Architecture of the Song Dynasty

From Citizendium
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is basically copied from an external source and has not been approved.
Main Article
Definition [?]
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.
The content on this page originated on Wikipedia and is yet to be significantly improved. Contributors are invited to replace and add material to make this an original article.

Like every subsequent dynastic period of China, the architecture of the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD) was based upon the accomplishments of its predecessors. In terms of architecture, the profession of the architect, craftsman, carpenter, and building engineer weren't seen as high professions equal to the likes of a Confucian scholar-official. Architectural knowledge was passed down orally for thousands of years in China, from a father craftsman to his son (if the son wished to continue the legacy of his father).

The hallmarks of Chinese architecture during the Song period were its towering Buddhist pagodas, enormous stone and wooden bridges, its lavish tombs, and palatial architecture. Although literary works on architecture existed beforehand, during the Song Dynasty literature on architecture blossomed into maturity and held a greater professional outlook, described dimensions and working materials in a concise manner, and overall had a greater style of organization than previous works.

Buddhist pagoda towers

During the Han Dynasty of China (202 BC220 AD), the idea of the Buddhist stupa entered Chinese culture, as a means to house and protect scriptural sutras. During the Southern and Northern Dynasties period, the distinct Chinese pagoda was developed, its predecessor being the tall watchtowers and towering residential apartments of the Han Dynasty (as seen through Han-era tomb models).[1][2] During the Sui (581618) and Tang (618907) periods, Chinese pagodas were reverted from purely wooden architecture into stone and brick, which could more easily survive lightning fires, arson, and avoid the natural rotting of wooden material over the ages. A good example of Tang era pagodas would be the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, constructed by 652. Although Buddhism in China had waned in influence after the late Tang period, during the Song Dynasty there were numerous Buddhist pagoda towers built. Tall Chinese pagodas were often built in the surrounding countryside instead of within the city walls, due to its foreign origin in India, and the Chinese not wanting it to compete with the cosmic-imperial authority embodied in the cities' drum-towers and gate-towers.[3]

The 'Iron Pagoda' of Youguo Temple in Kaifeng is an excellent example of Song-era architecture, earning its name because of the iron-grey color of the glazed-bricks forming the tower. Originally built as a wooden pagoda by the architect Yu Hao, it was struck by lightning and burned down in 1044 during the Northern Song period. In 1049 the pagoda was rebuilt as it appears today, under the order of Emperor Renzong of Song. This octagonal-base pagoda structure stands at a current height of 56.88 meters (186.56 feet tall), and with a total of 13 story levels.[4] It's glazed tile bricks feature carved artwork of dancing figures, solemn ministers, and Buddhist themes (see Gallery below).

However, China also featured real iron-cast pagodas, such as the Iron Pagoda of Yuquan Temple (Jade Springs Temple), Dangyang, Hubei Province. Built in 1061 AD during the Northern Song, it holds a weight of 53848 kg (53 t) of cast iron, at a standing height of 21.28 m (70 ft tall).[5] In mock and model after the roofing tiles of actual wooden, stone, or brick pagodas of the Song period, this iron pagoda features delicate sloping eaves, with an octoganal base.[6]

The Liuhe Pagoda, or Six Harmonies Pagoda, is another famous Song-era work of pagoda architecture. It is located in the Southern Song capital of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, at the foot of the Yuelun Hill facing the Qiantang River. Although the original was destroyed in 1121, the current tower was erected in 1156, fully restored by 1165. It stands at a height of 59.89 m (196 ft tall), constructed from a red-brick frame with 13 layers of wooden eaves. The Liuhe Pagoda, being of considerable size and stature, served as a permanent lighthouse from nearly its beginning, to aid sailors in seeking anchorage for their ships at night (as described in the Hangzhou Fu Zhi).[7] During the Southern Song period, it was one of the crowning pieces of architecture for the capital city.

The Twin Pagodas of Kaiyuan Temple in Quanzhou are also renowned within China. The first pagoda, the Zhenguo Pagoda, was originally built of wood during the Xiantong period (860-873). Its twin structure, the Renshou Pagoda (also originally constructed with wood) was built in 916 AD. After being destroyed several times by fire and other calamity, the present Renshou Pagoda was built of stone in 1228 AD, while its twin structure of the Zhenguo Pagoda was also built of stone in 1238 AD (sponsored by a Buddhist monk known as Bengong). The Renshou Pagoda is 44.6 m tall, while the Zhenguo Pagoda is slightly taller, at a height of 48.24 m tall.

