1950s until his death in 1972, became a tragic hero of the Cultural Revolution. His status as almost a demigod has elevated him as an architectural historian and architect second to none.45 Nonetheless, there is truth to the statement that without him Chinese architectural history would not have had the impact it did beginning in the late 1920s, in China or outside China. It is certain that without his charisma and leadership, we would not possess information about monuments lost in the 1940s. Moreover, the field, without his contributions, would have far less impact internationally today: Liang’s writings, known since his time in Philadelphia, were followed and quoted in Europe and the United States from the 1930s onward. In deference to Liang’s achievements, as well, it seems, as his personal sacrifices from the 1950s until his death, no one has significantly challenged Liang Sicheng’s writing of an architectural history of China, or that of the First Generation.
The more emphatic message of the Four Outstanding and the First Generation, like that of the two treatises, is that they fit into the broader notion put forth here: not only is Chinese architecture a subject represented by an archetypical, perhaps iconic structure, but the fields touched by that iconic building—premodern writings and twentieth-century scholarship—have been cast in its mold: one structure, two texts, four superlative shapers, one of them a demigod.
A universally recognized standard building, two texts through which to support understanding of it, and four who stand above all others as communicators of the tradition are not the only challenges to the writing of an alternative Chinese architectural history in this century. The four greats, particularly Liang and Liu, and a few of their colleagues or students who did not study abroad but who worked alongside them or were in their classrooms, defined the canon of Chinese architecture before 1950. Neither the buildings designated as China’s most important nor the manner in which information about them is presented has changed much since then.
Almost without exception, any history of Chinese architecture is organized in one way. First, discussion is chronological, whether in one volume or multiple volumes. Then, within the time period, topics are discussed in roughly this order: urbanism, or walled spaces such as cities and fortifications; palaces, altars, and shrines, the latter two usually for imperial rituals; religious architecture; funerary architecture; residential or vernacular architecture; gardens; bridges and technology; the art of architecture, including decoration; and writings. Confucian architecture is a rare topic that has the potential to belong to two groupings: it may be considered among shrines or may be included in religious architecture. Furthermore, most sections have established organizational principles. The art of architecture, for example, is discussed by medium according to the categories in Yingzao fashi, such as stone and brick.46
Series of books on Chinese architecture follow roughly the same organization, with topical divisions more or less detailed, according to the number of volumes in the series. Gardens may receive two volumes, imperial and private. Religious architecture often is divided into Buddhist and Daoist, and in a large series, Confucian or Lamaist architecture may receive its own book. A few series even have a volume dedicated to Islamic architecture. Series are usually produced by research institutes, as was the case in the 1930s when the Society for Research in Chinese Architecture was the uniquely eminent institution for this purpose. Thus we observe how an archetypical format, one conceived by First Generation authors, continues to manifest itself today.47
An alternative model for writing about Chinese architecture exists in series, but it, too, follows age-old precedents. Some series of books about architecture are divided by province or region. This organization, it is suggested, follows the model of imperial record keeping, in which comprehensive histories of provinces, prefectures, subprefectures, counties, and sometimes towns were written, each with a section on important buildings and/or historic remains. Then as now, comprehensive surveys would be undertaken only at the national level. The writing of books according to geographic divisions, in imperial times and today, has meant that authors often do not have access beyond their home provinces, and some have not seen buildings outside their provinces. A building in Luoyang, for example, a capital in Henan province and an important hub of construction for many centuries, is not mentioned alongside buildings fewer than 100 kilometers to the west in Shanxi that share architectural features.
Finally, one press, Zhongguo Jianzhu Gongye Chubanshe (currently known as CABP [China Architecture and Building Press]) has been considered premier in publishing books and series about Chinese architecture for the past sixty years.48 CABP, for example, has published the complete writings of Liang Sicheng, Liu Dunzhen, and Tong Jun and the series referred to two paragraphs above. Other publishing houses in China, particularly those that focus on archaeology, art, and technology, also release books on architectural history, but in a society with many long-standing paragons that have not been or are unlikely to be challenged, the press is yet another.
Archaeology: First Serious Challenge to the Narrative
One feature of the canon that distinguishes the architectural history of China from that of most other regions is the role of or interface with archaeology. Archaeology drives the Chinese art canon more than it does that of any other country or region. Traditional Chinese architecture, unlike buildings in Egypt or Iraq, for example, has a continuous history from the third millennium BCE, if not earlier, into the nineteenth century, and sometimes later.49 Liang and Liu, members of the First Generation who wrote most voluminously about architectural history, recognized the importance of archaeological sites in China’s canonical architectural history. Excavation of the tombs of Shang (ca. 1600–1046 BCE) kings in Anyang was under way in the late 1920s, and discussion of their structures was included in Liang’s and Liu’s earliest histories of architecture. The architecture of the two millennia after Anyang was presented in the Liang and Liu canons through pottery objects in the shape of buildings like the one in Figure 7. By the 1960s, histories of Chinese architecture began with Zhoukoudian, the site where Peking Man was excavated, and included dozens of Neolithic villages, particularly the one excavated at Banpo in 1953.50 Today hundreds of sites from China’s preliterate period are included in the narrative of art and architecture. Before the end of the twentieth century, excavation had given way to an architectural history of China that was driven by archaeology.51 Even if one were unwilling to include theoretical reconstructions of buildings as pertinent to the writing of architectural history, the sites themselves made the study feasible.
