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Chinese Architecture and Metaphor

Song Culture in the Yingzao Fashi Building Manual

Jiren Feng

Publication Year: 2012

Investigating the historical tradition of Chinese architectural writing from antiquity to the twelfth century, Architecture and Metaphor reveals significant and fascinating social and cultural phenomena in the most important primary text for the study of the Chinese building tradition. Unlike previous scholarship, which has reviewed this imperially commissioned architectural manual largely as a technical work, this volume considers the Yingzao Fashi’s unique literary value and explores the rich cultural implications in and behind its technical content.

Utilizing a philological approach, the author pays particular attention to the traditional and contemporary architectural terminology presented in the Yingzao Fashi. In examining the semantic meaning of the architectural terms used in the manual, he uncovers a systematic architectural metaphor wherein bracketing elements are likened to flowers, flowering branches, and foliage: Thus pillars with bracketing above are compared to blossoming trees. More importantly, this intriguing imagery was shared by different social groups, in particular craftsmen and literati, and craftsmen themselves employed literary knowledge in naming architectural elements. Relating these phenomena to the unprecedented flourishing of literature, the literati’s greater admiration of technical knowledge, and the higher intellectual capacity of craftsmen during the Song, Architecture and Metaphor demonstrates how the learned and “unlearned” cultures entangled in the construction of architectural knowledge in premodern China. It convincingly shows that technical language served as a faithful carrier of contemporary popular culture and aesthetic concepts.

Architecture and Metaphor demonstrates a high level of engagement with a broad spectrum of sophisticated Chinese sources. It will become a classic work for all students and scholars of East Asian architecture.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Series: Spatial Habitus: Making and Meaning in Asia's Architecture


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pp. c-iv


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Writing this book has been both exciting and challenging. I plunged into this research with immense zeal, yet I faced many challenges, from writing in a second language to tackling the difficulties in translating each piece of historical and technical Chinese text, from making up for the lost time caused by a severe femur fracture to struggling with the distractions from several international moves. Th is book would not have been accomplished without tremendous help from so many people....

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pp. 1-13

When the Tang (618–907) scholar Li Hua 李華 (715–766) composed his poetic essay dedicated to the Enfolding-Vitality Hall (Hanyuandian 含 元殿, built in 663), the most magnifi cent building in the imperial palace compound in Chang’an 長安 (modern Xi’an), he lent a special meaning to the construction of architecture. Th e hall was where the court handled state aff airs and held grand ceremonies. While eulogizing the virtues and deeds...

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Chapter 1 The Historical Tradition of Writing on Architecture: From Antiquity to the Mid-Tenth Century

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pp. 14-59

This is how Li Jie begins his preface to the YZFS, which served to present the work to the imperial court. He cites two of the most esteemed Confucian classics, which were attributed to kings and nobles of the Zhou (mid-eleventh century–256 B.C.E.), one of the most powerful dynasties in Chinese history. One of these writings was the Yi 易 (Changes), later known as the Zhouyi 周易 (Zhou’s [book of ] changes) and the Yijing 易 經 (Classic of changes)....

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Chapter 2 From the Mujing to the Yingzao Fashi: The Rise of Building Manuals and the Construction of Architectural Knowledge

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pp. 60-99

Writing a constructive, comprehensive architectural manual and setting a dynasty’s building standards, Li Jie was fully aware of the challenge of sufficient architectural knowledge. He stressed that possessing adequate knowledge of architecture was critical for accomplishing such a task. Indeed, although official rules for construction pertinent to social classification had been promulgated in Tang times, technical architectural knowledge had never been summarized in writing before the tenth century....

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Chapter 3 The Yingzao Fashi: The Making of Widespread Legitimated Building Knowledge

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pp. 100-137

For his compilation of the YZFS, Li Jie took advantage of two kinds of resources, classics, histories, and other texts on architectural traditions, and oral accounts from architectural professionals working under his supervision. Th is tells us how such a masterpiece of architectural writings could be produced by Li Jie. In addition to his post in the Directorate of Construction (Jiangzuojian 將作監), Li was a painter, calligrapher...

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Chapter 4 The Yingzao Fashi Architectural Terminology (I) -- Bracketing Likened to Flowers, Branches, and Foliage: Architectural Metaphors and Conceptualization in Tenth to Twelfth Century China

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pp. 138-180

Th e state building standards that Li Jie claims as legitimate in the YZFS include comprehensive construction methods and numerous architectural terms. No matter how “technical” these contents may be perceived, they must have contained culture-bound elements given the fact that most of these technical methods and terminology had their roots in the actual practices of Song craftsmanship. Specific professional and intellectual...

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Chapter 5 The Yingzao Fashi Architectural Terminology (II): The Interplay of Literature, Arts, and Craftsmanship

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pp. 181-212

It is important to note that the architectural metaphorical system for bracketing in the YZFS—likening it to flowers and flowering trees—was well documented in contemporary literary texts and that the architectural conceptualization associated with it was shared by craftsmen and literati in China from the tenth to twelfth centuries. Our concern here is how craftsmen and scholars reached such an identical perception of particular...

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pp. 213-214

Th e powerful metaphorical system formed by the bracketing terminology in the YZFS—bracket sets likened to clusters of flowers and bracket elements likened to flowers, petals, branches, and leaves—and the marks that literature and the arts left on both bracketing terms and other architectural names indicate just a few of the many aspects of how Song architectural methods and technical features recorded in the YZFS were connected with...

Appendix 1. Previous Scholarship on the YZFS

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pp. 215-219

Appendix 2. Architectural Types Glossed in the Erya and in the Shiming

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pp. 220-221

Appendix 3. Structural Elements Glossed in the Erya and in the Shiming

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pp. 222-222

Appendix 4. Entries on Architecture in the Taiping Yulan

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pp. 223-224

Appendix 5. Quotations of Classical Texts for Gong in the Erya Shu, the YZFS, and the Taiping Yulan

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pp. 225-226

Appendix 6. Architectural Terms in the Terminology Section of the YZFS as Compared with the Taiping Yulan and the Yiwen Leiju

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pp. 227-229

Appendix 7. Classics and Historical Sources Cited in the YZFS

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pp. 230-238


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pp. 239-278


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pp. 279-296


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pp. 297-304

About the Author

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pp. 305-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861162
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824833633

Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Spatial Habitus: Making and Meaning in Asia's Architecture
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OCLC Number: 805581867
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Chinese Architecture and Metaphor

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Architecture, Chinese -- Early works to 1800.
  • Architecture -- China -- History -- Song-Yuan dynasties, 960-1368.
  • Li, Jie, 1035-1110. Ying zao fa shi.
  • Architectural writing -- China -- History.
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