Chinese Architecture (3)

Cave Dwellings

Many laboring people on the Loess Plateau in northwest China live in caves dug into the mountains. The caves are laid out in rows one atop the other, looking like buildings of multiple floors in the distance.

These caved dwellings were either tunneled into the face of a stupendous cliff or scooped into a cross-section of the Loess Plateau. A cave dwelling is usually six meters deep and four meters wide. Stone slabs are piled up to form a semi-circle at the entrance, which is decorated with exquisite latticed windows in a variety of styles. There are also arched cave dwellings of masonry that are covered with earth, which is definitely a variation between stone and loess structures.

The beauty about the cave dwellings is that they help maintain local topography and save on farmlands by making use of space that would have been otherwise left unused. They are warm in winter and cool in summer. The temperature inside is usually 13 degrees Celsius higher than in the open in winter and 10 degrees Celsius lower in summer. Moreover, the cave dwellings are sequestered in peace and quiet as they are shut from the noise of the outside world. There are drawbacks as well. For example, daylighting is poor, humidity high in summer, and ventilation leaves much to be desired.

Statistics show that 40 million live in cave dwellings that are scattered over an area of 600,000 square km in the middle and upper reaches of the Yellow River . In recent years curious visitors and scholars are arriving in droves to study the loess cave dwellings.

Embrasured Watchtower and Barbican Entrance

Standing opposite every city gate of old Beijing was an embrasured watchtower, an imposing and distinctive structure that added tremendously to the landscape of the city in old days. Today, only two of them are still there: the Zhengyang Gate and the Desheng Gate.

In days of yore the watchtower was a defence fortification whose tall and sturdy structure, vast vistas and impregnability had won the favour of many an emperor in this country. A typical embrasured watchtower is found in the southeast corner of Beijing . Scooped into its walls are 144 embrasures in four rows.

A barbican entrance was built between a city gate and a watchtower, with a gate way built into either side of the barbican wall to facilitate the traffic of pedestrians, carts and horses. The barbican entrance was an ancillary defence facility that contained a tiny temple and a store selling pots and basins of varying sizes. When the city was under siege, a heavy sluice gate was lowered to close down the city gate, soldiers hidden in the watchtower shot arrows at the enemy, and on the city walls the defenders filled pots and basins with boiling water and poured it at the enemy troops attempting to gain the top of the city wall by scaling ladders. Thus the store selling pots and basins was actually an integral part of the defence system of the city gates.

Aobao (Mongolian Stone Heaps for Worship

Travelers to Inner Mongolian are impressed by pillbox-shaped heaps that stand singularly or in clusters on the grassland. The total people call them ¡° aobao ¡±, and they are built of stone in areas where stone abounds, and sand and earth and encircled with willow branches where there is no stone. Buried inside an aobao is a Buddhist statue or a metal weapon, and the top of it and the area around it are decorated with streamers and what resemble totem poles. In the beginning they were used as road signs or boundary marks; later local herdsmen began to worship them as dwellings of a certain divine protector. Legend has it that every time Gengghis Khan launched an expedition, the first thing he did was to offer sacrifices and libation to an aobao an pray for victory. Later, the aobao sacrificial ceremony also included the citation of soldiers who had performed meritorious deeds or who had died a hero's death. Aobao worship can be organized by individuals or local governments. When passing by an aobao , the Mongols make it a point to dismount from whatever they are riding. He may also pick up a few stones or lumps of earth and place them on it, or offer sacrifices and kowtow to it to ask for blessings for safety, a rich harvest and national stability.

Latticed Windows

The latticed windows, as the name suggests, are opened for ventilation purposes. They are graced with artistically appealing patterns. According to historical data, latticed windows were widely used in palaces, gardens and dwellings during the Five Dynasties of the 10 th century.

The latticed windows are fashioned out of brick, tile, masonry or wood carving, and they come in a variety of shapes---square, hexagonal, knife, fan, leaf, or vase, ect. Highly decorative and artistically appealing, the latticed windows are fine works of art that serve to enhance the visual beauty of the walls; and render depth to the scenery by ¡°framing¡± it into so many lovely pictures.

