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Pillars of Heaven: The Symbolic Function of Column and Bracket Sets in the Han Dynasty

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 December 2020

Abstract

Wooden columns surmounted by bracket sets are a key element of the great buildings of Imperial China and have received a tremendous amount of attention from scholars and architectural professionals. This article revisits the question of their symbolic function during the Han dynasty (206 bcece 220). In addition to their structural role, column and bracket sets fulfilled important social and cultural needs related to the representation of celestial and spiritual qualities. Understood variously as pillars of heaven, gates of heaven, the constellations, Kunlun Mountain and celestial plants, column and bracket sets engendered a rich iconography that served to bond architecture closely to the heavens.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain 2020

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References

1 The earliest use of the term dougong has been found in a Buddhist text of 616. See Xiaoqing, Zhong 钟晓青, ‘Dougong, puzuo, yu puzuo ceng’ 斗拱, 铺作, 与铺作层 [‘Dougong, Puzuo, and Puzuo Layers’], Zhongguo jianzhu shilun huikan 中国建筑史论汇刊 [Collected Writings on Chinese Architectural History], 1 (2008), pp. 326Google Scholar (p. 4). All Chinese terms have been rendered in the standard hanyu pinyin system of romanisation and have been italicised in accordance with scholarly convention. I have used simplified Chinese characters and followed Chinese surname order, unless they are habitually rendered otherwise in previous publications. Longer image credits are indicated in notes rather than in captions.

2 The scholarly literature on dougong is vast. For a comprehensive account, see Dehua, Pan 潘德华, Dougong 斗拱, 2 vols (Nanjing, 2011)Google Scholar.

3 Han tomb reliefs, in particular, have been widely dispersed, and it is often difficult to specify their original location and purpose. This article has benefited greatly from the examples compiled in Guoxin, Li 李国新 and Wenjing, Yang 杨蕴菁, , eds, Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu 中国汉画造型艺术图典-建筑 [The Illustrated Compendium of Visual Arts in Chinese Han Reliefs: Architecture] (Zhengzhou, 2014)Google Scholar.

4 Sicheng, Liang 梁思成 and Zhiping, Liu 刘致平, ‘Dougong jianshuo’ 斗拱简说 [‘An Introduction to Bracket Sets’], in Liang Sicheng quanji 梁思成全集 [The Complete Works of Liang Sicheng], 9 vols (Beijing, 2001), VI, pp. 291324Google Scholar (p. 291).

5 Nancy S. Steinhardt, Chinese Architecture in an Age of Turmoil, 200–600 (Honolulu, 2014), p. 83.

6 Jiren Feng, Chinese Architecture and Metaphor: Song Culture in the Yingzao Fashi Building Manual (Honolulu, 2012), pp. 138–80.

7 Zhongshu, Dong 董仲舒, Chunqiu fanlu 春秋繁露 [Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn Annals] (Zhengzhou, 2010)Google Scholar.

8 Pankenier, David, Astrology and Cosmology in Early China: Conforming Earth to Heaven (New York, 2013), p. 300CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Ban Gu 班固 [32–92], Hanshu 汉书 [Book of Han] (Nanjing, 2011); and Fan Ye 范晔 [389–445], Hou Hanshu 后汉书 [Book of the Later Han] (Xi'an, 2006).

10 Sima Qian 司马迁, ‘Tianguan shu’ 天官书 [‘Treatise on the Celestial Offices’], in Shiji 史记 [The Grand Scribe's Records], 4 vols (Wuhan, 2017), I, pp. 477–520.

11 Aihe Wang, Cosmology and Political Culture in Early China (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 129–72.

12 See Pankenier, Astrology and Cosmology in Early China, pp. 329–39, and Paul Wheatley, The Origins and Character of the Ancient Chinese City, 2 vols (Somerset, NJ, 2008).

13 See Lillian Lan-ying Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China (Cambridge, MA, 2011), pp. 37–88.

14 Jia Yi 贾谊, Xinshu 新书 [New Writings] (Beijing, 2012), pp. 200–01.

15 Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China.

