Study Aid 9: China and Japan


China has given birth to some of the richest and oldest cultural traditions in the world. The emperor Qin Shi Huang effectively united the Chinese for the first time in 221 BC and his primary architectural legacies were his recently rediscovered tomb near Xí'an (which was guarded by a great terra-cotta army) and the Great Wall, which was strengthened and expanded over the next 2000 years. Although most early Chinese architecture does not survive because of the perishability of wood and rammed earth construction, evidence points to a remarkably long and uninterrupted pattern of building that relies on 5 basic structural elements: stone platforms, a post and lintel construction system, a modular system of bays, tile roofing, and a system of bracket supports (dou-gong or tou kung) for the roof. Chinese architecture was standardized by the central bureaucracy including master builder Lií Chieh who wrote "Ying tsao fa Shih" (The Methods and Designs of Buildings) in 1103. Chinese city planning also exhibited consistent patterns based on geometry as well as cosmological principles (feng shui). The capital cities of Chang-an (later called Xí'an) and Beijing (both rebuilt under the Ming dynasty) were given walled, quadrangular perimeter plans and divided into regular grids featuring wards or zones. Beijing's Imperial or "Forbidden City" (originally erected under the Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty, 1403--), sits on an axis that runs N/S through the city, and was hierarchically oriented for the perormance of sacred and political rituals.

After Buddhism was introduced to China, the form of the stupa underwent many changes. It was transformed into a tall pagoda built of masonry, (e.g.Sung Yueh Pagoda, Hunan, 523 AD; Great Gander Pagoda, 7th century, rebuilt 701-704 AD, Xi'an); or of wood with a series of flared roofs, as seen in the Shijia Pagoda of Yingxian, built circa 1056.


Like China, Japan largely relied in timber for its architecture, and consequently, little of great antiquity survives. Early images and clay models show thatch-roof buildings raised on stilts. Other early remains include monumental tumulus "keyhole tombs," (e.g. the Tomb of Emperor Nintoku, near Osaka, c. 430 AD). The native religion of Japan is called Shintoism and is oriented towards nature and ancestor worship. The Shinto Shrine at Ise-Jingu is the holiest in Japan. It was established in the late 3rd century AD and took its present form c.500-685 AD, although it has been rebuilt approximately every 20 years ever since. It features a main hall, treasury buildings and torii gates. Buddhism was brought to Japan via Korea and China and it was often practiced alongside Shintoism. The wooden Buddhist temple/monastery at Horyuji, near Nara was constructed in 607 AD and partially rebuilt after 670.


Location: China


Labeled parts of the Chinese Bracket System

Forbidden City

Date: 1403-
Location: Beijing, China
Architect: Unknown
Patrons: Assorted Chinese Emperors of the Ming Dynasty beginning with Emperor Yongle



Aerial View - Imperial City and Forbidden City

Satellite View


Northeast Corner of Moat Surrounding Forbidden City

Wu Men Gate - Entrance to Forbidden City

Golden River

Aerial View - "Three Great Halls"

Forbidden 6

Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe Dian)


Section Perspective of Hall of Supreme Harmony

Section of Hall of Supreme Harmony



Hall of Supreme Harmony - Eave Detail

Hall of Supreme Harmony - Side View


Gate at the Rear of the Forbidden City - Gate of Divine Prowess



Hierarchical Diagram

Shijia Wooden Pagoda of Yingxian (Fugong Si Pagoda)

Date: circa 1056 AD
Location: Yingxian, China
Architect: Unknown




Exterior Elevation


Interior Elevation Showing Buddha

Shinto Shrine Complex - Ise Jingu

Date: 3rd-6th Century AD to Present
Location: Ise, Japan
Architect: Unknown
Patrons: Japanese Royal Family


Plan of Inner Sanctuary


Aerial View - Inner Shrine before Consecration of New Temple


Aerial View - Inner Shrine


Inner Shrine - Torii Gate Over the River

Approach to Main Sanctuary

Entrance to Main Sanctuary - Final Space Accessible to the Public


Exterior View of the Shoden (Main Deity Shrine)


Exterior View of the Shoden (Main Deity Shrine)


Date: 607-670 AD and later additions and alterations
Location: Nara, Japan
Architect: Unknown


Aerial View of Central Precinct


Aerial View of Central Precinct




Monk's Quarters

Approach to Temple


Pise (Adobe) Wall Around Precinct

Central Gate

Central Gate at Right and Kondo (Main Hall) at Left

Kairo or "Cloister" Gallery


Kondo - Main Hall



Pagoda Detail


Terra Cotta Sculptures - Death of Buddha circa 711 AD (Kept at the base of the Pagoda)