Types of Ancient Chinese Architecture

Five Types of Ancient Chinese Architecture


Pagodas – Chinese CultureThe pagod originated from India, and was introduced to China along with Buddhism in the Han Dynasty. The pagoda, a transliteration from Indic Sanskrit, originally meant the grave where the remain of Indian monks of high rank were kept after they passed away.

The ancient pagoda we see today are a combination of both Indian and Chinese architecutural art, and they come in various shapes and forms. As far as appearance is concerned, there are pagodas built with wood, bricks, rocks, iron, bronze, glazed tiles or even gold, silver or pearls. Normally, the number of stories varies from five to 13, but it is always an odd number..


The bridge is one of the most important components of ancient Chinese architecture. For thousands of yars, the Chinese have built tens of thousands of ingeniously designed and magnificent bridges.
Bridges – Chinese Culture
Crossing over mountains, spanning rivers, they have facilitated transportation, beautified landscapes and have become one of the marks of ancient Chinese civilization.

There are many other ancient bridges in China. The famous ones include Ping’an Bridge in Jinjiang and Luoyang Bridge in Quanzhou of Fujian Province, Jiuqu Bridge in the West Lake of Hangzhou, Baodai Bridge in Suzhou and the Yudai Bridge in the Summer Palace of Beijing.

The Imperial Palace

The imperial palace was the residence of the emperor and his family. In order to show the supremacy of the imperial family and their authority to rule the country, palace architects in ancient China unanimously pursued grandeur and magnificence in their design and construction.
The Imperial Palace – Chinese Culture
The imperial palace complex in ancient China was usually divided into two parts. The front part was for the emperor to meet his ministers and talk about state affairs, while the rear was used for residential purposes only.

Wooden buildings were a basic feature of ancient Chinese architecture. Beams, pillars, windows, gates were all made of wood and were painted red symbolizing happiness and riches and honor. Pictures of dragons, phoenixes, clouds, flowers and grass were sometimes painted on the surface, which not only made the buildings look more magnificent but had the practical purpose of protecting the wood from damp and infestation.


China is a country with diversified religion. Apart from the indigenous Taoism, Temples – Chinese Culturethere are Buddhism, Islam and Christianity which were introduced into China from foreign lands.

Although Buddhism was first introduced into China from ancient India, Buddhist buildings have obviously been localized since then. Most of Buddhist temples are built in remote mountainous areas far away from city centers.

Most of the ancient temples were designed in a way that the entrance gate would face the central main road. Inside the gate, to the left and right were the Bell and DRUM Towers. Confronted was the Hall of God, followed by the Hall of Great Wisdom.

Further back was the Tower of Scriptures. Other structures such as monk’s residences, kitchens and dining rooms, were located at the sides along the center passage. The Chinese ancient temple was a vivid imitation of the imperial palace building, in terms of its layout, the structure of the main altar room, and the construction of the roof structure.

While inheriting the palace building’s grandeur and magnificence, the Chinese Buddhist temple structure created its own unique style.

Classical Garden

The most prominent feature of classical Chinese gardens is the emphasis on the harmony between nature and human. Ancient garden architects successfully integrated man-made scenes into the natural landscape, creating the impression of traveling in a picture of grotesque peaks, exotic rocks, flowing currents, tranquil lakes, fragrant flowers and rare plants.
Chinese classical garden are often full of surprise in terms of scenes, variable in composition and complicated in design. Serpentine walkways, for instance, lead to places of tranquility.
Much attention is paid to the creation of varied scenery; with each step, one can see a different scene. Buildings of different forms and different architectural styles are well integrated with the garden scenery. Flowers, plants and trees are elaborately cultivated and planned with a definite eye on their heights and blooming seasons. 
Another feature of classical Chinese garden is that decorative art is ingeniously meerged with the garden scenery. On buildings there are horizontal boards carved with calligraphy, antithetical couplets, and painted beams with carvings. 
Classical Chinese garden can be roughly divided into two categories, namely, the royal gardens in the north and private gardens in the north and private gardens in the south. 

Ancient Chinese architecture was classified based on the structure. The list of classification includes:

  • Gong (traditionally palace): Gong is the Chinese word for palace where imperial family lives. Also other houses of the emperors were referred to as gongs.
  • Lou (Multi-storey Buildings): Lou means any building of two or more floors with a horizontal main ridge. Yueyang Tower in Hunan and Huanghelou (Tower of the Yellow Crane) in Wuchang are masterpieces among the ancient towers.
  • Tai (Terrace): The Tai was an ancient architectural structure. Tai is an elevated terrace with a flat top. Generally built of cement, stone and surfaced with brick, Tai were used as an open side gallery from where one can have a scenic view.
  • Ting (Pavilions): Chinese pavilions were made either of wood, stone or bamboo. These were built in any shape such as hexagon, square, triangle, octagon etc. All pavilions had columns but did not have any walls.
  • Ge (Two storey pavilions): Ge same as Lou means building of two or more storeys. The Ge had door and windows on the front side with the other three sides being walls. Two storey pavilions were usually decorated with boards all around.
  • Ta (Chinese pagodas): Buddhist in China built special Buddhist buildings which were like Indian stupas. These buildings were only to keep sacred things in, like gold treasures and books of Buddhist prayers and pictures of the Buddha. These pagodas were all made of wood. During the Tang Dynasty, around 500 AD, architects built fancier pagodas with eight sides, like the White Pagoda at Chengde or the West and East pagodas at Kunming.

Other structural classifications included Xuan (veranda with windows), Wei (Pavilions or house on terraces) and Wu(Rooms along roofed corridors).