16 Sima Qian, Shiji, I, chapter 12, pp. 331–61.

17 See, for example, Hanwu di bieguo dongming ji 汉武帝别国洞冥记 [Anecdotes About Emperor Wu of Han] by Guo Xian 郭宪, and Hanwu di neizhuan 汉武帝内传 [Intimate Life of Emperor Wu of Han] and Hanwu gushi 汉武故事 [Stories of Emperor Wu of Han] by anonymous Han writers. These myths are all collected in a single volume: Xijing zaji (wai wu zhong) 西京杂记 (外五种) [Miscellanea of the Western Capital (And Five Other Essays)], ed. Wang Genlin 王根林 (Shanghai, 2012).

18 Lü Simian 吕思勉, ‘Pangu kao’ 盘古考 [‘Research on Pangu’], in Zhongguo shenhua xue bainian wenlun xuan 中国神话学百年文论选 [Collected Essays Celebrating the Centenary of Chinese Mythology Studies], 2 vols (Xi'an, 2013), I, pp. 252–55.

19 Lü Simian 吕思勉, ‘Nüwa yu Gonggong’ 女娲与共工 [‘Nüwa and Gonggong’], in Zhongguo shenhua xue bainian wenlun xuan, pp. 246–51.

20 Wu Qingzhou 吴庆洲, Jianzhu zheli, yijiang yu wenhua 建筑哲理, 意匠与文化 [Architectural Philosophy, Artistic Conception and Culture] (Beijing, 2005), pp. 26–27. For the examples redrawn in Figure 2, see Institute of Cultural Relics Management of Santai County 三台县文物管理所, ‘Sichuan Santai Qijiang yamu qun 2000 niandu qingli jianbao’ 四川三台郪江崖墓群2000年度清理简报 [‘Report on the Clearing of Some Cliff Tombs on the Qi River at Santai, Sichuan’], Kaogu 考古 [Archaeology], 1 (2002), figs 23, 27, 29 and 45.

21 Henan Bowuyuan 河南博物院 [Henan Museum], ed., Henan chutu Handai jianzhu mingqi 河南出土汉代建筑明器 [Han Dynasty Architectural Funerary Objects Unearthed in Henan] (Zhengzhou, 2002), pp. 63–64, figs 42 and 43.

22 Dongfang Shuo 东方朔, Shenyi jing 神异经 [Classic of Spirits and Oddities], in Xijing zaji (wai wu zhong), p. 98.

23 Wang Shilun 王士伦, ed., Zhejiang chutu tongjing xuanji 浙江出土铜镜选集 [Collections of Bronze Mirrors Unearthed in Zhejiang] (Beijing, 1958), p. 27, fig. 27.

24 Hanwu gushi, in Xijing zaji (wai wu zhong), pp. 97–98.

25 Yan Dan zi 燕丹子 [Prince Dan of Yan], in Xijing zaji (wai wu zhong), p. 84.

26 Jiang Sheng 姜生, ‘Handai liexian tukao’ 汉代列仙图考 [‘A Study of the Portraits of Immortals in the Han Dynasty’], Wenshe zhe 文史哲 [Journal of Chinese Humanities], 2 (2015), pp. 17–33 (p. 24).

27 See Zhu Xilu 朱锡禄, ed., Wushi ci Han huaxiang shi 武氏祠汉画像石 [Han Relief Sculptures in the Wu Family Shrine] (Jinan, 1986), p. 51, fig. 49.

28 Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China, p. 205.

29 Henan Sheng Wenhuaju Gongzuo Dui 河南省文化局工作队 [The Archaeological Team from Bureau of Culture in Henan Province], ‘Luoyang Xihan bihuamu fajue baogao’ 洛阳西汉壁画墓发掘报告 [‘Report on the Excavation of a Western Han Tomb with Wall Paintings at Luoyang’], Kaogu xuebao 考古学报 [Acta Archeologica Sinica], 2 (1964), p. 110, figs 2 and 3.

30 Nanjing Bowuyuan, Shandong Sheng Wenwu Guanlichu 南京博物院, 山东省文物管理处 [Nanjing Museum, and Cultural Relics Management Office of Shandong Province], Yi'nan guhuaxiang shimu fajue baogao 沂南古画像石墓发掘报告 [Report on the Excavation of a Tomb with Ancient Relief Sculptures in Yi'nan] (Beijing, 1956), p. 4, fig. 3.

