prevalent imitate in essentials those of the 4th and 5th centuries B.C. and doubtless represent an immemorial tradition.
The grand characteristic of Chinese architecture is the pre-eminent importance of the roof. The t‘ing is the commonest model of building. The roof is the main feature; in fact the t‘ing consists of this roof, massive and immense, with recurved edges, and the numerous short columns on which the roof rests. The columns are of wood, the straight stems of the nanmu being specially used for this purpose. The walls are not supports, but merely fill in, with stone or brickwork, the spaces between the columns. The scheme of construction is thus curiously like that of the modern American steel-framed building, though the external form may be derived from the tent of primitive nomads. The roof, being the preponderant feature, is that on which the art of the architect has been concentrated. A double or a triple roof may be devised; the ridges and eaves may be decorated with dragons and other fantastic animals, and the eaves underlaid with carved and lacquered woodwork; the roof itself is often covered with glazed tiles of brilliant hue. In spite of efforts, sometimes desperate, to give variety and individual character by ornament and detail, the general impression is one of poverty of design. “Chinese buildings are usually one-storeyed and are developed horizontally as they are increased in size or number. The principle which determines the plan of projection is that of symmetry” (Bushell). All important buildings must face the south, and this uniform orientation increases the general architectural monotony produced by a preponderance of horizontal lines.
A special characteristic of Chinese architecture is the pai-lou, an archway erected only by special authority, usually to commemorate famous persons. The pai-lou is commonly made of wood with a tiled roof, but sometimes is built entirely of stone, as is the gateway at the avenue of the Ming tombs. A magnificent example of the pai-lou is that on the avenue leading to Wo Fo Ssü, the temple of the Sleeping Buddha, near Peking. This is built of marble and glazed terra-cotta. The pai-lou, like the Japanese torii, derives its origin from the toran of Indian stupas. Lofty towers called t‘ai, usually square and of stone, seem to have been a common type of important building in early times. They are described in old books as erected by the ancient kings and used for various purposes. The towers of the Great Wall are of the same character, and are made of stone, with arched doors and windows. Stone, though plentiful in most provinces of the empire, has been singularly little used by the Chinese, who prefer wood or brick. M. Paléologue attributes this preference of light and destructible materials to the national indifference of the Chinese to posterity and the future, their enthusiasm being wholly devoted to their ancestors and the past.
Temples are designed on the general t‘ing model. The Temple of Heaven is the most imposing of the Confucian temples, conspicuous with its covering of deep-blue tiles and its triple roof. Near this is the great Altar of Heaven, consisting of three circular terraces with marble balustrades. Buddhist temples are built on the general plan of secular residences, and consist of a series of rectangular courts with the principal building in the centre, the lesser at the sides. Lama temples differ little from these except in the interior decorations and symbolism. Mahommedan mosques are far simpler and severer in internal arrangement, but outwardly these also are in the Chinese style.
The pagoda (Chinese taa), the type of Chinese architecture most familiar to the West, probably owes its peculiar form to Buddhist influence. In the pagoda alone may be found some trace of a religious imagination such as in Europe made Gothic architecture so full and splendid an expression of the aspiring spirit. The most famous pagoda was the Porcelain Tower of Nanking, destroyed by the T‘aip‘ing rebels in 1854. This was covered with slabs of faience coated with coloured glazes. The ordinary pagoda is built of brick on a stone foundation; it is octagonal with thirteen storeys.
No Chinese buildings show more beauty than some of the graceful stone bridges for which the neighbourhood of Peking has been famous for centuries.
See M. Paléologue, L’Art chinois (1887): S.W. Bushell, Chinese Art, vol. i. (1904); J. Fergusson, History of Architecture; Professor Chûta Itô, articles in The Kokka, Nos. 197, 198.
4. Sculpture.—Except in the casting and decoration of bronze vessels the Chinese have not obtained distinction as sculptors. They have practised sculpture in stone from an early period, but the incised reliefs of the 2nd century B.C., a number of which are figured in Professor E. Chavannes’s standard work, while they display a certain spirit, lack the true plastic sense, and though the power of the Chinese draughtsmen increased rapidly under the T‘ang and Sung dynasties, their work in stone showed no parallel progress. The feeling for solidity, which in Japan was a natural growth, was always somewhat exotic in China. With the impulse given to the arts by Buddhism a school of sculpture arose. The pilgrim Fa Hsien records sculpture of distinctive Chinese type in the 5th century. But Indian models dominated the art. Colossal Buddhas of stone were typical of the T‘ang era. Little, however, remains of these earlier times, and such true sculpture in stone, wood or ivory as we know dates from the 14th and succeeding centuries. The well-known sculptures on the arch at Chu Yung Kuan (A.D. 1345) are Hindu in style, though not without elements of breadth and strength, which seem to promise a greater development than actually took place. The colossal figures guarding the approach to the Ming tombs (15th century) show that the national taste rapidly became conventional and petrified so far as monumental sculpture was concerned, though occasional examples of devotional or portrait sculpture on a smaller scale in wood and ivory are found, which in power, grace, sincerity and restraint can rank with the work of more gifted nations. Such pieces, however, are extremely rare, and at South Kensington the ivory “Kwanyin and Child” (274. 1898) is a solitary example. As a rule the Chinese sculptor valued his art in proportion to the technical difficulties it conquered. He thus either preferred intractable materials like jade or rock-crystal, or, if he wrought in wood, horn or ivory, sought to make his work curious or intricate rather than beautiful. There is, nevertheless, beauty of a kind in Chinese bowls of jade, and there is dignity in some of the pieces of rock-crystal, but the bulk of the carving done in wood, horn and ivory does not deserve a moment’s serious thought from the aesthetic point of view. The few fine specimens may be referred to the earlier part of the Ming dynasty when Chinese art in general was sincere and simple. After the middle of the 15th century there set in the taste for profuse ornament which injured all subsequent Chinese work, and wholly ruined Chinese sculpture.
Bronzes.—In Chinese bronzes we have a more consistent and exceptional form of plastic art, which can be traced continuously for some three thousand years. These bronzes take the form of ritual or honorific vessels, and the archaic shapes used in the service of the prehistoric religion of the country are repeated and copied with slight changes in decoration or detail to the present day.
The oldest extant specimens, chiefly derived from the sack of the Summer Palace at Peking, may be referred to the Shang and Chow dynasties (1766-255 B.C.). These ancient pieces have a certain savage monumental grandeur of design, are usually covered with a rich and thick patina of red, green and brown, and are decorated with simple patterns—scrolls, zigzag lines and a form of what is known as the Greek key-pattern symbolizing respectively waves, mountains and storm clouds. The animal forms used are those of the tao-tieh (glutton), a fabulous monster (possibly a conventionalized tiger) representing the powers of the earth, the serpent and the bull. These two last in later pieces combine to form the dragon, representing the power of the air. In the Chow dynasty libation vessels were also made in the form of a deer, a ram or a rhinoceros. These characteristics are shown in figures 9-17, Plate II. Fig. 9 is a temple vessel of a shape still in use, but which must date from before 1000 B.C. With this massive piece may be contrasted
- La Sculpture sur pierre en Chine ait temps des deux dynasties Han (Paris, 1893).