Chinese Architecture — Tradition, Characteristic and Style 

Nowadays, more modern, tall buildings are constructed in China, because of the large population in cities, and the development of technology. 


However, there are also many historical, traditional buildings that are scattered in China, which are valuable representatives of traditional, architectural heritages.

Temple of Heaven Built in 1420 — Place for Emperors to Worship the Heaven

Building Material


Traditional Chinese buildings are mostly made of wood, because: 


  • Easy to obtain the material;


  • Frequent natural disasters like an earthquake;


  • According to a Chinese masterpiece, the Classic of Changes (I Ching), the only permanent thing is changing. Therefore, living in the moment has been highly valued;


  • Different people have different tastes and requirements for their houses, and wooden buildings could be finished in a shorter period.


Wooden Corner Building of the Forbidden City — Built in 1420

Stone was a common material in traditional architecture too, but was mainly used in:


  • Building strong city walls, such as the Great Wall, to defend people living inside;


  • Constructing important roads for royals or in big cities;


  • Building mausoleum.


In ancient China, death was considered another form of eternity; therefore, grand, strong, solid tombs were quite popular.


Also, this is the important reason that the stone had barely been used in houses for living people in history.

Stone Wall of the Mausoleum of Wanli Emperor Zhu Yijun (1573 — 1620)

Strict Social Stratum

Throughout Chinese history, the hierarchy had been strictly followed. 


In the architecture field, Color, Pattern, decoration, and height were all strictly regulated, according to one’s social status. 


For instance, except for special buildings like towers, no one’s house could be taller or huger than the emperor’s palace; civilians were not allowed to use certain auspicious decorations like the dragon or phoenix, nor some noble colors like Cinnabar Red and Bright Yellow. 


Despite these strict regulations, civilians’ houses varied in different areas, because of geological and climatic reasons. 


Traditional Northern Style Buildings in Ancient City Pingyao

Traditional Southern Style Buildings in Ancient City Huizhou

Traditional Yurt in Inner Mongolia

Tulou Building of in Southeast China (Fujian Province)

Stilted Dwelling in Minority Ancient Town Fenghuang of Hunan Province

Traditional Architecture Huo Er Wu in Lingnan Area (Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces in Southern China)

Clearly Separate Function

Generally speaking, Chinese architecture serves one single function.


City wall for military use, fancy palace, and normal house for daily living, while temple or grottoes for religions. 


These three main functions are separated, because in Chinese culture:


  • Politics and Religion are separated, and the Imperial Power was supreme;


  • Most of the peaceful eras in Chinese history were under the governance of a unified regime with centralized power, during when city walls (and the Great Wall) were good enough for military uses;


  • In chaotic times when a dynasty was about to end and a new regime was being established, wars have been usually large scale and destructive. During these periods, no military building was unbreakable. 


Military Building the Shanhai Pass Built in the Year 1381 on the Great Wall

Scale and Layout


Traditional Chinese buildings are usually single-story, and scattered; even the emperor’s royal palace, such as the Forbidden City, all houses were not quite large. 


Central Building of the Royal Forbidden City Built in 1420

Based on those grand city walls and towers, constructing tall buildings was possible in ancient China.


Therefore, those single-story and scattered houses were popular for some important reasons in Chinese culture:


  • For busy emperors, it’s inconvenient to climb too many stairs;


  • For other people, their houses were not allowed to be taller than the emperor’s, nor the city wall;


  • There were plenty of lands for people to build many single-story buildings;


  • Feng Shui believed that it was ominous for a few people to live in a huge house. Therefore, even the emperor’s bedroom was not very big. 

Bedroom of Yongzheng Emperor Yingzhen (1678 — 1735)

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