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Yingzao Fashi: Twelfth-Century Chinese Building Manual

  • Qinghua Guo


Yingzao Fashi (State Building Standards) is the oldest extant Chinese technical manual on buildings. It was compiled by Li Jie, a Superintendent of State Buildings (later Director of Palace Building) in 1100 and published by the Song sovereign in 1103 (Figure 1).

There are thirty-four chapters in the Yingzao Fashi, starting with a concise definition of the main terms used in the manual by tracing their textual origins. The main body of the book specifies the units of measurement, design standards and construction principles with structural patterns and building elements illustrated in drawings. Furthermore, it specifies standard estimates for labour works, documents material data, and lists recipes for decorative painting and coatings, etc. It embodies the greatest achievements of Chinese architecture in its day.



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1 The title Yingzao Fashi has a number of different translations in English. I translate it as ‘State Building Standards’.

2 Kaogong Ji (The Artificer’s Record), a section of the book Zhou Li, an official document of Qi State (c. 470 B.C.).

3 See Johnson, Wallace, The T’ang Code (Vol. 1) — General Principles, Translation with an Introduction (Princeton, 1979).

4 At least one son in a registered artisan family had to continue the profession to ensure that the knowledge and the craftsmanship were retained and developed.

5 Tang Liudian (Institutes of the Tang Dynasty), Chapter 7. Tang dynasty, A.D. 738.

6 The biography of Wang Anshi in Song Shi (History of the Song, 960–1279), 1345.

7 The state examination system was formally started in the Tang dynasty. In ancient China, different examinations were organized by government at all levels every year in order to select state administrators. The examinations were progressively county, provincial and state examinations. The state examination was held by the emperor in his imperial palace, i.e., the emperor personally assigned a subject for text composition. This kind of election system encouraged everyone to study hard in imperial China. No one was born poor forever, and nothing limited people strictly to one occupation or position in life. The Chinese ideology is that everyone has great potential to succeed. The examination system and the state registration system were complementary to each other.

8 Else Glahn, ‘Chinese Building Standards in the 12th Century,’ Scientific American (May 1981), pp. 162-73.

9 Yingzao Fashi, Chapters of Kanxiang (Preface) and Zhazi (General terminology).

10 The term duliao jiang means arbiter who was responsible for building design and assembly.

11 Appendix of the Yingzao Fashi (modern reprint): the epitaph on Lijie’s tombstone.

12 Song Huiyao Jigao (Drafts for the History of the Administrative Statutes of the Song Dynasty).

13 Tong oil or China wood oil: a product of the seeds inside the fruit (the finest obtained from fruit ripened over three or four years) of trees of the Aleurites family, common in South China. It is used in undercoats, varnish and putties.

14 Chen Zhongchi, ‘A Preliminary Study of the Yingzao Fashi,’ Wenwu (Cultural Relics) (Feb. 1962), pp. 12-17.

15 Lin’an was a sort of splendid Venice. Marco Polo (1254-1324) saw this city a few years after its greatest growth, around the 1280s.

16 Zhu Qiqian (1872–1962) passed the state examination and received the degree of ‘juren’, then became an official. From 1913 to 1916 he was the acting head of the Ministry of Inner Affairs (Neiwu Bu). In the 1930s he became the head of the Chinese Archaeological Society. He wrote several works including ‘Li Mingzhong (Li Jie)’s Yingzao Fashi’. Youchun, Xu, ed., Great Biographical Dictionary of Minguo Period 1911-1949 (Zhengzhou: Henan People Press, 1991), pp. 200 .

17 Fragments and sections of the Yingzao Fashi, printed in 1145, were chapters 11 to 13, the last four pages of Chapter 10, the first page of Chapter 8, the eighth page of Chapter 10, which was photohographed by China Press in Beijing, 1991.

18 Liang Sicheng (or Liang Ssu-ch’eng, 1901-72) was a leading scholar of the history of Chinese architecture in his day. See Fairbank, Wilma, Liang and Lin: Partners in Exploring China’s Architecture Past (Philadelphia, 1994).

19 Yetts, W. Perceval, ‘A Chinese Treatise on Architecture’, The Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, London Institute, Vol. IV, Part III.

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Yingzao Fashi: Twelfth-Century Chinese Building Manual

  • Qinghua Guo


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