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Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties (21st century B.C. - 256 B.C.).

Architecture of Xia,Shang,Zhou Dynasties and Spring and Autumn Period (By He Congrong)

Here is an accurate modern drawing of a part of the Xia Dynasty palace at Erlitou:

Here are accurate modern reconstructions of Shang Dynasty buildings at Yin:

Here is an example of a Zhou Dynasty-style building, this is a modern picture of the ritual hall for the royal tombs of Zhongshan state:

The establishment of Xia Dynasty, the first Kingdom in 21st Century B.C. of Chinese history marked the start of Chinese slavery society featuring the utilization of bronze tools and phased into feudal society approximately 1600 years later.

This period includes three dynasties in turn: Xia dynasty (21st century B.C. - 16th Century B.C.), Shang Dynasty (16th Century B.C. - 11st Century B.C.) and Zhou dynasty ( 11th B.C.- 256 B.C.)which divided into the two periods of Western Zhou (1027 B.C.-771 B.C.) and Eastern Zhou (770 B.C.-256 B.C.). A considerable foundation for agriculture had been built up and copper ware had been introduced preliminarily during Xia dynasty while both had seen great advancement during Shang Dynasty, when the posies molten on the bronze ware and oracle inscriptions on tortoise shells provided the earliest written documents for Chinese history. During the subsequent Zhou dynasty the handicraft industry and trading business also saw great development besides agriculture. The bronze culture continued its high level. Meanwhile, the social ideology underwent a unprecedented age of “the contention of a hundred schools of thought".

The Xia, Shang, Zhou dynasties’ activities centered in the lower reaches of Yellow River. The “thatched clay steps” with rammed clay plus timber frame and thatched top were developed and evolved into “houses with tiled roof” through Western Zhou. And huge palaces, sacrificial buildings, imperial gardens and royal graves had emerged. In Zhou dynasty, urban construction of more strict system appeared and the pottery tiles along with few copper components were also introduced and boosted the advancement of architectural materials and structure.

I Cities

The high city walls which exist in most city remains of this period built by slave owners mainly aimed at guarding against slave uprisings. The capital cities of the states in the Spring and Autumn period and Warring States age not only had walled “city” as the residence for the monarchs and aristocrats but also the “guo” enveloping or paralleling to the city wall for citizens and some aristocrats which might also serve the production. The protection of state and power by force initiated in the Xia and Shang periods and were developed into a series of orderly and stately central axial symmetry modes in early Zhou.


According to the records from the documents, the capital of Xia regime had been moved and settled down in turn in Yangcheng, zhendu, Anyi, Yangdi, Diqiu, Yuan, Laoqiu and Xihe etc. But it has not been verified.


There are four major cities of Shang dynasty discovered, i.e. the city remains at Shixianggou to the west of Yanshi city, Henan (which might have been Xibo the capital of Chengtang, the first monarch of Shang dynasty), Zhengzhou (probably the Capital Ao as recorded in “Zhongding Moving to Ao” of middle Shang), Panlongcheng in Huangpi of Hubei (the palace city of certain state in middle Shang) and the Yinxu in Anyang (Capital in late Shang).

Yin Ruins at Anyang: In late Shang period Pangeng moved the capital to Yin, viz. the northwest of Anyang in Henan at present. The site is located on the south bank of Hengshui River. The west-east running Henghe River formed two bays here. A fortress was built on the water front of Hengshui River in the east of the city and defensive trenches have been dug in the west and south. No trace of city wall has been found. The site is 6 km east to west and 4 km south to north. The palace area is located in the city near the Hengshui River bend in the north. A series of gates, halls and courtyards used to be lining along the north-south longitudinal axis. On the north bank of Hengshui River and northern and eastern parts of the city the mausoleums of monarchs and aristocrats gathered here while the large scale place of handicraft workshops and aristocrats and common citizens’ residences lie in the south.


Zhou originated in the upper reaches of Yellow River and lived at first in eastern Gansu, then Wen Wang (“Civil King”) Ji Chang moved the capital to Fengjing( the west bank of Fenghe River west to Xi’an city at present). Before the elimination of Shang, Wu Wang (“Martial King”) Ji Fa moved it to Haojing (on the eastern bank of Fenghe River) and till 770 B.C. Ping Wang Ji Yijiu moved eastward to Luoyang. The Zhou Kings lived and handled official affairs in Haojing and offered sacrifices to ancestors in Fengjing. The combination of the two capitals of Feng and Hao is given a united designation “suzerain Zhou”.

