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The Chinese Domestic Architectural Heating System [Kang]: Origins, Applications and Techniques

  • Qinghua Guo


In northern China, heating is represented by kang. The kang is a living and sleeping platform, a heated bed. It is constructed of brick, adobe or stone and consists of three parts: a fireplace, a kang proper and a chimney. Beneath the flat surface of the kang are flues, which conduct hot air from the fireplace through to the room. The kang allows energy to be conserved; its surface temperature of about 40 degrees C can largely be maintained overnight. It is used as a bed at night; bedding is laid out for sleeping but is put away in the morning. During the day it provides a large warm platform upon which people undertake many household activities. The kang usually occupies from one-third to one-half of the area of a room; but the entire floor of a room can be constructed and heated in this manner, in which case it is called dikang, literally a heated floor (di meaning floor). The heated bed and the heated floor are technically similar, but each developed in conjunction with a distinctive way of life, either sitting on the floor or sitting on furniture.



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1 These heating practices have persisted over large parts of northern Eurasia. Manchuria was a vast area. Through four Sino-Russia Treaties, made between 1689 and 1860, the north-east part of the territory became Russian domain.

2 In the whole world, there are two highly developed heating systems, the Chinese in the East and the Roman in the West. The former is still in use today, and the latter disappeared long time ago. It is unknown whether there was any connexion between the two systems, since the Silk Road between China and Rome has received only cursory study.

3 Guo, Qinghua, ‘Tile and Brick Making in China: a Study of the Yingzao Fashi’, Construction History, 16 (2000), pp. 311.

4 Pingji refers to a wooden frame used to support the arm when one is sitting on the floor. A related piece of furniture, quji, roughly semicircular in plan, serves as a backrest.

5 Evidence in relief form includes stamped bricks and engraved stones of the Han dynasty [Shandong Hanxiang Shi Xuanji] (Jinan, 1982). Evidence in the form of paintings includes ‘Kanshu Tu’ (by Huang Quan, 903–965), ‘Tangren Gongle Tu (painter unknown, late Fong) and ‘Jinwengong Fuguo Tu (Li Tang, 1085–1165) and also mural paintings (See Temple murals in Shanxi Province[Shanxi Signan Bihua] (Beijing, 1997)).

6 (a) Kyong-cho, Chang, Traditional Korean architecture [Hanguk ui chontong konchuk] (Seoul, 1993), pp. 524–31. (b) Young-taek, Choi, Floor heating system [Gudul Kwang Ondol] (Seoul, 1989), pp. 6063.

7 Ke, Xu, Illustrated Record of Gaoli[Gaoli Tujing], Vol. [juan] 28: Beds, 1123 (reprinted Seoul 1972), p. 156.

8 Dunzhen, Liu, Chinese vernacular architecture [Zhongguo Zhuzhai Gaishuo] (Beijing, 1957), p. 73.

9 Pile dwellings and granaries were introduced to Japan from China together with wet-rice cultivation in the Yayoi period (300 B.C.-A.D. 300).

10 Traditionally, the heated floor has been used in northern Korea, and the timber floor in southern Korea. Following the Japanese invasion (1592–98), large numbers of people fled from the south. After the war, the northern and southern architectural styles converged in the middle of the country. In heating terms, the ondol and the maru were merged in a single building.

11 Shen, Xu, Interpretations of characters and words [Shuowen Jiezi], Vol. 10, A.D. 121 (13th reprinting Beijing, 1994), p. 210.

12 Daoyuan, Li, Commentary on the classic writings on waterways [Shui Jing Zhu], Vol. 14 [Baoqiu Shui], late fifth or early sixth century (reprinted Taipei, 1965), Vol. 2, p. 13.

13 Mengshen, Xu, Collected Records of the Northern Alliance during three reigns [Sanchao Beimeng Huibian], Vol. 3,1196 (reprinted Taipei, 1962), Vol. 1, p. 33 (also reprinted Shanghai, 1987).

14 Maozhao, Yuwen, The History of the Great Jin [Da Jin Guo Zhi], Vol. 39, Song Dynasty (reprinted Taipei, 1968), Vol. 2, p. 463 (also reprinted Beijing, 1986).

15 Xueqin, Cao, Dream of the Red Chamber [Honglou Meng], 1763 (reprinted Beijing, 1982), Chapter (hui) 49, p. 680.

16 Xun, Liu, Old Historical Book of the Tang Dynasty [Jiu Tangshu], Vol. 199 [Gaogouli], A.D. 945 (reprinted Beijing, 1975), Vol. 16, p. 5319 .

17 Xiu, Ou'yang, New Historical Book of the Tang Dynasty [Xin Tangshu], Vol. 220,1061 (reprinted Beijing, 1975), Vol. 20, p. 6186.

18 (a) Veritable records of the Jungjong [Jungjongsilrok], Vol. 29, Choson Dynasty, (b) Lee Dahu, Danlun Ji, Subheading (tiao): Customs, 1653.

19 Yugu, Seo, Home management and economics [Sanlim Gyengjie Ji], Vol. 1 [Construction principles of service buildings and facilities], 1823 (reprinted Seoul, 1983), pp. 380–81.