Another source of data for the writing of Chinese architectural history that has been enhanced by excavation is the rock-carved cave-temple. The material has been particularly important in writing about the fifth through the eighth century. Known as fangmugou, imitation of the timber frame, molded and painted decoration of cave-temples and tombs is as uniquely integral to the narrative of Chinese architectural history as excavation sites, and the large amount of it separates Chinese architectural history from that of other civilizations. Since 1949, some 100,000 excavated tombs with sculpted or painted copies of wooden pillars, bracket sets, and roof trusses have joined cave and temple interiors as the database for this information.52 A forty-two-hour survey course on Chinese architecture at the University of Pennsylvania races through the pre-Tang period, giving less coverage to four centuries of Han architecture than to single buildings dated after 800, yet ten lectures are devoted to details of architecture and building plans informed by excavation sites, cave-temples, small-scale construction, and paintings of architecture. Moreover, for the period of the Tang, that is, beginning in the seventh century, through the fourteenth century, a unique Chinese genre of painting known as jiehua, “ruled-line painting” (a format in which measuring devices are employed to render buildings and architectural details), is justifiably used to write the narrative of architecture. Thousands of square meters of murals with the level of detail shown in Figure 17 are found inside wooden halls, cave-temples, and subterranean tombs dated after the ninth century.53 Liang and Liu used jiehua, as well. Although the number of examples they could examine was more limited than after government-sponsored excavation became widespread under the People’s Republic of China, First Generation scholars based their writing of China’s architectural history on pre-ninth-century excavation sites and the generous numbers of pottery facsimiles, details gleaned from cave-temples, and paintings of buildings available to them.
One does not treat lightly the difference between small-scale architecture, paintings, and site plans and actual buildings. Those who write China’s architectural history in the twenty-first century have the opportunity to redefine the canon, but two facts will not change: because Chinese architectural history is the study of a nation that defines a continuous history of more than five millennia, historians of that architecture turn to evidence underground and to cave walls to a much greater extent than those who write other national architectural histories. Tomb and cave interiors, residential sites of preliterate ages, and representations of architecture in paint no doubt will remain important to Chinese architectural history in the twenty-first century, not only because excavation will continue to yield monuments that make possible an increasingly sophisticated writing of China’s architectural history, but also because there has been such precedent for their inclusion.
China, East Asia, or the Eastern Side of the Asian Continent
Although China as a civilization has a continuous history of several millennia, and as a country during all those centuries has had the same core provinces (China proper), China’s borders have changed. The First Generation narrative of Chinese architectural history occasionally looked outside China, specifically to Japan, to fill in information about Chinese wooden buildings, which, those researchers judged, represented what China would have built at the same time. In addition to the Tamamushi Shrine, mentioned above, the most frequently cited Japanese structure was the Kondō, the main Buddha hall, of the monastery Tōshōdaiji in Nara, dated to 756 and thus earlier than existing wooden buildings in China. Those who wrote about the Kondō explained their turning to Japan by noting that a Chinese Buddhist monk, brought to Japan for the purpose, had supervised the construction of this building; by emphasizing the presence of specific building components, including curved tie beams, common to the east hall of Foguang Monastery, dated 857, and the Kondō; and by pointing to reliable evidence that in the eighth century the Japanese government in Nara had consciously sought to emulate various aspects of Tang Chinese civilization—architecture and urban planning among them—to enhance its ability to establish an empire in East Asia.54 Twentieth-century political agendas may also be read into the emphasis on shared building designs, both for China as the generating force of architecture (and other aspects of civilization), and for Japan, which perhaps saw itself as the nation that accomplished and preserved what China was incapable of maintaining and also offered a new aesthetic refinement (such as inlaid beetles’ wings) that China itself had not developed.55
China’s political understanding of itself in East Asia continued to influence the writing of Chinese architectural history in the 1980s. Publications, particularly those of government-sponsored research institutes, including several that are mentioned in Fu Xinian’s essay in this issue, added new buildings to the architectural canon. Structures in Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and other autonomous regions became part of Chinese architectural history. Architecture in politically sensitive border regions such as the remains of the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 BCE–668 CE), whose territory spanned North Korea and Jilin province of China, and Xishuangbanna, a region of Yunnan province that borders Myanmar, also became part of the narrative. Books about Chinese vernacular architecture included block houses of Tibet, stilted dwellings of southwestern China, and mud-brick architecture of Muslim populations of Xinjiang.56 Chinese architecture was as expansive as the fifty-six nationalities, or ethnicities, that the Chinese government designated as its population, only one of which was Han (Chinese). To a certain extent one