Ancient Chinese architecture can be a bit of a mystery, especially for Western travelers on a China tour.
Wrapped up in cosmology, mythology, and mystical symbolism, you can be forgiven for feeling just a tad confused. Between all the pagodas, temples, and courtyards, it’s easy to overlook the significance and miss what’s really important about each structure.
By contrast, traditional houses in the US or UK don’t compare. Apart from the longevity of many buildings in China - some are even thousands of years old - you will discover that the walls, floors, decorations, and windows of traditional Chinese architecture are vastly more complex than its counterparts in other parts of the world.
Not surprisingly, even Chinese people find traditional Chinese architecture confusing, and while much has been written to clarify the meaning and symbolism, there are few of us who want to delve too deeply into the detail. Most of us simply want to know enough to make sense of things while we’re on tour. So that’s what we’re sharing in this series of blogs on Chinese architecture.
Different styles, different places
We’ve mentioned that a good rule of thumb to apply in the study of ancient Chinese architecture is that each distinct style is associated with a particular region.
For those wanting to know a little more, here’s a quick summary of the architecture style and corresponding region and features.
|Wan (皖派)||Anhui||Grey blue tiles, white walls, and carved bricks|
|Su (苏派)||Jiangsu and Zhejiang||Hills, water, and winding paths|
|Min (闵派)||Fujian||Earth building defense function|
|Jing (京派)||Beijing||Symmetrical courtyard layout, Chinese cultural symbol|
|Jin (晋派)||Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxia and Gansu||Cave houses, historical culture of the Shanxi merchants|
|Chuan (川派)||Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou||Stilt houses, colorful ethnic minority features|
In this blog, we’re covering the Jing, Jin, and Chuan styles of architecture, but you can read about the other styles here.
So, let’s explore!
Jing style architecture
Jing style architecture is synonymous with symmetrical distribution and good wishes. The dominant feature of Jing style is the quadrangle shaped courtyard, an element that has evolved over 700 years.
Found predominantly in Beijing (hence the name Jing), this style is very common in China’s north; mostly in Beijing and rural Shanxi.
Any time spent in China will mean you become very well acquainted with the Siheyuan, which is the style of building most frequently associated with Jing style. A Siheyuan is a type of residence, but throughout Chinese history, this style of building has been used for residences, palaces, temples, monasteries, family businesses, and even government offices.