The latticed window as a favorite means of architecture engineering was widely used by architects in old days. They have remained an integral part of modern architecture.

Hutongs of Beijing

The alleyways in Beijing are known as ¡°hutong¡±, the transliteration of Mongolian word because most of the hutongs were a heritage of the Yuan Dynasty which established its capital city in Beijing in 1283. Thus the hutongs are 800 years old. There are so many of them in Beijing , as the saying goes, ¡°There are 360 large hutongs and countless smaller ones.¡± Statistics indicate that there used to be 4,550 hutongs in urban Beijing that were laid out in a Ming-dynasty pattern, and they were as wide as four meters and as narrow as 62 cm . These alleyways are a magnum opus in their own right, recorded as they do numerous cultural artifacts, places of historical and cultural interests, fascinating tales of dignitaries and anecdotes about the city and its people.

The Hutongs were named in a variety of ways. Some are named after government departments, such as Xingbu (Bureau of Punishment) Hutong, Cayuan (Investigation Bureau) Hutong, Silijian (Directorate of Ceremonial ) Hutong, and Huoyaoju (Gunpower Bureau) Hutong. The Lumicang, Nanxincang, Beixincang, and Haiyuncang hutongs were named after the major imperial granaries in East District. Xishiku and Houku hutongs in West District got their names from warehouses in the service of the imperial family. Naizifu (Department of Nursing Ladies) Hutong was so named because in old days it was inhabited by women whose job was to supply the imperial family with milk from their own breasts. Many are named after famous people, such as Yongkang Hutong (the location of the residence of Xu Zhong, who was Marquis Yongkang), and Maojiawan Hutong (where the mansion of Mao Wenjian of the Ming Dynasty was situated). There is no lack of hutongs named after craftsmen or peddlers; these include Liulansu (sculptor Liu Lan) Hutong, Mudao'r (Knife Sharpening) Hutong, Fengfangliu (Bean Noodle Maker Liu) Hutong, and Doufuchen (Beancurd Master Chen ) Hutong. Some Hutongs derived their names form their shapes, such as Chaoshou (Folded Arms) Hutong, Lesser Biandan (Carrying Pole) Hutong, Guaibang (Walking Stick) Hutong, Erduoyanr (External Auditory Canal). The Hutongs in south Beijing are mostly related to commodities, such as Xianyukou (Fresh fish) Hutong, Luomashi (Horse Markets), Zhubaoshi (Jewellery Market). Some have names that do not sound good, such as Fengchang (Night Soil Field), Kudang (Croth) and Kushuijing (Bitter Water Well) hutongs, and most of these names have been changed.

The Hutongs are a truthful reflection of the fact that the east district of Beijing was rich, the west district noble, the south district poor, and the north district dilapidated. As a legacy of history, the hutongs are rich in historical and cultural connotations.

A four of the hutongs has become a major tourist program Beijing has to offer.

Yellow Tiles and Vermillion Walls

The imperial palaces in Beijing are graced with yellow-glazed tiles and vermilion walls because they looked pleasant and reflected the wealth, dignity and authority of the emperors.

The tiles are generally glazed yellow, green, blue and black. Yellow-glazed tiles were for the exclusive use of roofs of palaces, mausoleums, Yellow was chosen as the royal color and a symbol of dignity because in the ¡°five elements¡± theory (gold, wood, water, fire and earth), yellow earth is in the center of universe. In the imperial garden, such as the Summer Palace , however, roofs are covered with tiles of different colors. Only the houses in which the emperor lived or administered state affairs are covered with yellow-glazed roofs, while the houses for officials feature green-glazed roofs, and scenic buildings and commoners' dwellings are covered with black-glazed tiles. However, non-imperial buildings sometimes also featured yellow-glazed roofs, such as the Confucian Temple and the Lord Guan's Temple , because of the fact that the Chinese emperors had worshiped Confucius as Duke for the Propagation of Culture and the Qing emperors decorated Lord Guan as ¡°Emperor Guan¡±. All the buildings in the Imperial Palace are supposed to have their roofs covered with yellow-glazed tiles. The exception, however, is the national library (Chamber of Literary Profundity), whose roof is decorated with black-glazed tiles because black is the color of water. As the library is prone to fire hazard, the use of black tiles was meant to subdue fire with water. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in the Temple of Heaven is covered with a bluetiled roof to symbolize the color of the sky. It is clear that color adopted for the Chinese ancient structures have symbolic meanings.

