Among the oldest examples of architecture in China are a number of burial mounds from the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1050–221 BCE), erected as monuments over kings and nobles. From the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE) a tomb monument is preserved over Emperor Shihuangdi. The monument is made up of earth with the shape of a straight truncated pyramid. A procession road flanked by stone figures leads to the monument, where the entrance is marked by two stone towers.
The Great Wall of China is also one of China’s oldest architectural monuments and was originally built during the Qin Dynasty. However, its present design was first acquired during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).
Other early Chinese architectural monuments are Buddhist pagodas (ta) which combine elements from different cultures. The oldest is the teaked brick pagoda in Henan from 523 with style features from Indian temple towers. However, the most famous of the Chinese pagodas is the Villgås Pagoda in Xian from ca. 700. Like the other early examples of Chinese architecture, the pagodas are also made of brick and stone.
Other monuments belonging to the same group are a number of bridges, fortifications, triumphal arches and more. From the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 BCE), vaulting has been known in the form of real and false vaults. Buddhism also led to the construction of a number of rock temples where the buildings are carved out of the mountain itself, also according to the pattern of Indian architecture. The rock temples were primarily designed in the northern provinces during the non-Chinese dynasties after ca. 450, with a new flourishing during the Tang Dynasty (618–907). Among the most well-known are the temple temple at Maijisan from the 400s.
However, the very essence of traditional Chinese architecture is wooden constructions, where the starting point is a simple hall building (seaweed, dian), which is particularly marked by the dominant roof construction. The most important roof forms are the canopy ( xuanshan, ‘hanging mountain’), the rooftop ( wudian, ‘covered porch’) and a combination of these ( xieshan, ‘cut mountain’ or jiuju, ‘nine edges’). Early on, monotonous horizontal lines were avoided by lifting the corners of the protruding eaves, in some cases even the ends of the stem. In addition, the roof surfaces were given a slightly concave shape by means of curved barriers and raft barriers. From The Han Dynasty is known for the use of brick tiles.
The rain fog pavilion in Beijing Summer Palace, built in 1780, modeled on a similar pavilion in Zhejiang.
In the main, the hall buildings are on one floor, but often give the impression of having two because of the covered verandas that run around the building on one or more sides where the roof surfaces are entered under the main roof. The roofs are carried by hills lying on horizontal beams or ingeniously designed brackets (dongong, guazi) which transmit the weight to wooden posts (zhu). Excavations have shown that the pillars were placed early on stones laid on the ground. The interior and exterior walls are of wood or brick and were inserted between the posts without any supporting function. Windows and doors are also fitted in relation to the posts.
The use of colors emphasizes the building’s structure. Posts and frames are often red, while beam ends and other parts of the roof structure are painted in other primary colors. In contrast, the walls are mainly white plastered. The conscious use of color also includes the solid-colored roof tiles, which give a signal of the social significance of the building.
In order to as far as possible divide the central hall, pillars were avoided under the tower, and these were gathered in the building’s outer zone. Upstairs, the hall was covered by a cassette or canopy-like ceiling. Corridors were often constructed around one or more sides around the hall.
In principle, the Chinese hall building remained a dwelling, whether it was built for people or for a deity. The buildings therefore have the same structure, both in profane and religious architecture. For the same reason, traditional Chinese architecture has preserved a much more uniform and simple character than that which has characterized European architecture.
The earliest known examples of the traditional Chinese hall building are clay models of houses found in tombs of the Han Dynasty. The type of building was finally developed during the Tang Dynasty, as can be seen in depictions in the Villgås Pagoda in Xian. The oldest preserved examples are the Great Hall in the Foguangsi Temple, the Shanxi Temple, originally from ca. 850, and the Guanyinge Hall in the Duluosi Temple east of Beijing, originally from 984. Early on, the rectangular hall buildings were further developed into square, polygonal or circular buildings and fitted with pyramid-shaped or tapered ceilings. One of the foremost examples of such a central building is the sky altar in Beijing, rebuilt in 1890 as a replica of a former building from 1540.
Also the characteristic Chinese tower buildings are constructed according to the same pattern as the halls. In principle, they consist of several hall buildings erected on each other. Larger profane and religious building complexes were made up of several halls located in courtyards that were built in series along a central axis. The courtyards are surrounded by corridors or flanked by secondary buildings. Gardens and artificial ponds are also part of the complexes.
With the republican revolution in 1912, European architecture was also introduced in China. In the 1920s, a Chinese renaissance followed, in which buildings constructed with Western engineering were decorated with Chinese architectural motifs. Examples are the Government Building and Zhong Sheng Hospital in Shanghai from 1930 and 1937. Following the revolution in 1949, a more anonymous international style has also largely characterized Chinese architecture. In recent years, a number of major Chinese cities have been characterized by modern high-rise buildings.
The Great Wall of China is approx. 6000 km long and most places 6-10 m high. The wall is built as a defense, completed during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). It partly coincides with an older wall, which was begun in the 300s BC. The wall lost its military significance when the Mandsju Dynasty came to power in 1644. – The wall is the most powerful monument of Chinese architecture, and is considered the world’s largest building. It is a favorite destination for a large number of tourists.