31 Steinhardt, Chinese Architecture in an Age of Turmoil, p. 93.

32 Shandong Bowuyuan 山东博物馆 [Shandong Museum], ed., Yi'nan beizhai Hanmu huaxiang 沂南北寨汉墓画像 [Reliefs of the Beizhai Han Tomb in Yi'nan] (Beijing, 2015), p. 83, fig. 55.

33 Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China, p. 261.

34 Yi'nan guhuaxiang shimu fajue baogao, plate 75.

35 Yi'nan guhuaxiang shimu fajue baogao, plate 103, fig. 1.

36 Han Baode 汉宝德, Ming-Qing Jianzhu er'lun/Dougong de qiyuan yu fazhan 明清建筑二论/斗栱的起源与发展 [Two Theories on Ming-Qing Architecture/The Origin and Development of Dougong] (Beijing, 2014), p. 117.

37 Yi'nan beizhai Hanmu huaxiang, p. 24, fig. 11.

38 Yang Hongxun 杨鸿勋, ‘Dougong qiyuan kaocha’ 斗拱起源考察 [‘Research on the Origins of Dougong’], in Jianzhu kaoguxue lunwenji 建筑考古学论文集 [Collected Essays on Architectural Archaeology] (Beijing, 1987), pp. 260–61.

39 Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 235, fig 1.

40 Chen Mingda 陈明达, Zhongguo gudai mujiegou jianzhu jishu: Zhanguo-Beisong 中国古代木结构建筑技术: 战国-北宋 [The Architectural Technology of Wooden Structures in Ancient China: From the Warring States to the Northern Song] (Beijing, 1990), p. 31.

41 Song Yanping 宋艳萍, ‘Cong “que” dao “tianmen” – Han que de shenmihua licheng’ 从 ‘阙’到 ‘天门’ – 汉阙的神秘化历程 [‘From “Que” to the “Gate of Heaven”: The Mystification Process of the Han Que’], Sichuan wenwu 四川文物 [Sichuan Cultural Relics], 5 (2016), pp. 60–68.

42 Song Yanping, ‘Cong “que” dao “tianmen”’.

43 Dongfang Shuo, Shenyi jing, in Xijing zaji (wai wu zhong), p. 97.

44 See Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 260, fig. 1, and p. 270, fig. 2.

45 Wang Yanshou 王延寿, ‘Lu Lingguang dian fu’ 鲁灵光殿赋 [‘Rhapsody on the Hall of Numinous Brilliance in Lu’] in Zhaoming Wen Xuan 昭明文选 [Selections of Refined Literature], ed. Xiao Tong 萧统 [501–531] (Beijing, 2000), pp. 324–35. The English translation is by David Knechtges in Wen Xuan or Selections of Refined Literature, Volume II: Rhapsodies on Sacrifices, Hunting, Travel, Sightseeing, Palaces and Halls, Rivers and Seas (Princeton, NJ, 1983), p. 263.

46 For a detailed discussion of the conceptualisation of architecture in imperial China, see Jing Xie, ‘Transcending the Limitations of Physical Form: A Case Study of Cang Lang Pavilion’, Journal of Architecture, 21.5 (2016), pp. 691–718.

47 Knechtges, Wen Xuan or Selections of Refined Literature, Volume II, p. 269.

48 He Yan 何晏, ‘Jingfu dian fu’ 景福殿赋 [‘Rhapsody on the Hall of Great Blessings’], in Zhaoming Wen Xuan, pp. 336–53. The English translation is by Knechtges in Wen Xuan or Selections of Refined Literature, Volume II, pp. 285 and 287.

49 Hu Qiguang 胡奇光 and Fang Huanhai 方环海, eds, Erya yizhu 尔雅译注 [The Annotated Near Correctness] (Shanghai, 2012), p. 210.

50 Some royal palaces from the Zhou dynasty had one main hall containing several chambers for private living. See Du Jinpeng 杜金鹏, ‘Zhouyuan gongdian jianzhu leixing ji xiangguan wenti tantao’ 周原宫殿建筑类型及相关问题探讨 [‘A Typological Study of the Palace Buildings at Zhouyuan and Related Questions’], Kaogu xuebao 考古学报 [Acta Archeologica Sinica], 4 (2009), pp. 435–68.

