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Art of China - Architecture and Landscape Architecture/Gardens


The historiography of Chinese architecture is less than a century old. The architectural profession did not exist in China. Buildings were erected by craftsmen who were also responsible for their maintenance. Their skills were handed down to their sons or apprentices for generations. Unlike painting and calligraphy, building was not regarded as one of the fine arts.

Only two records of building practice survive: a twelfth-century manual, Yingzao fashi (Building standards), printed in 1103, and a 1734 manual, Gongbu gongcheng zuofa zeli (Engineering manual for the Board of Works).

In the twentieth century, the literature in Chinese on architecture was written largely by two main groups. The earlier works were written mainly in the 1930s by the Society for Research in Chinese Architecture. The first 2 volumes of the Society=s bulletin, published in 1930 and 1931, were devoted to the 12th-century manual, including translations of articles on the subject by western authors. The other group was young Chinese architects who studied abroad and became active in textual research and field work. With the help of artisans and craftsmen the group gained solid knowledge of methods and rules of architecture from the last two centuries, and they undertook extensive field work.

The later literature was written after 1949 by the members of the dispersed society and others mostly published in the two journals, Wenwu (Cultural relics) and Kaogu (Archaeology), detailing great discoveries of old buildings during archaeological excavations. Since the 1980s and 1990s, with the discoveries of architectural remains, finds have been documented and important research has been carried out. More and more works on Chinese architecture have been published.

Compared to painting specialists, the number of western scholars in Chinese architecture is small. The following list consists of works by these scholars and some of the English translations of Chinese texts. They are general historical surveys and studies of different types of Chinese architecture, such as domestic, imperial, tombs and shrines, and city planning.

Works on landscape architecture and gardens are separately listed.

Historic Chinese Architecture, compiled by the Dept. of Architecture. Tsinghua University. rev. ed. Beijing: Tsinghua University Press, 1990, c1985.

Reprinted, with corrections, chiefly with colored illustrations and a brief introduction, by the renowned faculty of architecture at the Qinghua University.

History and Development of Ancient Chinese Architecture. Compiled by Institute of the History of Natural Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Beijing: Science Press, 1986.

Originally published in Chinese, the work has been the most comprehensive study of Chinese architecture, with emphasis on architectural technology, various techniques of construction, city planning, and garden techniques, with a chapter on design.

Knapp, Ronald. China=s Traditional Rural Architecture: A Cultural Geography of the Common House. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

The author is one of the pioneers of scientific studies of Chinese architectural development. The book gives a summary of historical development of the Chinese house, lists the variety of Chinese rural dwellings, traditional and contemporary, with information on construction, such as foundations, framework, roof structures, etc.

_____. China=s Vernacular Architecture: House Form and Culture. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989.

Discusses vernacular and folk traditions of Chinese architecture, with emphasis on domestic architecture, such as space, structure, interior and exterior elements, in Zhejiang Province.

_____. Chinese House: Craft, Symbol, and the Folk Tradition (Images of Asia). Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1990.

A general and brief introduction to Chinese architecture, the symbolism and tradition, and contemporary trends.

_____. Chinese Landscapes: The Village as Place. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992.

The work focuses on the Chinese village, rural settlement patterns, fengshui principles, tradition vs. transition.

_____. China=s Living Houses: Folk Beliefs, Symbols, and Household Ornamentation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998.

Exploring the complex links among folk beliefs and household ornamentation across time, space, and social class, the book consists of two parts: "in quest of spatial harmony", dealing with issues such fengshui, or dwellings as social templates; and "in pursuit of good fortune," discussing how the Chinese use house ornamentation to communicate their wish to bring their family good fortune. Includes bibliography and index.

Liang, Ssu-ch=eng. A Pictorial History of Chinese Architecture. edited by Wilma Fairbank. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984.

One of the foremost pioneers in studying Chinese architecture, the author discusses Chinese structural system and timber-frame architecture of temples and monuments. The book has been translated and published in China, in a bilingual edition in 1991.

Liu, Laurence G. Chinese Architecture. New York: Rizzoli, 1989.

A colorfully illustrated survey of historical background, characteristics of classical Chinese architecture, city planning principles, religious, funeral and ceremonial, and domestic buildings, palaces, and gardens.

Lo, Che-wen. Ancient Pagodas of China. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1994.

