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The Architecture of Joinery: the Form and Construction of Rotating Sutra-Case Cabinets

  • Qinghua Guo


‘Joinery’ in Chinese architecture is defined as non-structural carpentry (xiao muzuo, literally ‘minor carpentry’), as distinguished from ‘carpentry’ (da muzuo, or ‘major carpentry’). It is one of thirteen building operations specified in the Yingzao Fashi, the official standard for building construction, published and enforced by the Song sovereign in 1103. According to the Yingzao Fashi, joinery includes the delicate woodwork of interior structures, such as fixed, movable or removable partitions, screens, doors and windows, decorative or ornamental ceilings, floors and staircases. It also covers buildings or structures on a small scale, including well pavilions or huts, entrance gates, fences and balustrades, and gigantic furniture, such as shrines and sutra-case cabinets.



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1 (1) Jie, Li, Yingzao Fashi (The State Building Standards), 1103, Chapters 11 and 32. (2) Guo, Qinghua, Yingzao Fashi: 12th-Century Chinese Building Manual’, Architectural History 41 (1998), pp. 113 .

2 Shinko, Mochizuki (ed.), Mochizuki Bukkyo daijiten (Great Dictionary of Buddhism), Vol. 1 (Tokyo: Sekai Seiten kanko kyokai, 1954-63), pp. 597-99.

3 A block-bracket set consists of a number of dou (blocks), gong (brackets) and ang (inclined arms) crisscrossing in both directions and in tiers, supported by doucaoban (see n. 8).

4 Guo, Qinghua, The Structure of Chinese Timber Architecture: Twelfth Century Design Standards and Construction Principles (London, 1999), pp. 128-30.

5 (1) Sicheng, Liang, ‘A Preliminary Report on the Investigation of Zhengding’, Bulletin of the Society for Research in Chinese Architecture (Zhongguo Yingzao Xueshe Huikan), IV.2 (1933); reprinted in Collected Essays of Liang Sicheng, 1 (1982), pp. 166-230. (2) Liang Ssu-ch’eng ( Sicheng, Liang, Fairbank, Wilma, eds), A Pictorial History of Chinese Architecture (Cambridge, Mass., 1984). (3) Dunzhen, Liu, ‘An Investigation Report of the Zhihua Temple in Beijing’, Bulletin of the Society for Research in Chinese Architecture, 111:3 (1932); republished in Collected Essays of Liu Dunzhen, vol. 1 (1982), pp. 61–127. (4) Daiho, Tokiwa, Buddhist Monuments in China, 4 vols (Tokyo: Bukkyo shiseki kenkyukai, 1931). (5) Prip-Moller, J., Chinese Buddhist Monasteries (Copenhagen & London, 1937).

6 Carrington-Goodrich, L., ‘The Revolving Book-Case in China’, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 7 (1942), pp. 131–61.

7 Takeshima, Takuichi, Study of Yingzao Fashi (Eizo hoshiki no kenkyu), vol. 2 (Tokyo: Chuo koron bijutsu shuppan, 1971 (reprinted 1997)).

8 Ducaoban: a background board into which blocks and brackets were tenoned.

9 Gazetteer of Zhengding County (Zhengding Xianzhi) (Beijing: Chengshi Chubanshe, 1992).

10 Tao, Shen (compiler), Compilation of Steles of Changshan Region (Chanshan Zhenshi Zhi), vol. 19 (1842).

11 Gazetteer of Mt. Dourui (Dourui Xianshan Zhi) (1845).

12 A platform with decorated mouldings, which was a traditional Indian form adapted and modified in China.

13 Shilin, Huang, ‘Feitian Zang of Yunyang Temple at Jiangyou, Sichuan’, Wenwu (Cultural Relics), April 1991, pp. 2033 .

14 Pure-land Buddhism: a school of Buddhism which teaches that anyone who believes in Amida Buddha’s power will be reborn in the Western paradise after death.

15 Chan Buddhism: a school of Buddhism emphasizing self-discipline, which is primarily based on the practice of meditation and on the belief that enlightenment is power from oneself. The transmission of the teaching is mind-to-mind: beyond the written scripture.

16 National Treasure of Japan, vol. 5 (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1985).

17 The stele (1443) of the Zhihua Temple.

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The Architecture of Joinery: the Form and Construction of Rotating Sutra-Case Cabinets

  • Qinghua Guo


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