51 Cited and translated in Tracy Miller, The Divine Nature of Power: Chinese Ritual Architecture at the Sacred Site of Jinci (Cambridge, MA, 2007), p. 68. I have slightly modified Miller's translation.

52 See Han Dian 汉典 [Chinese Dictionary], zdic.net/z/1b/zy/6597.htm (accessed 21 April 2017). See the similar remarks in Pankenier, Astrology and Cosmology in Early China, p. 104.

53 Liu Xujie 刘叙杰, ‘Handai dougong de leixing yu yanbian chutan’ 汉代斗拱的类型与演变初探 [‘A Preliminary Investigation of the Types and Evolution of Han Bracket Sets’], Wenwu ziliao congkan 文物资料丛刊 [Cultural Relic Information Series], 2 (1978), pp. 222–28.

54 Sima Qian, Shiji, I, ‘Tianguan shu’, p. 478.

55 Wushi ci Han huaxiang shi, p. 40, fig. 35.

56 Liu Xi 刘熙 [Han dynasty], Shiming 释名 [Explanation of Names] (Beijing, 2016), p. 80.

57 Lunyu 论语 [Analects] (Beijing, 2015), p. 64.

58 Hainei shizhou ji 海内十洲记 [Record of Ten Continents Within the Seas], in Bowu zhi (wai qi zhong) 博物志 (外七种) [Records of Diverse Matters (And Seven Other Essays)] (Shanghai, 2012), pp. 101–12 (p. 109).

59 Hainei shizhou ji, pp. 109–10.

60 Hainei shizhou ji, pp. 109–10.

61 Wu Hung, ‘Xiwangmu, the Queen Mother of the West’, Orientations, 18.4 (April 1987), pp. 24–33.

62 Yi'nan guhuaxiang shimu fajue baogao, plate 26.

63 Liu An 刘安 [179–122 bce] et al., Huainan zi 淮南子 [Book of the King of Huainan] (Beijing, 2014), p. 100.

64 Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 272, figs 1 and 2; p. 274, figs 2 and 3.

65 Wang Jia 王嘉 [?–390], Shiyi ji 拾遗记 [Record of Gleanings], ed. Xiao Qi 萧绮 (Beijing, 1988), p. 221.

66 Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 53, fig. 2.

67 Shanhai jing yizhu 山海经译注 [The Annotated Classic of Mountains and Seas] (Shanghai, 2014); Dongfang Shuo, Shenyi jing, in Xijing zaji (wai wu zhong). For the relief, see Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 86, fig. 2.

68 For details, see Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China, pp. 101–05.

69 Liu An, Huainan zi, p. 100.

70 Wang Jia, Shiyi ji, p. 73.

71 Wang Jia, Shiyi ji, pp. 73–74.

72 Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 92, fig. 1.

73 Chen Mingda, Zhongguo gudai mujiegou jianzhu jishu, p. 22.

74 Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 144, fig. 2.

75 Bowu zhi 博物志 [Records of Diverse Matters], in Bowu zhi (wai qi zhong), p. 28.

76 Dai De 戴德, ed., Da Dai Liji jinzhu jinyi 大戴礼记今注今译 [The Modern Annotated Records of Ritual Matters by Dai the Elder], trans. Gao Ming 高明 (Tianjin, 1975), p. 293.

77 From Han Dian, zdic.net/z/22/zy/84BF.htm (accessed 21 January 2018).

78 From Shanxi Sheng Wenwu Guanli Weihui 山西省文物管理委会 [Shanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Management Committee], ‘Shanxi Changzhishi Fenshuiling gumu de qingli’ 山西长治市分水岭古墓的清理 [‘The Clearing of an Ancient Tomb in Fengshuiling, Changzhi Municipality, Shanxi’], Kaogu 考古 [Archaeology], 1 (1957), p. 109, fig. 2.

79 From Zhongguo Shehui Kexue Yuan Kaogu Yanjiusuo 中国社会科学院考古研究所 [Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences], Huixian fajue baogao 辉县发掘报告 [Hui County Excavation Report] (Beijing, 1956), p. 116, fig. 138. See Charles D. Weber, ‘Chinese Pictorial Bronze Vessels of the Late Chou Period, Part II’, Artibus Asiae, 28.4 (1966), pp. 271–311 (pp. 275–77). The iconography of temples includes the depiction of wine vessels located centrally on a table or the floor, sometimes with ladles, and officiants performing rites in different postures. It should be noted that religious buildings and palaces in early China shared the same architecture. As Mark Edward Lewis confirms, elite households and temples were spatially organised according to the same principles: Mark Edward Lewis, The Construction of Space in Early China (Albany, NY, 2006), pp. 116–17.