Mainly illustrations, but provides a brief historical survey of the origin, development, use, building materials, building structures and types of pagodas.

Needham, Joseph. Science and Civilization in China, vol. 4, part 3: ACivil engineering and nautics@. Cambridge, U. K.: Cambridge University Press, 1971, p. 58-210.

An exhaustive treatment of Chinese building; a leading source.

Paludan, Ann. The Imperial Ming Tombs. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.

Living in Beijing from 1972 to 1976 as the wife of the Danish Ambassador, the author visited thirteen Ming tombs outside of Beijing as well as cemeteries of imperial concubines. She photographed and documented the tombs, the stone figures, and described tomb architecture. (The work is also listed under ASculpture@.)

Prip-Mĝller, Johannes. Chinese Buddhist Monasteries: Their Plan and its Function as a Setting for Buddhist Monastic Life. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1982.

Originally published in 1937, 2nd edition in 1967, 3rd printing in 1982.

Schinz, Alfred. Cities in China (Urbanization of the earth). Berlin: Gerbrüder Borntraeger, 1989.

Discusses 20th century urbanization of Chinese cities, including historic ones, such as Xi=an and Beijing, mainly from the standpoint of urban geography.

_____. The Magic Square: Cities in Ancient China. Stuttgart: Edition Axel Menges, 1996.

It describes the history of urban development since the beginning of sedentary settlement in Neolithic times, through the Middle Ages, to the last dynasty, the Qing (1644-1912). It provides in detail the principles and the history of Chinese city planning and urban development.

Sickman, Laurence and Alexander Soper. The Art and Architecture of China. reprint ed. Harmondsworth, U. K.: Penguin, 1978.

A leading source for historical survey of Chinese architecture.

Steinhardt, Nancy Shatzman. Chinese Traditional Architecture. New York: China Institute in America, China House Gallery,1984.

A catalog with 10 essays of an exhibition at China House Gallery, New York in 1984, beginning with a comprehensive survey of the development of architecture and building technologies in China, followed by studies of specific structures, architectural heritage of the Bronze age, a Han ritual hall in modern Xi=an, new findings at Yungang temple caves, Tang and Liao monuments and the Ming and Qing architecture, etc.

_____. Chinese Imperial City Planning. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.

The results of Chinese excavation at a wide range of cities made it possible for studies like this one. It is a thorough study of imperial cities, beginning with Khubilai Khan=s city in China, Dadu, which was the focus of the author=s dissertation, continuing with imperial capitals throughout the centuries, such as Chang=an and Luoyang during the Han and the Tang dynasties, and Nanjing, Shenyang and Beijing during the Ming and Qing.

_____. Liao Architecture. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997.

A detailed study of a particular historic period, Liao dynasty (947-1125), chosen for the lack of literature on the subject and the characteristics of its architecture which set it apart from the general ones. The author gives detailed information based on the results of the extensive excavation of more than 300 tombs, on timber-frame tradition, funerary tradition, and architectural characteristics, etc.

Yü, Cho-yün. Palaces of the Forbidden City. New York: Viking Press, 1984.

Translated from Chinese, the work is written by an expert on Chinese architecture, documenting the palace, its wooden structures, both interior and exterior views, various halls, buildings, pavilions, and gates.

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Landscape Architecture / Gardens

Historic gardens in China are no longer in existence. Written and pictorial records of individual gardens are also scarce. The most heavily relied upon source is Yuanye by Ji Cheng of the seventeenth century, from which many of the design ideas have evolved and have become established principles of landscape architecture in China. In recent years Chinese scholars have begun to write for architectural journals, to reconstruct the history of Chinese gardens, using the surviving or archaeologically excavated sites to interpret the data with relevant literature.

The Authentic Garden: A Symposium on Gardens. Leiden, The Netherlands: Clusius Foundation, 1991.

The chapter dealing with Chinese garden is entitled AMother of gardens: the gardens of the Far East.@ There are 5 papers by Maggie Keswick, Craig Clunas, Alison Hardie, Georges Metailie and Zhong Ming.

Chen, Lifang and Yu Sianglin. The Garden Art of China. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 1986.

It includes a historical survey, the principles of garden layout, artificial hills and rocks, and architecture and patterns of Chinese gardens.

Ch=en, Ts=ung-chou. Shuo Yuan = On Chinese Gardens. Shanghai: Tongji University Press, 1984.


