Why Ancient Chinese Did Not Value Architecture?

Lots of splendid architecture is recorded in ancient Chinese literature, however, none of them survived. David Lowenthal said “cultural heritage stresses words over things above all in China”. In fact, compared with other antiques such as stele and handicrafts, which are valuable among ancient scholars, it seems only architecture had not been given as much attention as it deserved.

When discussing this issue, Liang Sicheng, a well-known Chinese architect and preservationist believed that it is because ancient Chinese lack the notion of creating permanent architecture. They took buildings as easy as clothes, which they could change them whenever they want. Thus, material of Chinese architecture was limited to wood. Although the skills of wood structure had become advanced enough, they still did not want to try other materials such as bricks and stone, which obviously easier to store than wood. Meanwhile, rather than restore, they prefer to completely rebuild when they need more buildings.

He also raised another reason, which is the low rank of architect in ancient Chinese hierarchical society. Architect was considered to be a kind of unclean and menial job. Accordingly, their works were not taken seriously by public. In addition, unlike other artworks, there is no tradition of appreciating architecture. Therefore, nobody cared what the building looks like, nor whether it could be demolished.

As far as I’m concerned, Buddhism may also nest the thoughts that architecture is not important. According to Buddhist doctrine, life is ephemeral and circulatory, worldly desire such as securing a building would impede people’s possibility to achieve the eternal peace, so there is no need to care about secular things.

Why ancient Chinese did not value architecture? This issue may concern the lagging of historic preservation in China nowadays. The above is just some brash thoughts, I wish I could acquire much more knowledge about it in the future.


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