1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Chinese Architecture

(Part 114)


The buildings of the Chinese are very inferior in character to those of India; in fact, Mr. Fergusson goes so far as to say, "China possesses scarcely anything worthy of the name of architecture." Sir W. Chambers has described one of the Buddhist temples, that at Ho-nang which is not unlike those of India in arrangement. There is an extensive court, with avenues of trees, leading to a flight of steps and portico of four columns. In a second vestibule behind this are four colossal figures bearing various emblems. Beyond this is a very large second court, entirely surrounded by colonnades and small sleeping cells for the priests or bonzes; in other words, a huge cloister, much like the Indian viharas. In the same rangers are four pavilions filled with idols, and large rooms for refectories, behind which are the kitchen, courts, &c. At the extreme corners of the grand court are four other pavilions, the dwellings of the higher order of priests. At equal distances behind each other, down the centre of the court, are three larger pavilions, called tings, entered on each side by a flight of steps, and a fourth engaged in the cloister itself, and having a front portico and one flight of steps on’y. The first three are square, two stories in height, the lowest surrounded by fourteen columns, each face or front showing six. They have rude caps, composed of eight brackets, projecting various ways. Sir William Chambers says there are four species of tings, - three used for temples and the fourth for gardens; some having a gallery and fretted railing round the first floor on the outside, the upper story being set back. The roofs all have the peculiar hollow dip, which leads one to suppose their prototype was the tent the sag of the cloth of which would suggest the form. They are frequently surmounted with a sort of cresting and finial, and each angle is turned up sharply, and ornamented with a dragon. Sometimes the columns have a frieze perforated in the form of frets; sometimes the same is also under the eaves of the upper roof. Examples are also given of smaller octagon tings, intended to cover the large vessels in which the Chinese burn gilt paper to their idols.

Mr Simpson has given an interesting account of the temple of Heaven at Peking. It lies in an open space of about one mile square, surrounded by a triple enclosure. In this space were kept the animals destined for sacrifice. Then temple proper consisted of several detached structure the most sacred being to the south, and consisting of a raised platform approached by three terraces, and bearing simply an altar unscreened by any building and open to the sky. The northern structure was roofed but not enclosed. Four pillars supported the main roof, which was 99 feet high, and lower roofs round the higher one were upheld by 24 columns of less height, all richly sculptured and gilt.

The accompanying illustrations (figs. 52 to 54) represent Chinese temples of different types.

The most striking buildings in China are, however, the tapering towers which they call taas, and our old writers pagodas. These are of brick covered with marble, or most generally with glazed tiles; and are built in stories, one over the other, from three, four, or five, to as many as nine in number. Each story is reduced in width, and has a gallery round it. The roofs are hollow or sagging, like those formerly described. They project a great deal, corners being turned up sharply. On these light bells are suspended, which make a constant ringing when the wind blows. The roofs are covered with glazed tiles of various colours, and the summit ornamented with a species of spire and finial. The most celebrated of these was that known as the porcelain tower at Nanking. It had nine stories, and was about 200 feet high, exclusive of the iron spire. At each angle was a bell, making seventy-two in all; and there were eight chains hanging from the top of the finial to the angles of the spire, and carrying nine bells each, or seventy-two more. This celebrated building was destroyed by the Taepings in 1853. The taa is not a pagoda or temple, but a memorial of some event or of some great personage. At Peking is one used as an observatory, and at Nanganfoo one was erected simply to bring good luck.

Buildings called Toov Tang, or halls of ancestors, are found in all considerable towns. These much resemble temples, but instead of idols, memorial tablets are placed in the niches to record the transactions and deeds of the "worthies" or celebrated inhabitants of the neighbourhood.