can view this inclusion as part of a long history of considering buildings from the non-Chinese dynasties such as Liao (907–1125) and Jin (1115–1234) in writing about China’s architecture. The Liao empire and especially the Jin, however, included territory in China’s core provinces, and both empires have designated volumes in China’s twenty-four standard histories. The architecture of the Xi Xia (Tangut) empire (1038–1227), by contrast, contemporary with Liao, had less territory in China proper and has no Chinese standard history. Yet it also entered general histories of Chinese architecture in the 1980s. In other words, premodern buildings located in regions of high Chinese political interest entered the Chinese architectural canon at this time. Political concerns surely will continue to drive China’s writing of architectural history in the twenty-first century. As happened with the archetype, the study of Yingzao fashi, and the amount of archaeological material to include in the canon, scholars independent of political concerns will decide which buildings from the Xi Xia empire, Mongolia, Tibet, and other autonomous regions to include in their writing of architectural history: today, the same Chinese visa that takes one to Beijing gives one access to Xi Xia monuments and to Inner Mongolia and Tibet. To the extent that relationships exist between Chinese architecture, Korean and Japanese architecture, and buildings to China’s north, west, and south, scholars of this century also will have to judge their significance to the Chinese narrative.
Another aspect of the writing of China’s architectural history, related to geography, is that 70 percent of Chinese buildings dated before the year 1400 are in Shanxi province.57 China’s seven oldest wooden buildings and thirteen of China’s seventeen oldest are among them. Many of the thirteen contain murals with representations of architecture.58 By the 1950s Chinese researchers were well aware of Shanxi’s significance for the study of wooden architecture.59 Details of wooden architecture earlier than the oldest timber hall also are provided by cave-temples in Shanxi: Yungang, Tianlongshan, and smaller sites.60 Shanxi is also the source of three of China’s most important sarcophagi in the shape of buildings.61 It is not a coincidence that one-third of the illustrations in this essay are from Shanxi. Excavation further augments the importance of Shanxi. At present the oldest Chinese monastery remains, besides those located in the deserts of Xinjiang (Chinese Central Asia), are in Datong, Shanxi, from the period when it was the capital of the Northern Wei dynasty (398–493).62 For more recent periods such as the Jin and Yuan (1271–1368) dynasties, China’s most important extant religious architecture, most of it with murals, also remains in Shanxi.63 China’s oldest stage is also in Shanxi; it is one of twenty-four in this province dated to the Song, Jin, or Yuan dynasties (the tenth to the fourteenth centuries).64 Shanxi is also the only province where new tenth-century buildings have been found in the twenty-first century.65 Old buildings will probably continue to be found and studied in more detail in Shanxi than in other parts of China. Architectural historians of this century will thus continue to decide how much treatment Shanxi receives in the narrative compared to other parts of China.
Research on Chinese architecture today is in many ways similar to that on any other part of the globe. A comparison of a map of Taiyuan, published in the Daoguang era (1820–50), and a satellite photograph of Taiyuan today illustrate the difference between information now available to those who conduct research on Chinese buildings and what was available in the past (Figures 18 and 19). Although scholars will necessarily do research in classical Chinese sources, those sources are becoming increasingly available online.
Newer concerns that affect the study and presentation of Chinese architecture in this century are the results of tourism, both domestic and foreign. Decisions by local, provincial, and the national governments about which monuments to restore or develop are calculated by cost effectiveness: how many tourists will come, internal or international; how easily they can be transported there; whether more hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops are needed; and how many new jobs can be anticipated. In 2010, for example, Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi, was engaged in making decisions about the development of the area known as the Western Hills.66 Once one of China’s most polluted coal-mining cities but now powered by nuclear energy, Taiyuan, with a population of 4.3 million (and by at least one estimate almost twice that number if the surrounding suburbs are included), is the provincial capital, with the largest airport and many of the best hotels in Shanxi.
Officials engaged in the decisions about development were fully aware that the province in which the city lies already has countless important buildings, only a few of which generate large numbers of tourists. They were aware, furthermore, that two monuments in Taiyuan, the Jin Shrines and the Tianlongshan Buddhist cave-temples, were already popular tourist sites. They wanted to determine which monuments or sites might induce tourists to spend an extra night in a Taiyuan hotel. It was decided to develop the sixth-century tomb of Xu Xianxiu, as well as a monastery on the western hill known as Mengshan. The tomb was chosen because the local government was aware that murals from it had received attention in English-language publications and that students in undergraduate university classes across North America and Europe studied this tomb. At the monastery on Mengshan, an open-air monumental Buddha received a new head because officials determined that the site was likely to be popular with local tourists. In 2010 admission to the site was free, but officials intended that the easy access would increase the popularity of the monument, and they anticipated charging admission in the future.