Chi, Ch=eng. The Craft of Gardens [Yuanye. English], with a foreword by Maggie Keswick. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.

First published in 1634, the work is a classic, detailing the theory of construction on gardens concerning situation, layout, building. It focuses more on technical aspects, but also discusses non-structural and scenic features. (The work was translated in 1993 with annotations from classical Chinese to modern Chinese, with original text and illustrations and index.)

Chu, Chün-chen. Chinese Landscape Gardening. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1992.

Originally in Chinese, the work focuses on garden plantings and plant arrangements.

Clunas, Craig. Fruitful Sites: Garden Culture in Ming Dynasty China. London: Reaktion Books, 1996.

Describes how gardens and their meanings were created and changed during the 16th and 17th centuries; examines the scholar=s garden from the aspect of material culture.

Engel, David H. Creating a Chinese Garden. London: Croom Helm, 1986.

Focuses on the characteristics of the Chinese garden, contrasts it with those of the Japanese garden, and describes form and composition and design and construction techniques.

Fung, Stanislaus. AGarden, VI, 1 (i): China,@ The Dictionary of Art, vol. 12, p. 85-93.

A concise historical survey with bibliography.

Hay, John. Kernels of Energy, Bones of Earth: The Rock in Chinese Art. New York: China Institute in America, 1985.

An exhibition catalog at China House Gallery, New York, it discusses rocks in art, drawing mainly on examples of Chinese painting. Rocks are one of the main components in a Chinese garden.

Hu, Tung-ch=u. The Way of the Virtuous: The Influence of Art and Philosophy on Chinese Garden Design. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1991.

Translation of Zhongguo wenhua yu yuanlin yishu, the book discusses the garden as art, but also emphasizes Confucianism and Daoism as the source of Chinese garden aesthetics. Describes various designs of Chinese gardens.

Johnston,R. Stewart. Scholar Gardens of China: A Study and Analysis of the Spatial Design of the Chinese Private Garden. Cambridge, U. K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

An English architect, the author reviews some forty gardens, mainly in Jiangsu Province and Shanghai. There are also sections on gardens in Beijing, Sichuan and Guangdong provinces.

Keswick, Maggie. The Chinese Garden: History, Art and Architecture. 2nd ed. New York: St. Martin=s Press, 1986.

Published originally in 1977 in London and in 1978 in the U.S., the work discusses landscape architecture with a focus on its artistic and literary meanings.

Morris, Edwin T. The Gardens of China: History, Art, and Meanings. New York: Scribner=s, 1983.

Similar to Keswick=s work.

Siren, Osvald. Gardens of China. New York: The Ronald Press, c1949.

Discusses garden as a work of art in forms of nature, lists the natural elements, such as mountains and water, flowers and trees, and architectural elements, such as walls and pavilions, and explains the relationship between gardens and literature and painting.

Stuart, Jan. AA scholar=s garden in Ming China: dream and reality,@ Asian Art, vol. 3, no. 4 (Fall 1990), p. 31-52; AMing dynasty gardens reconstructed in words and images,@ Journal of Garden History, vol. 10, no. 3 (1990), p. 162-172.

Deals with one historic period, the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), using Chinese painting to discuss Ming gardens.

Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes: An International Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 3 (autumn 1998). London ; Washington, D.C.: Taylor & Francis, 1998.

Devoted to Chinese gardens and in honor of Professor Chen Congzhou of Shanghai, the issue includes 6 essays on the cosmological setting of Chinese gardens, the Confucian role, interior display in relation to external space, and Ascholar gardens,@ with a lengthy guide to secondary sources on Chinese gardens.

Tsu, Frances Ya-sing. Landscape Design in Chinese Gardens. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988.

Provides a general historical survey, compares the Chinese garden to the European and Japanese garden, classifies Chinese gardens and describes components and designs of Chinese gardens.

Wang, Joseph Cho. The Chinese Garden (Images of Asia). Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1998.

A concise review of the historical development of the Chinese garden and elements of the garden, and the garden as art.

Yang, Hung-hsün. The Classical Gardens of China: History and Design Techniques [translated from Chinese]. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1982.

Discusses principles of Chinese garden design, history and development of garden buildings in China, and Chinese influences on other countries.

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Prepared by the Library of the Freer Gallery of Art
and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services,
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revised 11 October 2000


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