20 (a) Shenyang Office for Preservation of Antiquities, ‘Excavation of Neolithic Village at Xinle, Shengang’, Journal of Archaeology [Kaogu Xuebao], 2 (1985), pp. 209–22. (b) Shenyang Office for Preservation of Antiquities, ‘Excavation of Neolithic Village at Xinle, Shengang’, Journal of Archaeology, 4 (1978), pp. 449–66.

21 Institute of Archaeology of Academia Sinica, The neolithic village at Banpo, Xi'an (Beijing, 1963), pp. 1617, 27.

22 Jisheng, Miao et al., ‘Preliminary Investigation of Cementing Material Used in Ancient China’, Journal of the Chinese Silicate Society [Guisuanyan Xuebao], 2, (1981), pp. 234–40.

23 Xu, , Analytical dictionary of characters, Vol. 10.

24 Institute of Literature of Academia Sinica (ed.), Selected poems of the Tang Dynasty, 2 (Beijing, 1978), p. 4. Author's translation, as for other translations in the paper.

25 (a) Heilongjiang Antiquities Investigation Team and Archaeological School of Jilin University, ‘Excavation Report on Cultural Antiquities at Tuanjie, Dongning’, in Proceedings of the 1st conference of the Archaeologists Society of Jilin (1979). (b) Taixiang, Zhang, ‘Architectural Remains at Tuanjie, Dongning’, Guangming Daily [Guangming Ribao], 23 July 1978.

26 Exhibition of Recent Archaeological Excavations in Heilongjiang, Provincial Museum, Harbin, 2000.

27 Museum, Jilin, ‘Architectural Remains of the Gaogoli period renovated at Ji'an, Jilin’, Archaeology [Kaoku], 1 (1961), pp. 5055.

28 The Japanese archaeologists and historians were curious to know about ancient Chinese architecture and its heating systems, and carried out several excavations in Manchuria during the period of Japanese Wartime Empire (1895–1945). Japan occupied Manchuria in 1931, and colonized Korea in 1895. (a) Tung-ching-cheng: Report on the excavation of the site of the capital of Bohai[Tonkinjo: Bokkaikoku jokei ryosenfu ato no hakkutsu chosa] (Tokyo, 1939). (b) Jiro, Murata, ‘The Origins of the Ondol and the Kang (Part I)’, Architectural Studies [Kenchikugaku kenkyu], 9 (1929), pp. 116 ; (Part II) [Kenchikugaku kenkyu], 10 (1929), pp. 1–16.

29 Cuncheng, Wei, ‘Bohai Architecture’, Heilongjiang antiquities [Heilongjiang Wenwu Congkan], 4 (1984), pp. 3643, 72.

30 (a) Kyong-cho, Chang, ‘A Study of the formation and development of Korean heating System’, Art and Archaeology [Kogo Misul], 12 (1984), pp. 925 . (b) Dianfu, Li, Archaeological research in northeast China [Dongbei Kaogu Yanjiu], 2 (Zhenzhou, 1994), p. 134.

31 (a) Institute of Archaeology, Shaanxi Province, Excavation of Tang Kiln-sites at Huangpu in Tongchuan, Shaanxi [Tangdai Huangpu Yaozhi], 2 vols (Beijing, 1992), p. 12. (b) Institute of Archaeology, Shaanxi Province and Yaozhou Kiln Museum, The Yaozhou kiln site of the Song Period [Songdai Yaozhou Yaozhi] (Beijing, 1998), pp. 2931.

32 Guo, Qinghua, ‘The Formation and Early Development of Architecture in Northern China’, Construction History, 18 (2002), pp. 115.

33 (a) Qianying, Hu, Hu Qianying selected works on archaeological research of Zhou culture (Chengdu, 2000), pp. 299324 . (b) Xingpeng, Liang and Miao, Li, ‘Reconstruction of Building Remains at Wugong, Shaanxi Province’, Archaeology [Kaogu], 3 (1991), pp. 245–51.

34 Xianyang Archaeological Division, ‘Brief excavation report on Number One Palace remains in the Qin capital Xianyang’, Antiquities [Wenwu], 11 (1976), pp. 1224.

35 History of the Han Dynasty[Han Shu], and the Illustration of the Imperial District[Sanfu Huangtu] (c. third century). References are to Zongxiang, Zhou, An edited and annotated version of the Illustration of the Imperial District [Jiaozheng Sanfu Huangtu] (Beijing, 1958).

36 Guo, Qinghua, ‘Shenyang: the Manchurian Ideal Capital City and Imperial Palace, 1625–43’, Urban History, 27, 3 (2000), pp. 344–59.

37 Yuguang, Fu and Huiying, Meng, Manchurian Shamanism [Manzu Samanjiao Yanjiu] (Beijing, 1991).

38 (1) Lijuan, Bai, ‘Techniques of Floor-heating Systems’, Traditional Chinese architecture and gardens [Gujian Yuanlin Jishu], 4 (1996), pp. 1415 . (2) Yuhuan, Zhang (ed.), History and development of ancient Chinese architectural techniques [Zhongguo Gidai Jianzhu Kishu Shi] (Beijing, 1986), p. 326.

39 The circular brick was made from a square one by cutting off its corners diagonally.

40 Gudul is an old word, lacking any written form in Chinese characters.

41 When the Qing ruler moved the government to Beijing in 1644, Shenyang retained a special status as an auxiliary capital, and its palace received eleven visits from the emperors.

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The Chinese Domestic Architectural Heating System [Kang]: Origins, Applications and Techniques

  • Qinghua Guo


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