Three Yuan-period buildings in the Western Hills will remain unrestored and are unlikely to be publicized beyond Shanxi. City planners in Taiyuan also knew that in Datong, in northern Shanxi, the Liao-Jin monasteries Huayansi and Shanhuasi and the contiguous area had been studied and were under redevelopment. Today one walks through a pedestrian-only shopping arcade, modeled after a Qing-period town, with easy access to the two monasteries and a renovated mosque that traces its origins to the Tang dynasty.67 As of January 2006, Datong also had an airport, and although it is smaller than Taiyuan’s, tourists can get there easily, finding the Yungang caves among Datong’s other attractions. In the twenty-first century, every city and town in Shanxi with monuments in and around it will make the same calculations as Taiyuan and Datong about the fate of its premodern architecture if they have not made them already. All will compete for attention from UNESCO and WHO, as well.
If asked to make predictions, I would venture a few. It will be hard to ignore either the archetypal Chinese timber- frame hall or the multimillennial continuity of the Chinese building system; traditional Chinese architecture is not chronotopic. Thus certain buildings in the canon of the 1930s are likely to remain China’s most important historic structures in the twenty-first-century narrative. The Forbidden City is likely to remain premier not only because it illustrates the ten principles outlined above but also because it continues to attract so many foreign tourists who talk and write about it. Scholars will continue to study Yingzao fashi and relevant earlier writings about Chinese architecture because their applicability to many pre-fourteenth-century buildings remains undisputed. Writings by China’s First Generation and their contemporaries and Second Generation students who continued the earlier research will still be required reading for anyone who engages in research on China’s premodern architecture because, like the study of Yingzao fashi, these works remain foundational. The Four Outstanding, however, will share their prestige. A new compendium, published in 2013 by Liaoning Art Press, not CABP, contains ten volumes, one for each twentieth-century architectural historian the press considers most influential today.68 In 2006 CABP published a book titled Those Who Have Decoded Architectural History.69 Seventy-seven men and women receive chapters, including Lai Delin, author of one of the articles in this issue, who is the youngest. Scholarship will surely change as a result of recognition in China that more than nineteen-times-four researchers have had a great impact on the field, and it will include comparative and theoretical studies of twentieth- and twenty-first-century buildings that will be the means by which modern and contemporary Chinese architecture takes its place on a twenty-first-century tree. If works in the canon are to be limited in number, some old buildings will be excluded to make room for alternatives; and it is likely that few, if any, Japanese structures will be included as replacements for lost Chinese buildings. The inclusion of buildings from autonomous regions is likely to be determined by the purposes of authors and their publishers. The mandate and missions of architectural historians, in China and internationally, will include at least three or four of the five pursuits of the First Generation: architectural historians of China will not all practice architecture, although in China most will be trained in design; but they will teach, do fieldwork, and pursue book research; and they may direct decisions about preservation and development even if they do not engage in these tasks themselves. They will also bear responsibility for writing a history that is as accurate and has as great an impact on future centuries as the one forged by a few in an age of intense strife nearly one hundred years ago.
English-language discussions of the First Generation include Peter Rowe and Seng Kuan, Architectural Encounters with Essence and Form in Modern China (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002), 24–55; and Jeffrey Cody, Nancy Steinhardt, and Tony Atkin, Chinese Architecture and the Beaux-Arts (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011). In this essay, authors of publications in European languages are cited first-name first, and authors of publications in Chinese and Japanese, last-name first. Institutional authors of Chinese publications are cited by an English equivalent, such as Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, only if it is a published equivalent that can be found in data searches. Otherwise the romanized Chinese or Japanese authorship is provided.
The four men have been referred to as the Four Outstanding. See Yang Yongsheng and Ming Liansheng, Jianzhu sijie (Architecture: Four Outstanding) (Beijing: China Architecture and Building Press, 1998).
On the system for training officials in China, see Benjamin Elman, A Cultural History of the Examination System in Late Imperial China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), esp. 1–172.
Difangzhi, local histories or gazetteers, are a unique and uniquely important genre of Chinese writing. In principle, local officials in every province, prefecture, subprefecture, and county compiled such records. Entries on important buildings and/or remains of historical significance were included in them, often in designated sections. In addition, treatises about major cities and their architecture were written through the ages. Important example of these include Lu Hui, Yezhongji (Record of the city of Ye), compiled in the fourth century; Yang Xuanzhi, Luoyang qielan ji (Record of Buddhist monasteries of Luoyang), compiled in the sixth century; Xu Song (1781–1848), Tang liangjing chengfang kao (Research on the two Tang capitals); Meng Yuanlao (fl. 1090–1150), Dongjing menghua lu (Record of dreaming of splendor in the eastern capital), and Li Dou (act. 1764–95), Yangzhou huafang lu (Record of pleasure boats of Yangzhou). A comprehensive study of cities and their buildings is Gu Yanwu (1613–82), Lidai diwang zhaijing ji (Record of imperial cities through the ages).
