A universal guide for China studies
Chinese Art - Architecture
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Palaces and Fortifications
The Great Wall
Cities and VillagesHouses, Streets, Bridges
Monasteries and Pagodas
|Chinese houses, cities and palaces are build following the belief in natural spirits. This thinking is called Fengshui 風水 "Wind and Water". Much of this thinking is not pure superstition but has is origin in geographical and climatical conditions - that may be very different outside of China. The north is seen as a direction where bad and unauspicious winds blow and demons may enter the house. For this reason, Chinese houses show no northern entrance, the palace and city gates in the north are always closed - except during a funeral ceremony when the coffin or urn is brought out of the house. On the opposite side of a building is the main entrance, going to the south to let as much sunshine inside as possible.|
Additional conditions for a building corresponding to the needs of nature would be to erect the house or the palace south of a mountain, on the sunny side, and on the north side of a river bank. These two locations are the original meaning of the two words yin 陰 and yang 陽. Yin is the shady north side of a hill or the southern bank of a river, yang the sunny south slope of a hill and the north of a river bank. The mountain to the north protects the building cold winds and bad ghosts, the river to the south brings warm breezes and friendly wanderers with it. Every building in China is erected more or less in this kind of environment, private houses, palaces, whole cities, and even cimeteries and the imperial tombs.
The imperial palace of Beijing is one of the most admired tourist attractions of the world, and for good reasons. After the downfall of the empire in 1911 and the expulsion of the last emperor the palace served as a museum. Most parts of it have been preserved in the original shape of the Ming Dynasty buildings. The palace buildings of the former capital Nanjing were almost totally destroyed during the suppression of the Taiping rebellion. Only the city wall of Nanjing is still very impressive today. Traces of the old metropolis of Chang'an like the Ming time city wall can still be seen in Xi'an. While Hangzhou suffered the same fate like Nanjing during the suppression of the Taiping, the Song Dynasty capital Kaifeng can still present its old city wall.
The names of old palaces are still in the brains of the historian writers, like the Ebang Palace 阿房宮 (not Afang!) of the Qin, the Weiyang 未央宮 "Not Centered" and Changle 長樂宮 "Long Joy" Palaces of the Han Dynasty in Chang'an, and the Ganlu 甘露宮 "Sweet Dew", Daming 大明宮 "Great Illumination" and Taiji 太極宮 "Highest Extreme" Palaces of the Tang Dynasty.
The pattern of Chinese capital cities was copied by the peoples influenced by Chinese culture. Japanese and Korean capital cities also used to be erected in a chess-board manner, but without the huge city walls of the Chinese cities. The latest example of a copy of the Chinese capital is the capital city of the Vietnamese Ngyuen emperors in Huê whose imperial palace and tombs just look like that of the Manchu emperors.
The Forbidden City (Zijincheng 紫禁城 "Purple Forbidden City" - purple being the color of the fix polar star that symbolizes the emperor) in Beijing is framed by a square and oblong wall, flanked by four towers in the corners (jiaolou 角樓). The southern "Midday Gate" (Wumen 午門) is a large entrance complex with three gates, the middle one only to be passed by the emperor. To the north of this gate is an artificial river, created a derived canal of the moat river called "Gold Creek" (Jinshui 金水). This canal called Neijinshui 內金水 "Inner Gold Creek" can be crossed by five bridges. The axis south to north next passes the Gate of Highest Harmony (Taihemen 太和門) before giving space to a trinity of three buildings in the Outer Court (Waichao 外朝), called Hall of Highest Harmony (Taihedian 太和殿), the small Hall of Harmony of the Mean (Zhonghedian 中和殿), and Hall of Preservation of Harmony (Baohedian 保和殿). These three buildings serve as representative functional locations where the emperor acts as ruler and governor. Further to the north of this complex, the modern visitor passes the Gate of Sovereign Purity (Qianqingmen 乾清門). In old times, only the emperor, women and eunuchs were allowed to proceed further. Even the highest ministers were not allowed to pass this gate. In this Inner Court (Neiting 內庭), we find a second trinity of buildings, but smaller than the first complex: the big Palace of Sovereign Purity (Qianqinggong 乾清宮), the small Hall of Unification of the Highest Beings (Heaven and Earth - Male and Female; Jiaotaidian 交泰殿), and the Palace of Compliant Peace (Kunninggong 坤寧宮). Behind this complex, the northern wall of the Forbidden City is reached at the ususally closed Gate of the Martiality of the Spirits (Shenwumen 神武門). North of the wall, the Ming emperors had erected an artificial hill called "Scenery Hill" (Jingshan 景山) or "Coal Hill" (Meishan 煤山), to meet the needs of the Fengshui thought.
To the left and the right of this axis, in the inner and the outer court there are hundreds of dwelling quarters, studios for studies, magazins for food, weapons, libraries and all the needs for the administration of the Forbidden City and - the whole empire.