The Liao Dynasty to the north was also famous for its Buddhist pagoda architecture. Although many brick and stone pagodas, and brick-stone/wood hybrid pagodas built beforehand have survived the ages, the tallest and oldest fully-wooden pagoda still standing in China was of Liao-Khitan making, the Yingxian Pagoda (also called Sakyamuni Pagoda).[8][9] Located in Yingxian County of Shanxi Province, the octogonal-base pagoda was built in 1056 AD, as a crowning architectural masterpiece of the Fogong Temple. The pagoda stands at a height of 67.13 m (220.18 ft) tall, making it taller than both the Iron Pagoda and the Liuhe Pagoda of the Song Dynasty.[10] The pagoda also features just under sixty different kinds of bracket arms in its construction.[11] The pagoda was built in a similar style to the Liuhe Pagoda, with its delicate wooden eaves and curving tiles, and along with the other pagodas it is a site of tourist attraction in modern times. Apparently, the pagoda was built by Emperor Daozong of Liao (Hongji) at the site of his grandmother's family home.[12] The pagoda reached such fame that it was commonly nicknamed simply the "Mu-ta" (Timber Pagoda) in China.[9]

There were also large astronomical observatories built in China. This includes the Gaocheng Astronomical Observatory built in 1276 AD, still standing today.

Grandiose bridges

Bridges over waterways had been known in China since the ancient Zhou Dynasty, and even floating pontoon bridges were mentioned from the Zhou period (Song era pontoon bridges include the Dongjin Bridge, 400 meters long, which is still seen today). Bridges of the Zhou Dynasty were often built entirely of wood, while some featured stone piers. The first bridge in China to be built entirely of stone was an arch bridge of 135 AD, spanning a transport canal in the Eastern Han capital of Luoyang.[13] With brilliant engineers such as Li Chun of the Sui period, grand bridge-works like the Zhaozhou Bridge of 605 AD were built. In terms of global history, this bridge is famous for being the world's first open-spandrel stone segemental arch bridge. Although the bridge of Roman Emperor Trajan over the Danube featured wooden-built open-spandrel segmental arches on stone piers (Trajan's Bridge), the first purely-stone segmental arch bridge built in Europe was the Ponte Vecchio Bridge of Florence, built in 1335. The Zhaozhou Bridge would continue to have an influence on later Chinese bridges, such as the similar Yongtong Bridge near Zhaoxian in Hebei, an 85 ft. long stone segmental arch bridge built in 1130 AD by the Chinese engineer Pou Qianer.[14]

During the Song Dynasty, bridge construction reached an even greater height of sophistication and grand extent. There were large trestle-structure bridges built during the Song, like the one built by Zhang Zhong-yan in 1158 AD.[15] There were also large bridges built entirely of stone, such as the Ba Zi Bridge of Shao-Xing, built in 1256 AD, which still stands today.[16] Bridges with stylish Chinese pavilions crowning their central spans were often featured in painted artwork, like the landscape paintings of Xia Gui (1195–1224). In 1221, the Daoist traveler Qiu Chang-chun once visited Genghis Khan in Samarkand, describing various Chinese bridges in his travels there through the Tian Shan Mountains, east of Kuldja. Joseph Needham quotes him as saying:

[The road had] 'no less than 48 timber bridges of such width that two carts can drive over them side by side'. It had been built by Chang Jung [Zhang Rong] and the other engineers of the Chagatai some years before. The wooden trestles of Chinese bridges from the -3rd century (BC) onwards were no doubt similar to those supposed to have been employed in Caesar's bridge of -55 (BC) across the Rhine, or drawn by Leonardo, or found in use in Africa. But where in +13th century (AD) Europe could a two-lane highway like Chang Jung's have been found?[17]