On copper buildings, see Jianwei Zhang and Wei Chen, “Materials Analysis of Traditional Chinese Copper Halls Using XRF and GIS: Kunming Copper Hall as a Case Study,” Frontiers of Architectural Research 2, no. 1 (2013), 74–84.
On Hemudu, see Kwang-chih Chang and Pingfang Xu, The Formation of Chinese Civilization: An Archaeological Perspective (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2005), 36–41 and 298. For illustrations of notched wooden timbers from Hemudu, see Chinese Academy of Architecture, Ancient Chinese Architecture (Beijing: China Building Industry Press, 1982), 19.
Tang (618–907) Chang’an and Beijing of the Ming-Qing period (1368–1911) are famous examples of urban plans with one dominant building axis. In the third, fourth, and fifth centuries, multiple parallel axes of buildings were common in Chinese cities, including Ye in Hebei, Luoyang in Henan, and Jiankang in Jiangsu. Along each axis, one building would dominate. For illustrations, see Nancy Steinhardt, Chinese Architecture (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002), 65, 70, 72, and 73.
On the cardinal directions and the importance of south in Chinese space, see Chi Yinzhong and Zhang Zhaoxia, “Yin-yang wuxing si wei moshi yu Nanyang Han hua” (The Theory of yin-yang and the five phases and Han pictorial reliefs in stone from Nanyang), Zhongyuan wenwu, no. 3 (2002), 52–55.
Of the numerous Chinese studies of the evolution of bracket sets in traditional architecture, Qi Yingtao, Zenyang jianding gu jianzhu (How to identify traditional Chinese architecture) (Beijing: Xinhua Shudian, 1981), presents the most succinct twentieth-century discussion. Twenty-first-century studies in which distinctions in bracket sets are used to date buildings and differentiate the architecture of China’s regions include Tracy Miller, “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed: Local Style in the Architecture of Tenth-Century China,” in Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, ed. Peter Lorge (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2011), 167–222; and Alexandra Harrer, “Fan-shaped Bracket Sets and Their Application in Religious Timber Architecture of Shanxi Province” (PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 2010).
A widely circulated study in which these features are discussed as guides to the evolution of Chinese premodern architecture is Zhongguo jianzhu ziliao jicheng (Compendium of research materials on Chinese architecture), a collection of papers primarily by Liang Sicheng and Liu Zhiping, published in Taiwan without information on the publisher or date. Similar compendia were published in the 1970s in China. I purchased the version I own in Taiwan in the 1970s.
Much is written about imitation in Chinese painting. For a discussion of imitation and the conditions under which it is forgery, see the essays in Judith Smith and Wen Fong, Issues of Authenticity in Chinese Painting (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999).
For examples, see James Cahill, The Compelling Image: Nature and Style in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Painting (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982).
Zhang Yanyuan’s Lidai minghua ji (Record of famous painters and paintings through the ages) is an early example. Zhang discusses 370 painters and their works, all before the year 847, when the treatise was published.
The four volumes of Zhongguo Zijincheng xuehui lunwenji (Collected essays on the Forbidden City conference in China) (Beijing: Forbidden City Press, 1997–2005) attest to this. Edmund Bacon, Design of Cities, rev. ed. (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1974), 244, calls the Forbidden City “possibly the greatest single work of man on the face of the earth.”
This statement has been argued for Guanyin Pavilion of Dule Monastery in Hebei, the Timber Pagoda of Fogong Monastery in Shanxi, and the Great Buddha Hall of Fengguo Monastery in Liaoning. For discussion, see Liang Sicheng, “Jixian Dulesi, Guanyinge, Shanmen kao” (Research on Guanyin Pavilion and the front gate of Dule Monastery in Ji county), Zhongguo yingzao xueshe huikan 3, no. 2 (1932), 1–92; Chen Mingda, Jixian Dulesi (Dule Monastery in Ji county) (Tianjin: Tianjin University Press, 2007); Chen Mingda, Yingxian Muta (Ying county Timber Pagoda) (Beijing: Wenwu Press, 1980); and Jianzhu Wenhua Kaochazu, Yixian Fengguosi (Fengguo Monastery in Yi county) (Tianjin: Tianjin University Press, 2008).
Liang Sicheng emphasized these continuities. See A Pictorial History of Chinese Architecture (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1984), 9–21, and his more detailed discussion in Qingshi yingzao zeli (Standards of Qing construction) (Beijing: Society for Research in Chinese Architecture, 1934). On the Ming official construction system, see Guo Huayu, Mingdai guanshi jianzhu damuzuo (Large-scale wooden construction in Ming official architecture) (Nanjing: Southeast University Press, 2005); on Qing official construction, see Jing Qingsheng, Qingshi damuzuo zaozuo gongyi (Making and technology of large-scale construction in the Qing dynasty) (Beijing: Wenwu Press, 1985).
