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Qin-Han Period 221 B.C.

Han style Himeji castle in Japan. Jiangxi > Nanchang A ceramic model of a fortified grain tower displays the colorful architecture of the Han period. With a lookout post on top, farmer-soldiers on the lower balconies, and livestock and grains within the walls, these fortified manors could offer months of refuge from bandits.
Architecture of Qin-Han Period (By He Congrong)

I Historical and Cultural Context and the General Situation of Architecture

In 221 B.C. Qin Shi Huang (Ying Zheng, the First Qin Emperor) ended the wars between the feudal lords protracted over the years, eliminated the six states, and established the first united dynasty in Chinese History. As the practice of subinfeudation had caused feeble sovereignty from Western Zhou and provided lessons, he took the political and military powers in his own hand, established the feudal reign of highly centralized state power, unified the acts and government orders, systems, characters, currency, metrology, vehicle standards etc., abandoned other schools and honored legalism alone in the ideological field and thus laid the foundation for the long-term unification of Han dynasty. To consolidate the regime and reign, the First Qin Emperor had roads and irrigation works and the Great Wall constructed. Apart from all these, he went in sumptuously for large scale construction in a very short period. He pooled the talented and skillful artisans from all over the country to build large palaces and halls, mausoleum and the Chidao (the middle lane of a broad road special for the emperor) leading to every part of the country. As a result of the great waste in man power and money and the harshness and cruelty the over-oppressed laborers rose in insurrections. Qin dynasty perished just with the reign of the second emperor. Today’s E-pang Palace and Lishan Mausoleum remains still remind people of the grandiose vigor at that time.

Many heroes rose at the end of Qin dynasty. With the triumph of Liu Bang in the Chu-Han warfare, Han dynasty was established in 206 B.C. and its development continued for the next 400 years. Han dynasty is an empire with vaster territory. Its economy, politics, and culture achievements had reached an unprecedented climax ever in Chinese history. Under the reign of Han Wu Di (“Martial Emperor”), Confucianism was venerated alone. Great Confucianist Dong Zhongshu of Han Dynasty grounded his propositions on the pre-Qin Confucianism and adopted certain theories from Yin-Yang school to highlight the monarchs “receive vocations form the heavens”, “the resonance between man and the heavens”. The ritual order stressed by Confucians had substantially become the mainstream cognition of the society. As it is supportive to the “grand-unified” monarch reign Confucian philosophy had established its dominance in China and impressed its significant influences in the architectural field. From the end of Western Han to the early years of Eastern Han, Buddhism was spread from the west. Though its dissemination was not very extensive, it had given rise to the first Buddhist temples and precipice inscriptions. The great influence of Buddhism upon Chinese culture had initiated from this period. Han dynasty had also blazed the trade way via Western Regions (xiyu) which was to become the famous Silk Way. Its waterways also reached as far as Africa and its land ways could even lead to remote Rome, which had contributed greatly to the Sino-western trade and cultural communications and brought far-reaching and profound influences.

The architectural activities in Han dynasty were very thriving. The development of feudal economy, commerce and industry boosted the prosperity of cities. Sublime palaces and halls emerged as time requires with powerful country as its background. Meanwhile the rising of the big landlord and commercial magnate class had also brought the advancement of residential houses and gardens. The capitals ---Chang’an and Luoyang saw unprecedented construction boom. A large number of palaces, detached palaces (Li Gong ) , and gardens were constructed. The Great Wall defense system underwent further perfection and expansion. The mausoleums and graves, altars and temples, Ming Tang, residential houses etc. all welcomed unprecedented growth. During the two Han periods, timber framed pillar-beam system and corresponding architectural technology had shaped up. Multi-storied wood towers appeared while the “High Terrace Buildings” based on rammed earth terrace gradually fell into disuse. The brick and stone arches had also been applied widely to graves, sewers and other underground projects. The universal application of iron ware provided facility for the processing of architectural materials.

It is quite appropriate to remark that this is a period of initiation, development and fusion for ancient Chinese architecture. The enormous quantity in construction and the profundity and diversity of the architectural development had reached unrivalled level compared to previous ages. This period constitutes the first climax of Chinese architectural history.
Special thanks to OpenCourseWare-
when I visited Xian and Luoyang i had a look around and there wasn't anything much that I could see. There were quite a few large burial mounds. They look like small unremarkable hills sticking out of the flat country side. i took a few photos but none turned out very interesting. Where Chang'an was, it was just flat farmland without any features except for the mounds in the distance. There were some interesting old looking earthen walls in Xian which may date from the time. As I understand most structures were built with wood, ceramic tiles and packed earth walls as there is no stone in the area this being the Loess Plateau. Only tile fragments seem to survive. So all structures have disappeared. As for Luoyang I was able to superimpose and track the ancient city map over the new city. I can tell you there is nothing to see that can give a hint of the past glories. Absolutely nothing. There are a few enormous burial mounds outside the city from several dynasties. As these were the main centres of Han culture, all the grandest buildings, walls etc were likely to be there. As for other parts of China there may be some evidence of Han architecture but I don't know of any examples. If you are interested in Tombs sites and the like, these are the areas where the most important sites are. Most, if not all of the large tomb mounds containing Emperors have not been touched I believe. All excavated tombsites are underground. Any examples of architecture from the period comes from drawings, tomb models and paintings as far as I know. Many fragments like roof tiles, pottery shards etc can be found also.