The appeal of the yellow-glazed roofs s supplemented with the vermilion (darkish red) color of the walls. By Chinese tradition red is the color for festivities, and that is why even today the laterns and festivals are mostly used during holidays and festivals are mostly red in color. The imperial buildings are decorated with yellow tiles and vermilion walls to imply the emperor's wish for happiness. Many Buddhist temples in this country also featured yellow-glazed roofs and vermilion walls with the mandate of the royal family. During the Ming and Qing, Yellow-glazed tiles could be used for imperial palaces, the mausoleums for emperors and those temples and altars built in compliance with the order of the emperors. Those who violated the rule could be sentenced to death.

The Great Wall

The ancient and imposing Great Wall extend 6,350 km through nine provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions. Passes have been built through this artificial barrier at the number of strategic posts. The Juyong Pass is one among them. Badaling is an outpost north to Juyong.

Construction of the Wall started in the 7 th century B.C. After he unified the whole country by force, the first emperor of Qin Dynasty had the northern defensive walls of the former Qin, Zhao, and Yan states repaired and linked together. The present version of the Great Wall was built under order of Emperor Tai Zu of the Ming Dynasty. Work started in 1368, the first year of his reign, and continued for over 200 years.

The Juyong Pass is strategically posed to the northwest of Beijing . It used to be the gateway to the ancient capital. Badaling rises high to over 1,000 meters above sea level. The section of the Great Wall between the Juyong Pass and Badaling is a typical Ming product. The mean height of its body is 7.8 meters, the maximum height being 8.4 meters. The average width of its base is some 6.5 meters; and that of its top is 5.8 meters, wide enough for five horses or ten soldiers passing abreast. The top is evenly paved with square bricks. Steps are built at places where the Wall rises abruptly into the clouds. The magnificent Great Wall is one of the seven great ancient engineering wonders of the world. Astronauts have confirmed that the Great Wall is the only artificial project perceivable from the moon.

Grand Canal of China

The Grand Canal, which cuts a 2,700-km-long course from Beijing in the north to Hangzhou in the south, is extolled as a great water conservancy project of ancient China . It is also one of the longest of its kind in the world. It took three major engineering campaigns to bring the canal to its present shape.

First, the predecessor to the canal was the 150-km-long Hangou Ditch dug near present-day Yangzhou in 485 B.C. (towards the end of the Spring and Autumn Period) in the State of Wu to link the Yangtze with the Hui River .

Second, during 1 st ¨C6 th year (605¡ª 610 A .D.) of the Dayi reign of the Sui Dynasty, a canal 2,700 km in length and 30¡ª70 meters in width---known as the ¡°Sui Emperor Yangdi's South-North Grand Canal¡±---was dug with the capital city of luoyang in the middle to connect the Haihe, Yellow, Huai, Yangtze, and Qiantang rivers into a unified water shipping network.

Third, during the Yuan Dynasty (1206¡ª1368), Beijing became the northern terminal of a 1,794-km-long canal that flows all the way to Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province by way of Heibei, Shangdong, and Jiangsu provinces. This canal, known in history as the ¡°Beijing-Hangzhou Grand canal¡±, was actually 900 km shorter than its Sui dynasty counterpart. Hence the difference between the South-North Grand Canal and the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal.

In 1949 the Chinese government conducted a large-scale refurbishment of the Grand Canal . Some of the sections were widened or deepened, some of the zigzagging sections were straightened out, and a number of water conservancy and ship locks were added. Today, quiet a few sections of this canal are large enough to accommodate large shipping fleets over 1,000 tons in capacity. The canal has also provided ample irrigation water fro the farmlands on both sides. Cruise tours have been opened along the section that connects Hangzhou , Suzhou and Wuxi , to the delight of travelers from at home and abroad.


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