Ancient Chinese Architecture

the forbidden cityEaves of the Forbidden City, the largest ancient palatial architecture

Ancient Chinese architecture is a miniature of the long-standing history and culture of China. It is obviously characterized by the region, nationality and times. Ancient Chinese architecture, which has distinctive features in single building, building complex and architectural art, is an outstanding example of the ancient oriental architectures.


From Primitive Society to the Han Dynasty, the technique on timber structure buildings were gradually improved and perfected. Builders had mastered earth ramming skills. They also knew how to fire tiles and build with stones.

Architecture technology developped significantly during the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties.

The output and quality of the bricks and tiles are improved, as well as the techniques on timber structure. Many Buddhist architectures are built then.

huanghelouYellow Crane Tower is originally built in the Three Kingdoms Period.

During the Sui and Tang Dynasties, the application of bricks had become more popular. Advance had been made in baking glazes. The proportion of the building components fell into a fixed pattern.

The Song Dynasty period was an important time for ancient Chinese architecture. Great improvement had been made during that period. The scale of the buildings in the Song Dynasty is generally smaller than that in the Tang Dynasty. However, they were more beautiful, gorgeous and are rich in diversity. There are many kinds of buildings in complicated models, such as palace, pavilion, multistory buildings and terraces.

During the Yuan Dynasty many Tibetan Buddhist temples and Islamic mosques were built. The architectural arts of Tibetan Buddhism and Moslem had influenced all over the nation.

Ancient architecture building reached its zenith during China two last imperial dynasties-Ming and Qing Dynasties. The production of the bricks had greatly increased. The quality and quantity of glaze tiles had exceeded any past dynasties. The official buildings were highly standardized.


Flexible Structure

The ancient buildings use wood as chief material. And the components are mainly columns, beams, and purlins, which are connected by tenons and mortises. As a result, the wooden structure is quite flexible. There is also a unique design only found in China named Dougong (a system of brackets inserted between the top of a column and a crossbeam), which is one of the most important character in ancient Chinese architecture.

Roofs of the forbidden cityDifferent roofs of Chinese ancient architecture

Wonderful and Elegant Appearance

The ancient Chinese architectures are greatly praised for the elegant profile and varied structure, for example, the overhanging eaves, upward roof corners, and different shapes of roofs. The unique outside has not only fit and satisfid the practical functional need of building, but also exhibited its wonderful appearance. It is a good model of a combination of practicality and beauty.

Regular Layout

In China, buildings such as palaces, temples and folk houses are basically in a combined complex. The building complex can be divided into buildings centered on different courtyards and then into single rooms. Most of the buildings strictly follow the axis-centered principle with symmetrical wings. So the buildings look symmetrical on the left and right sides. Such layout of ancient Chinese architectures has reflected the aesthetic standard of harmony and symmetry in ancient China.

Gorgeous Ornaments

The Summer PalaceColorful walking hall of the Summer Palace

Architects in ancient China pay special attention to the ornaments either from a whole or in a specific part. They use different colors or paintings according to the particular need or local customs. Some buildings use multiple colors to make strong contrast. Others use soften color to make it simple but elegant. Besides the stress on the colors, ancient buildings attach the same weight on decorations, furnishings inside and ornament outside. Carved beams, painted rafters, various patterns, inscribed boards, couplets hung on the pillars, and wall paintings are used to add to the colorful and beautiful style. Stone lions, screen walls, ornamental columns, as well as flowers are used in the outside of a building to make ornaments.

Want to see more of the China's ancient buildings by yourself? Our 5-Hour Forbidden City Heritage Walk is your best choice!

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