Mullioned windows are used on the façade of the cave known as Leiyindong, Thunder Sound Cave, carved in the mountains of Fangshan in Hebei, about 75 kilometers southwest of Beijing, between 605 and 616. On the cave, see Lothar Ledderose, “Thunder Sound Cave,” in Between Han and Tang: Visual and Material Culture in a Transformative Period, ed. Wu Hung (Beijing: Wenwu Press, 2003), 235–65.
For illustrations and discussion of the first three examples see: Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, Xi’an Bei Zhou Anjia mu (Anjia tomb of Northern Zhou at Xi’an) (Beijing: Wenwu Press, 2003), plates 1, 51, and 52; A. Ochir et al., Ertnii Noodelchdiin Bunkhant Bulshni Maltlaga Sudalgaa (Karakorum, Mongolia: Khara-Khorum Museum, 2013), 240; and Hinonishi Koson, Chūgūji no utsukushi (Art of Chūgūji) (Ikaruga, Japan: Chūgūji, 1988), 26–29.
For discussion of the texts that constitute China’s core Classical writings, see Michael Loewe, Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley, Calif.: Society for the Study of Early China and Institute of East Asian Studies, 1993).
For a popular but not inaccurate comparison of Mao and China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, see John Man, The Terra Cotta Army: China’s First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation (Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2008), esp. 206–10.
Mark Elvin, The Pattern of the Chinese Past (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1973).
James L. Watson, “The Structure of Chinese Funerary Rites: Elementary Forms, Ritual Sequence, and the Primacy of Performance,” in Death Ritual in Late Imperial and Modern China, ed. James L. Watson and Evelyn S. Rawski (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 16.
Frank Dikötter, Exotic Commodities: Modern Objects and Everyday Life in China (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006).
Julien Guadet, Éléments et théorie de l’architecture (Paris: Librairie de la Construction Moderne, 1902), 4:707–16.
Chinese civilization does not fit the model of a society without architects expounded by, for example, Bernard Rudofsky, Architecture without Architects (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1964).
It is not certain which edition of Fletcher the students used. On the postcolonial, political, and other implications of this tree, some of which could be relevant to its impact in China from the 1920s through the 1940s, or in Taiwan right after 1949, see Gülsüm Baydar (Nalbantoglu); “Toward Postcolonial Openings: Rereading Sir Banister Fletcher’s ‘History of Architecture,’” Assemblage 35 (April 1988), 6–17; “Teaching Architectural History in Turkey and Greece: The Burden of the Mosque and the Temple,” JSAH 62, no. 1 (2003), 84–91; and “The Cultural Burden of Architecture,” Journal of Architectural Education 57, no. 4 (2004), 19–27.
For discussion of this group, see Xu Subin, “Jindai Zhongguo jianzhu xueren liuxue Riben xiaoshi” (Short history of Chinese students who studied architecture in Japan), Jianzhushi 78 (1997), 91–100.
On Liu Dunzhen’s education in Japan and his early career in China, see Tian Yang, “The Making of an Architectural Historian: Liu Dunzhen and the Knowledge of Traditional Chinese Architecture, 1917–1937” (master’s thesis, National University of Singapore, 2003).
Liu Dunzhen, “‘Yuchongchuzi’ zhi jianzhu jiezhi bing buzhu” (The architectural value of “Tamamushi Shrine,” with supplementary notes), Zhongguo yingzao xueshe huikan 3, no. 1 (1932), 61–74.
For a study with discussion of the history and implications of the text, some translation, and bibliography, see Jiren Feng, Chinese Architecture and Metaphor: Song Culture in the Yingzao Fashi Building Manual (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2012). Feng’s bibliography includes works by the two major European scholars who studied Yingzao fashi previously, W. Perceval Yetts and Else Glahn, and essential works by Liang Sicheng, Chen Mingda, and Xu Bo’an and Guo Daiheng.
The exemplary early study, of Guanyin Pavilion of Dule Monastery, is Liang Sicheng, “Jixian Dulesi, Guanyinge, Shanmen kao.” Later research, including twenty-first-century studies, confirms the relationship between Yingzao fashi and contemporary or slightly earlier buildings. Chen Mingda, Yingxian Muta; Chen Mingda, Jixian Dulesi; and Jianzhu Wenhua Kaochazu, Yixian Fengguosi, all cited in note 15, are among them.
In addition to the discussion in Feng, Chinese Architecture and Metaphor, entries in Endymion Wilkinson, Chinese History: A New Manual (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2013), offer more on these texts.