In medieval-era Fujian Province, there were enormous beam bridges built during the Song Dynasty. Some of these bridges were built at a length of 1219.2 m (4,000 ft), with the length of their individual spans of up to 22.33 m (70 ft) in length, and the construction of which necessitated the moving of massive stones that weighed 203200 kg (200 t).[16] Unfortunately, no names of the engineers of the Fujian bridges were recorded or featured on inscriptions of the bridges. The only names featured were merely the names of the Song-era local officials that sponsored them and gave oversight of their construction and repair.[16] However, the historian Joseph Needham points out that there might have been an engineering school of Fujian headed by a prominent engineer of the time known as Cai Xiang (1012–1067). Cai was a noted scholar, an author of books on lichi fruit and tea, and who had risen to the seat of a governmental prefect in Fujian. Near Quanzhou, Cai Xiang planned and supervised the construction of the large Wanan Bridge (once called the Luoyang Bridge, constructed from 1053-1059 AD), a stone bridge similar to other bridges found in Fujian.[16] The bridge still stands today, and features ship-like piers that reduce the amount of rapid river water friction. Its dimensions are 731 m (2,398 ft) in length, 5 m (16 ft) in width, and 7 m (22 ft) in height.

Northern Song Emperors' Tombs (Henan Province)

Located southwest of Gongyi city in Gongxian County in Henan province, the large tombs of the Northern Song Dynasty include a total of some 1,000 tombs, including individual tombs for Song emperors, empresses, princes, princesses, etc. It's construction began in 963 AD, during the reign of Emperor Taizu of Song. The only Northern Song emperors not buried there are Emperor Huizong of Song and Emperor Qinzong of Song (due to the chaos of the Jurchen invasion from 1125-1127). At the tomb complex, thousands of Song Dynasty sculptures of animals, mythical creatures, government officials, military generals, and others are featured in an enormous display of Song era artwork.


During the Song Dynasty, previous works on architecture were brought to more sophisticated levels of description, such as the Yi Li Shi Gong, written by Li Ruo-gui in 1193 AD.[18] One of the most difinitive works, however, was the earlier Mu Jing ('Timberwork Manual'), ascribed to the Master-Carpenter (Du Liao Jiang) known as Yu Hao, written sometime between 965 to 995. Yu Hao was responsible for the construction of an elegant wooden pagoda tower in Kaifeng, one that unfortunately was burnt down by lightning and replaced by a brick pagoda soon after (refer to Iron Pagoda of Youguo Temple below). In his time, books on architecture were still considered a lowly scholarly achievement since it was associated with a middle-class craft, therefore it was not even recorded in the official court bibliography.[19] However, the scientist and statesman Shen Kuo wrote of his work extensively around 1080, praising the Timberwork Manual as a work of architectural genius, and that no one in his own time could reproduce such a work.[20] However, several years later, there was such a man, known as Li Jie, who wrote the Ying Zao Fa Shi ('Treatise on Architectural Methods').[20]

When Shen Kuo was in office, Li Jie was an up-and-coming official in the Bureau of Imperial Sacrifices, and by 1092 he had been moved to the Directorate of Buildings and Construction, where he showed much promise as an architect.[20] He revised many older treatises on architecture in 1097, his work complete in 1100, and officially published three years later.[20] He became well-known for the oversight in construction of administrative offices, palace apartments, gates and gate-towers, the ancestral temple of the Song Dynasty, along with numerous Buddhist temples.[20] His written work included building rules and regulations, accounting information, materials used in construction, classification of different crafts, and outlined the construction of:

  • Moats and fortifications
  • Stonework
  • Greater woodwork
  • Lesser woodwork
  • Wood-carving
  • Turning and drilling
  • Sawing
  • Bamboo work
  • Tiling
  • Wall building
  • Painting and decoration
  • Brickwork
  • Glazed tile making[21]

Shen Kuo's dissertation on the Timberwork Manual

In his Dream Pool Essays of 1088, Shen Kuo was one to praise the architectural written work of Yu Hao, who once had a marvelous wooden Chinese pagoda built at the Song capital of Kaifeng. Below is a passage from one of Shen's books outlining the basics contained in Yu's 10th century work on early Song-era architecture:

In the first quote, Shen Kuo describes a scene were Yu Hao gives advice to another artisan architect about slanting struts for diagonal wind bracing (Wade-Giles spelling):