The Pai Loo, or Pai Fang, is another common object in China. These are monumental memorials, though they have been mistaken for triumphal arches. Quatremere says, the Chinese annals reckon 3636 of these, erected in honour of literary men, philosophers, princes, generals, &c. The smaller are of wood, forming a sort of doorway. The larger have three openings side by side, and over these are several broad paneled fascias for inscriptions and carving, which is often very bold and in high relief, and over all is a projecting cornice carrying a tiled roof. Chambers has given one, the side gateways of which have semicircular arches, with festoons of drapery. The resemblance of these to the famous Sanchi tope is evident, as is also their being adaptations from wooden original, for the stones are put together with mortices and other joints just as a wooden framework would be. The Chinese gateways are, however, very poor on comparison with those of India.

There is not much variety of design about the houses of the Chinese, as every one must be on a scale corresponding to the rank of the inhabitant. Le Comte mentions a case where a mandarin was obliged to pull down one that he had constructed of a somewhat better quality than those of the others. Chambers has given a plan of a house which he says is of very common design. It is about 260 feet from front to back, and about 65 feet wide. It is entered at the front by a passage nearly 20 feet wide, which goes nearly through the entire building. On each side of this, fronting the street, is a shop, with its back shop. It should be stated, that the divisions on the two sides of the central passage exactly correspond with each other. First we have two studies and two small bedrooms; then two saloons or reception rooms, about 24 feet by 18, looking into open courts or gardens, with fish ponds, fountains, flowers, &c., divided by walls; then two more saloons with bedrooms, and then the great dining hall, which runs right across the house. this is about 60 feet by 30, and is carried on eight columns. Behind this is the kitchen and other offices. The first floor has two bedrooms, one on each side of a passage, for the shop keeper; then on each side is a saloon and the bedrooms fort he family. Between these last, and also carried on column, is the hall where the family idol is worshipped. This overlooks the open gardens before mentioned. At the further end of these courts are two more saloons and bedrooms, and then a hall, said to be devoted to the use of strangers or visitors, which is over the ground floor dining hall, and of the same size. Chambers tells us every house has a number of movable partitions kept ready, to be put to subdivide the larger rooms.

The tombs are as singular as the rest of the Chinese edifices. The grandest of them, viz., those of the Ming dynasty, which ended in 1628, have been well described by Mr Simpson in the Transactions of the R.I.B.A., 1873-4. One of these tombs is at Nanking but the chief are about 40 miles north of Peking. The entry is by a grand Pai Loo of five gateways in white marble, and then through several other gateways to a singular dromos nearly a mile long, of 32 colossal figures (ranged in pairs), some human, others of camels, griffins, elephants, &c. Such a dromos exists also at Shanghai. The tombs, thirteen in number, are ranged round the base of a hill and extend for several miles. Each consists of an earthen mound about half a mile in circuit, having, at its base, a crenellated retaining wall 20 feet high. The mound has no entrance, nor any indication of the exact place of burial. To the south of the tomb is a temple in an open court, about 1200 feet by 500. The plan is just the ordinary one of a palace, and the names, "The House of the living and the House of the dead," seem to show clearly that this resemblance was intended.

The Chinese method of construction is very peculiar. Their roofsare put up first, supported on wooden posts, which are removed as the permanent fabric is built. The walls of the grand edifices are of stone, but the ordinary material is brick, and the work is often executed with beautifully close joints. In palaces and temples the whole was often gorgeously coloured with glazed tiles, or the bricks themselves were coloured and glazed. A magnificent example of this is a temple near the summer palace at Peking, all of which is of bright majolica, except its marble base. As with all strcutres belonging to the emperor the colour was yellow, it being a capital offence for any other person to use that colour.

The Chinese never use square timber when they can get round trees of a suitable size, probably on account of the lightness, strength, and convenience of the bamboo. The roofs are of very peculiar construction, and all timbers are left visible. The windows are filled in with the lining of the oyster shell, which looks like talc, and is quite as transparent; and the main door is frequently a perfectly round aperture. The old buildings of the Chinese, like those of the Saracens, are fast going to decay, and the streets of even their grand capital, Peking, now exhibit immense ranges of ruined buildings.

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