The best discussion of Gongbu gongcheng zuofa zeli in English is still Carroll B. Malone, History of the Peking Summer Palaces under the Ch’ing Dynasty (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1934).
The companion volume is Liang, Qingshi yingzao zeli, cited in note 16.
The story of Zhu Qiqian’s “rediscovery” of Yingzao fashi is told in several places. See, for example, Else Glahn, “Unfolding the Chinese Building Standards: Research on the Yingzao fashi,” in Chinese Traditional Architecture, ed. Nancy Steinhardt (New York: China Institute, 1984), 48–57.
Liang Sicheng, A Pictorial History, named them the period of vigor (ca. 850–1050), elegance (ca. 1000–1400), and rigidity (ca. 1400–1912).
Yang Yongsheng and Ming Dasheng, Jianzhu sijie, tells their story.
There is a voluminous bibliography on Liang Sicheng. In English, see Wilma Fairbank, Liang and Lin: Partners in Exploring China’s Architectural Past (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994).
See Gu Daqing, “An Outline of Beaux-Arts Education in China,” and Fu Chao-ching, “Beaux-Arts Practice and Education by Chinese Architects in Taiwan,” both in Cody et al., Chinese Architecture and the Beaux-Arts, 73–90 and 127–43, respectively.
On Yang Tingbao, see Xing Ruan, “Yang Tingbao, China’s Modern Architect in the Twentieth Century,” in Cody et al., Chinese Architecture and the Beaux-Arts, 153–68, and “Accidental Affinities: American Beaux-Arts in Twentieth-Century Chinese Architectural Education and Practice,” JSAH 61, no. 1 (2002), 30–47.
On Tong Jun, see Tan Zhengzhen, “Liang Sicheng and Tong Jun: Surfacing Latent Positions Inherent in Their Discourse and Practice” (master’s thesis, National University of Singapore, 2005), 42–73.
Tony Atkin, “Chinese Architecture Students at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1920s,” in Cody et al., Chinese Architecture and the Beaux-Arts, 45–72.
Nancy Steinhardt, “The Tang Architectural Icon and the Politics of Chinese Architectural History,” Art Bulletin 86, no. 2 (2004), 228–54.
This is the format in Liu Dunzhen’s classic textbook, Zhongguo gudai jianzhu shi (History of premodern Chinese architecture), in many editions, as noted in Fu Xinian’s essay. It is also the format of the five-volume Zhongguo gudai jianzhu shi (History of premodern Chinese architecture) (Beijing: China Architecture and Building Press, 2001–3). Other organizational schemes exist, but this one dominates Chinese architectural writing in the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.
Series that follow these organizing principles include Zhongguo meishu quanji: Jianzhu yishu bian (Comprehensive history of Chinese art: Architectural art series), 6 vols. (Beijing: China Architecture and Building Press, 1988–89); Qiao Yun, gen. ed., Zhongguo gujianzhu daxi (Series on premodern Chinese architecture) (Beijing: China Architecture and Building Press, 1993); and Zhongguo jianzhu yishu quanji (Comprehensive history of the art of Chinese architecture), 24 vols. (Beijing: China Architecture and Building Press, 1999–2003).
According to en.cabp.cn (accessed 25 October 2013), the press was founded in 1954.
The period of the Opium Wars, 1839–42 and 1856–60, is widely accepted in China as the break between premodern, or traditional (gudai), and later architecture; private communication with Sun Dazhang, the author of volume five of the above-mentioned five-volume Zhongguo gudai jianzhu shi series that focuses on Qing architecture. The Qing dynasty ended in 1911, but no building constructed after 1850 is discussed in this book.
See, for example Liu Zhiping, Zhongguo jianzhu jianshi (A Brief history of Chinese architecture), pt. 1 (premodern) (Beijing: China Building Industry Press, 1962).
Excavation has rewritten the history of all aspects of Chinese art since 1949. Yang Xiaoneng, Chinese Archaeology: New Perspectives on China’s Past in the Twentieth Century, vol. 2: Major Archaeological Discoveries in Twentieth-Century China (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2004), is exemplary. Widely used as a reference (because of its high price) in university courses on Chinese art or architecture, it covers the period 1.64 million YBP through the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Forty-two of the 143 entries cover material before ca. 1900 BCE.
The following working numbers have been presented at conferences: 100,000 tombs of the Han dynasty, about the same number for the third through the sixth century, and at least 1,000 for the Liao dynasty. Not all the tombs have relief sculpture or murals, but all are subterranean structures. It is believed that 15 to 20 percent of tombs in China have been opened to date.
Series like those mentioned above for architecture exist in greater numbers for murals. A recent example, organized according to province, is Xu Guangji, Zhongguo chutu bihua quanji (Comprehensive collection of murals excavated in China), 10 vols. (Beijing: Science Press, 2012).