When Mr. Chhien (Wei-Yen) was Governor of the two Chekiang [Zhejiang] provinces, he authorized the building of a wooden pagoda at the Fan-Thien Ssu (Brahma-Heaven Temple) in Hangchow with a design of twice three stories. While it was under construction General Chhien went up to the top and was worried because it swayed a little. But the Master-Builder explained that as the tiles had not yet been put on, the upper part was still rather light, hence the effect. So then they put on all the tiles, but the sway continued as before. Being at a loss what to do, he privately sent his wife to see the wife of Yu Hao with a present of golden hair pins, and enquire about the cause of the motion. (Yu) Hao laughed and said: 'That's easy, just fit in struts (pan) to settle the work, fixed with (iron) nails, and it will not move any more.' The Master-Builder followed his advice, and the tower stood quite firm. This is because the nailed struts filled in and bound together (all the members) up and down so that the six planes (above and below, front and back, left and right) were mutually linked like the cage of the thorax. Although people might walk on the struts, the six planes grasped and supported each other, so naturally there could be no more motion. Everybody acknowledged the expertise thus shown.[22]

In this next quote, Shen Kuo describes the dimensions and types of architecture outlined in Yu Hao's book (Wade-Giles spelling):

Methods of building construction are described in the Timberwork Manual, which, some say, was written by Yu Hao. (According to that book), buildings have three basic units of proportion (fen), what is above the cross-beams follows the Upperwork Unit, what is above the ground floor follows the Middlework Unit, and everything below that (platforms, foundations, paving, etc.) follows the Lowerwork Unit. The length of the cross-beams will naturally govern the lengths of the uppermost cross-beams as well as the rafters, etc. Thus for a (main) cross-beam of (8 ft.) length, an uppermost cross-beam of (3.5 ft.) length will be needed. (The proportions are maintained) in larger and smaller halls. This (2/28) is the Upperwork Unit. Similarly, the dimensions of the foundations must match the dimensions of the columns to be used, as also those of the (side-) rafters, etc. For example, a column (11 ft.) high will need a platform (4.5 ft.) high. So also for all the other components, corbelled brackets (kung), projecting rafters (tshui), other rafters (chueh), all have their fixed proportions. All these follow the Middlework Unit (2/24). Now below of ramps (and steps) there are three kinds, steep, easy-going, and intermediate. In places these gradients are based upon a unit derived from the imperial litters. Steep ramps (chun tao) are ramps for ascending which the leading and trailing bearers have to extend their arms fully down and up respectively (ratio 3/35). Easy-going ramps (man tao) are those for which the leaders use elbow length and the trailers shoulder height (ratio 1/38); intermediate ones (phing tao) are negotiated by the leaders with downstretched arms and trailers at shoulder height (ratio 2/18). These are the Lowerwork Units. The book (of Yu Hao) had three chapters. But builders (thu mu chih kung) in recent years have become much more precise and skillful (yen shan) than formerly. Thus for some time past the old Timberwork Manual has fallen out of use. But (unfortunately) there is hardly anybody capable of writing a new one. To do that would be a masterpiece in itself![23]

See also


  1. Hoover, M. (August 2006).The Art of Early China and Korea M. Hoover and San Antonio College. Retrieved on 2007-03-29.
  2. Needham, Volume 4, 128.
  3. Needham, Volume 4, 137.
  4. (2003).Iron Pagoda. Ministry of Culture. Retrieved on 2007-03-29.
  5. Needham, Volume 4, 141-142.
  6. Iron Pagoda at Yuquan Temple in Dangyang of Hubei Province. China Internet Information Center. Retrieved on 2007-03-29.
  7. Needham, Volume 4, 662.
  8. Dias del futuro pasado (September 4, 2006). The Wooden Pagoda of Yingxian. Retrieved on 2007-03-29. Template:Es icon
  9. 9.0 9.1 Steinhardt, 130.
  10. (2003).Sakyamuni Pagoda at Fogong Temple. Ministry of Culture. Retrieved on 2007-03-29.
  11. Needham, Volume 4, 131.
  12. Steinhardt, 20.
  13. Needham, Volume 4, 152-153.
  14. Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, Plate CCCL.
  15. Needham, Volume 4, 150.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Needham, Volume 4, 153.
  17. Needham, Volume 4, 151.
  18. Needham, Volume 4, 81.
  19. Needham, Volume 4, 82.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 Needham, Volume 4, 84.
  21. Needham, Volume 4, 85
  22. Needham, Volume 4, 141.
  23. Needham, Volume 4, 82-84


  • Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 4, Part 3. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.
  • Steinhardt, Nancy Shatzman (1997). Liao Architecture. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

External links