The most important city of Western Zhou in architectural history is the alternate capital the king city Chuyi at Luoyi ( present Luoyang of Henan) which has been designated as “Cheng zhou”. It is “right in the middle of the land and has equal distance to the tributes in all directions”. (The Historical Records·Book of Zhou). Duke Zhou and Duke Shao had also made a planning drawing for the city which was the earliest known in China and across the world. The site plan is an approximate square 2890 m east to west, 3320 north to south. Large rammed earth platforms for palaces which are the center for Luoyi and ancestral temple have been found in the south city with wall enclosure as well as pottery a great number of flat tiles and cylinder tiles piles, on which there were taotie mask pattern and thunder and clouds pattern. Large kilns and workshops stand in the northern city. The whole city is very orderly and symmetric conveying the strict and stately rational planning principles which echo the Zhou Kings’ City recorded in the Rites of Zhou ·Records of Artisans.

4.Cities of Spring and Autumn Period and Warring State Period

Zhou set up a system of strict hierarchical ranks based on the patriarchal clan enfeoffment system, pursuant to which the city scale, important buildings etc. should all built, or it would be “usurpation”. In the Spring and Autumn period, this system was broken with the rising of the feudal lords and the declining of the Zhou royalty when the rivalry of feudal lords boosted the climaxing of large city construction. The capital cities, which were still quite regular and rectangular with the palace city at the center and straight and smooth roads extending in all directions, were especially prosperous such as Linzi of Qi State. The irregular cities with outer city attached to a side appeared mostly in Warring State period for the local conditions the land shape such as the Xinzheng of Zheng.

The most representative regular and rectangular city of Spring and Autumn period is Qufu, capital of Lu (Ququ of Shandong at present) which was built in early Zhou. The site plan is an approximate rectangle 3.5 km west to east, 2.5 km. north to south. The palace city is in the northeast of the site and there scattered several large scale rammed earth platform bases. The ancestral temple neighbored the palace city. Ten major roads had been found within the city of which five were longitudinal and five latitudinal. Documents record that there were three gates on each side of the outer walls. The trunk road leaded from the south of the palace building to the east gate on south wall. The handicraft workshops were in the northern and middle part within the city with residential buildings interpersing in between.

An instance in which the outer city was attached to a side of the city is Xinzheng city of Zheng and Han i.e. modern Xinzheng of Henan which used to be capital for Zheng in early Spring and Autumn period and then for Han in the middle of Warring State period. The city divided into the east and the west parts with dividing walls. The west city is regular in an approximate rectangle 5000 m east to west and 4500 m north to east with the palace set in the middle. The circumference of the east city, whose superficies was about two times that of west one, ran quite irregularly along the curves of the Yellow river. This was mainly the residential areas for workshops and handicraftsman. Xinzheng initiated the conjoint “Cheng” (King’s City) and “Guo” (Outer City) system once very voguish in the Spring and Autumn period. The “Cheng-Guo” conjoint plan reflected the difference between the monarchs and the citizens, what’s more it revealed the political and military administration of the outer city by the king city as well as its dependence in economy and daily life on the outer city.

Rich experiences had been accumulated in the city construction from Xia to the various states in the Spring and Autumn period and Warring States period. The capital architectural theories emerged as time required. In the Rites of Zhou·Records of Artisans the composition of which as an official book of State Qi was accomplished in the last years of the Spring and Autumn period traced back to some of the capital city planning system of Western Zhou: “The construction (ying) of the capital city (guo) by the artisans (jiang man): each side is 9 li (about 3 km) in length with three gates; 9 longitudinal and 9 latitudinal lines divide the interior of the city with north to south road 9 times the carriage gauge in width (9 gui); the ancestral temple is on the left (of the palace city in the middle) and Sheji altars for the god of land (She) and the god of grains (Ji) on the right side; the palace faces the imperial court and backed against the market and the court and market are both one hundred mu ( one fú).” Such a city is very regular and square and center axial symmetric. The strict and regular planning of king city in Zhou dynasty had rendered profound influences upon the planning and layout of ancient Chinese city in the coming ages.

The city planning ideas also have been found within Guanzi, which were based on urban district functions and made accommodable to local conditions well.
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