80 Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 206, fig. 2; p. 223, fig. 1.

81 Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 36, fig. 2; p. 142, fig. 1; p. 11, fig. 3; p. 42, fig. 1.

82 Rao Zongyi 饶宗颐, ‘Hao Gong kao’ 蒿宫考 [‘Research on the Palace of Hao’], in Gu'an wenlu 固庵文录 [Collected Essays by Gu'an] (Shenyang, 2000), pp. 61–62 (p. 61).

83 Wang Jia, Shiyi ji, p. 66.

84 For an analogous reading of dougong in relation to the Five Element theory (wuxing), see Liu Jie 刘杰, Jiangnan mugou 江南木构 [Wood Construction South of the Yangtze] (Shanghai, 2009), pp. 136–44.

85 Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China, p. 1.

86 Han Baode, Ming-Qing Jianzhu er'lun/Dougong de qiyuan yu fazhan, pp. 87–132.

87 Jiren Feng, Chinese Architecture and Metaphor, pp. 138–80.

88 Jiren Feng, Chinese Architecture and Metaphor, pp. 144–45, 161, 168–79.

89 Chen Mingda, Zhongguo gudai mujiegou jianzhu jishu, p. 59.

90 Li Jie 李诫 [1035–1110], Yingzao fashi 营造法式 (Beijing, 2011), chapters 4 and 5, pp. 29–43; Qinghua Guo, ‘Yingzao Fashi: Twelfth-Century Chinese Building Manual’, Architectural History 41 (1998), pp. 1–13 (pp. 6–7).

91 Wang Pu 王溥 [922–982], Tang huiyao 唐会要 [Institutional History of the Tang Dynasty] (Beijing, 1955), p. 575.

92 Tuotuo 脱脱 [1314–1355], et al., Songshi 宋史 [History of the Song Dynasty] (Beijing, 1977), p. 3600.

93 Zhang Tingyu 张廷玉 [1672–1755], Mingshi 明史 [History of the Ming Dynasty], 6 vols (Beijing, 2014), II, p. 699.

94 Zhong Xiaoqing, ‘Dougong, puzuo, yu puzuo ceng’, p. 26.

95 Liang Sicheng and Liu Zhiping, ‘Dougong jianshuo’, pp. 295, 312.

96 For a comparative study of dougong between the Song and Qing dynasties, with precise physical measurements of their components, see Yu Zhuoyun 于倬云, ‘Dougong de yunyong shi woguo gudai jianzhu jishu de zhongyao gongxian’ 斗拱的运用是我国古代建筑技术的重要贡献 [‘The Important Contribution of Bracketing to our Country's Ancient Architectural Technology’], in Zhongguo gongdian jianzhu lunwen ji 中国宫殿建筑论文集 [Collected Essays on Palace Architecture in China] (Beijing, 2002), pp. 165–93.

97 Guo Huayu 郭华瑜, Zhongguo gudian jianzhu xingzhi yuanliu 中国古典建筑形制源流 [The Origin and Development of Classical Chinese Architectural Forms] (Wuhan, 2015), pp. 235–38.

98 Shiqiao, Li, ‘Reconstituting Chinese Building Tradition: The Yingzao fashi in the Early Twentieth Century’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 62.4 (2003), pp. 470–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

99 See, in particular, Liang Sicheng's meticulous documentation of the dougong system as described by Lie Jie in Yingzao fashi: Liang Sicheng 梁思成, ed., Qing Gongbu gongcheng zuofa zeli tujie 清工部工程做法则例图解 [Illustrated Examples of the Engineering Methods of the Qing Ministry of Works] (Beijing, 2006).

100 For more details, see Xie, Jing and Heath, Tim, Heritage-Led Urban Regeneration in China (New York and London, 2017), pp. 1621CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

101 Tuan, Yi-Fu, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis, MN, 2008), pp. 112–13Google Scholar.

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