- Chinese Architecture and the Beaux-Arts
The marriage between traditional Chinese architecture and the Beaux-Arts design tradition is one of the most significant events in the architectural field in twentieth-century China. The matchmakers, some fifty Chinese students studying architecture abroad during the early Republican period (1912–1949), most of them in the United States with a handful in Europe and Japan, are known as the first generation of Chinese architects. Born during the last two decades of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) and professionally trained overseas in their early adulthoods, this generation had received both classical Chinese and Western educations and, thus, was a perfect candidate for the historical role it played. The impact these architects made on the constructed environment of modern China is profound and far-reaching—from the changes in architectural styles and design processes to [End Page 324] the development of architectural education and a new identity for the architect. The impact can still be felt in the dawn of the twenty-first century.
This book, Chinese Architecture and the Beaux-Arts, edited by Jeffrey Cody, Nancy Steinhardt, and Tony Atkin, is the first and most comprehensive book dedicated solely to this fusion of traditions in modern Chinese architecture. The sixteen contributors, including the three editors, include many leading scholars in the field and represent a diversity of academic and professional backgrounds that help to deepen our understanding of modern Chinese architecture, in particular, and twentieth-century China, in general. They are from a variety of institutions in the United States, Europe, mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Australia, many with educational or academic experiences in two or three of these regions. The collective effort of these scholars results in this rich, complex, and panoramic volume.
The fifteen chapters are grouped into three parts. In part 1 (“Divergence to Convergence”), two articles, “Chinese Architecture on the Eve of the Beaux-Arts,” by Nancy Steinhardt, and “Just What Was Beaux-Arts Architectural Composition?” by David Van Zanten, introduce the two distinctive traditions before they met, laying the foundations for further discussions on the complex interactions between them. Steinhardt’s article summarizes the formal characters and fundamental principles of traditional Chinese architecture and spatial design, highlighting those features compatible with the Beaux-Arts design principles. Though mainly addressing the question of why China’s first generation of architects was especially attracted to Beaux-Arts, the article offers not only a succinct historical background of the encounter, but also basic knowledge about traditional Chinese architecture, its most eminent examples, texts (e.g., Yingzao fashi), technical details (e.g., modularity), and production mode (e.g., jiangren). From the other side of the Chinese–Beaux-Arts marriage, David Van Zanten examines the key aspects of the Beaux-Arts approach in architectural design, which is not only an assemblage of formal features (e.g., symmetry, axis, eclecticism, and monumentality), but also a design philosophy and working process. His article also explains the way the American Beaux-Arts, represented by Paul Philippe Cret’s system at the University of Pennsylvania, from which many first-generation Chinese architects learned architecture, transformed the elitist practice of the French Ecole des Beaux-Arts into a professional training system highlighting compositional eloquence.
With the foundations laid out by the previous two articles, part 2 (“Convergence to Influence”) delves into the details about how Beaux-Arts influences Chinese architecture in different times and locations. The first two articles are both related to architectural education. Tony Atkin’s article, “Chinese Architecture Students at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1920s: Tradition, Exchange, and the Search for Modernity,” focuses on the most influential place and person during the first stage of the transmission of Beaux-Arts to China, Philadelphia and Paul Cret, respectively, and their impact on some of the most famous first-generation [End Page 325] Chinese architects (e.g., Liang Sicheng, Yang Tingbao, Tong Jun, and Chen Zhi). The next...