Hiraoka Takeo and Imai Kiyoshi, Chōan to Rakuyō (Chang’an and Luoyang), 3 vols. (Kyoto: Kyoto University Institute for Humanistic Studies, 1956), is a classic example. Liang Sicheng, “Tangzhaotisi Jintang he Zhongguo Tangdai jianzhu” (Tōshōdaiji Kondō and Tang Chinese architecture), in Liang Sicheng quanji (Complete writings of Liang Sicheng) (Beijing: China Architecture and Building Press, 2001), 5:414–32, is the exemplary study of the relation between a Chinese building of the Tang period and a Japanese building of the Nara period.
The political interpretation of Chinese and Japanese architecture by Chinese and by Japanese scholars was influenced by the occupation of Manchuria that brought Japanese archaeologists and other researchers to north China and by war between the two nations in the 1930s and 1940s. The concept of a unified East Asia (Tōyō), at that time often referred to by the pejorative name Far East, fed into notions of diffusionism as well as the Japanese ambition of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. On the last subjects, see Joyce C. Lebra, Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in World War II: Selected Readings and Documents (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Oxford University Press, 1975), and Ramon H. Myers and Mark Peattie, The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895–1945 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984).
Examples from each of these regions are included in Chinese Academy of Architecture, Ancient Chinese Architecture.
Yang Lie, “Shanxi Pingshunxian gujianzhu kancha ji” (Record of investigation of premodern architecture in Pingshun County, Shanxi), Wenwu, no. 2 (1962), 40–51.
Buddhist buildings in Shanxi dated before the year 1100 with murals (some of them repainted after 1100) are at Nanchan Monastery, Foguang Monastery, Dayun Monastery, Kaihua Monastery, and Fogong Monastery.
Qi Yingtao, Du Xianzhou, and Chen Mingda, “Liangnianlai Shanxisheng xinfaxian de gu jianzhu” (Ancient architecture discovered in Shanxi in the past two years), Wenwucankao ziliao, no. 11 (1954), 49–54.
Examples from the Yungang and Maijishan cave-temples are widely published. On the smaller caves in Shanxi, see “Shanxi Jixian Guajiashan ya zaoxiang diaocha jianbao” (Preliminary report on the cliffside carvings at Guajiashan, Ji County, Shanxi), Kaogu, no. 11 (2010), 40–51.
These sarcophagi belong to Song Shaozu (d. 477), Shedi Huiluo (d. 562), and Yu Hong (d. 592). See Liu Junxi, Datong Yanbei Shiyuan Bei Wei muqun (The Northern Wei tomb group at Datong Yanbei Teachers College) (Beijing: Wenwu Press, 2008); Wang Kelin, “Bei Qi Shedi Huiluomu” (The tomb of Shedi Huiluo of Northern Qi), Kaogu xuebao, no. 3 (1979), 377–402; and Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology et al., Taiyuan Sui Yu Hong mu (The Tomb of Yu Hong of Sui in Taiyuan) (Beijing: Wenwu Press, 2005), respectively.
See Hu Ping. “Datong Bei Wei Fangshan Siyuan Fosi yizhi fajue baogao” (Excavation report on the remains of Siyuan Buddhist Monastery of the Northern Wei in Fangshan, Datong), Wenwu, no. 4 (2007), 4–26.
For discussion and illustrations, see Chai Zejun, Shanxi siguan bihua (Murals in Buddhist and Daoist monasteries in Shanxi) (Beijing: Xinhua Shudian, 1997).
See Qiao Zhongyan, Shanxi gu xitai (Ancient Shanxi stages) (Shenyang: Liaoning People’s Press, 2004); Xue Linping and Wang Lixiang, Shanxi chuantong juchang jianzhu (Traditional stage architecture in Shanxi) (Beijing: China Architecture and Building Press, 2005); and Feng Junjie, Shanxi shenmiao juchang kao (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 2006).
See He Dalong, Changzhi Wudai jianzhu xinkao (New research on Five Dynasties architecture in Changzhi) (Beijing: Wenwu Press, 2008).
I was an external consultant on this project, and thus I write from personal experience.
Duan Zhijun and Zhao Nadong, Tianxia Datong: Bei Wei Pingcheng Liao-Jin xijing chengshi jianzhu shigang (Datong of the world: History of the architecture of the city that was the Northern Wei capital Pingcheng and the Liao-Jin western capital) (Beijing: China Architecture and Building Press, 2011).
The series is called Dangdai Zhongguo jianzhu shijia shishu (Writings of Ten of Contemporary China’s architectural historians); it was initiated in 2013.
One of the authors of this book was the same as the first author of the above-mentioned Jianzhu sijie (see note 2) that had received such wide attention less than ten years earlier; see Yang Yongsheng and Wang Lihui, Jianshushi jiemaren (Beijing: China Architecture and Building Press, 2006). As in The Four Outstanding, the architectural historians are discussed in the order of their birth dates.