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The Huabiao is an ornamental stone column used to decorate important buildings or rublic paces. It can be very large, up to 20 meters in height and a meter or so indiameter.

The origins of the Huabiao are not clear. Some say it developed from the totem poles of ancient tribes. Perhaps it was originally a form of signpost. When Yao and Shun were the country's rulers about 4 ,000 years ago, wooden columns were erected as landmarks to show travelers the way. Yao and Shun also used them to solicit public opinion. People would write their comments and suggestions on the poles by main roads. For the same reason some poles were also placed in the royal court.

A more popular explanation does not credit the Huabiao with such a long history. In the Spring and Autumn Period 2,600 years ago, an instrument called the Biao, meaning poleortablet, was erected to determine direction by its shadow. Designers used it to ascertain position and direction before constructing guildings. For large-scale construction, which might take many years,the pole was made of stone so that it would last long enough. When the building was completed, the stone pole was included as part of the structure.

With the establishment of the feudal system over 2,000 yeatrs ago, the Huabiao came to represent the power of the emperor. It would be carrved with dragons, a symbol of royalty, and placed in or in front of palaces and temples. Huabiaos were also placed in front of emperorw tombs, in which case they are called Mubiao, or romb columnw.

As the use of these columns changed, so did their appearance. They became nore ornate and gradually devloped into the Huabiao we mostly see today. The typical Huabiao now has a round or octagonal base surrounded by a carved stone wall. Typically, dragons are carved on the column, while a dignified stone animal sits on its top.

Four of the most famous Huabiaos in China are to be found by Tian' anmen or the Gate of Heavenly Peace at the enterance to the Forbidden City in Beijing. They were constructed druing the Qing Dynasty. Each has a stone Hou sitting regally atop the column. Like the dragon,the Hou is also a mythical animal that represents power and good fortrne. The heads of the Hous on the two columns behind the gate are turned inward, looking towards the pa; ace, while those on the columns in front of the gate have their heads turned outward. The positioning of the heads symbolized the hopes of the people. With the animals' heads turning inward, emperors were espected not to wallow in sesual pleasures in the palace, but to leave the palace and get a better understanding of the common people and their needs. Gor this reason, the columns behind the gate are named Wangjunchu, which means EXpecting His Majesty to go on an inspection.

The HOUS looking away from the palace show people's longing for the emperor's return. This reminded rulers not to become infatrated with the beautiful landscapes of their domain but to return in good time to run state affairs. Accordingly, the two Huabiaos in front of the gate are named Wangjungui,meaning “looking forward to the emperor's return”.

Edit by: Dorothy


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Siheyuan (quadrangle) is the traditional residential compound of Beijing. Taking shape in the Liao Dynasty, it matured through the Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties to become the most characteristic residence of Beijing.

The name siheyuan means a courtyard surrounded by houses on all the four sides. Over hundreds of years, the Beijing siheyuan formed a style unique to the capital city in layout, inner structure, furnishing and decoration.

A regular siheyuan is built in a lane (hutong) running from east to west, and faces south. The four houses, with the principal one in the north, are enclosed with high walls. The main gate is opened in the southeast corner, the position of xun in the Taoist Eight Diagrams, signifying the wind. The northern house usually has three main chambers and two flanking ones; the eastern and western houses, three chambers respectively; the southern house, four chambers. There are altogether seventeen bays if the main gate and the festooned gate are included. Assuming 11 to 12 sq. m for each bay, the total area amounts to about 200 sq. m. The courtyard is spacious, containing trees, flowers, and gold fish jars. It is the center of the siheyuan, serving for passage and providing good light, ventilation and cool shades. People would like to take a rest or do the housework here.

Despite the sameness of layout, siheyuan differs in sizes. There are large, middle and small sized siheyuan.

In a small siheyuan, the northern house has three chambers, one or two of them being the main chamber(s). The eastern and western houses have two chambers respectively, and the southern house has three chambers. The houses are built with brick, and covered with a ridged tile roof. They can be inhabited by a family of three generations, with the elderly members living in the northern house and the younger ones living in the eastern and western houses. The southern house may serve as the study or the living room. In the courtyard there are brick-paved paths leading up to the steps before the doors of the houses. The main gate has two leaves coated in black lacquer, with two brass knockers on them, and a couplet pasted on both sides.

A middle siheyuan is more spacious. The northern house has three main chambers and two flanking ones. The eastern and western houses have three chambers respectively. Before each house is a corridor serving as a shelter from wind or rain. The courtyard is partitioned by a wall into a front (outer) yard and a back (inner) yard, with a moon-shaped gate in the wall. The front yard is simple, with one or two gate houses. The back yard, the living quarters, has well built houses with square-brick-paved floors and granite steps.

A large siheyuan is customarily known as “big mansion” (dazhaimen). The southern house may have five or seven chambers, and so does the northern one. The principal house may have as many as nine or eleven chambers. It is usually made up of several quadrangles connected lengthways. There are many courtyards, such as the front yard, the back yard, the eastern yard, the western yard, the principal yard, the flanking yards, the side yards, the study yard, the stable yard, the first row of courtyard, the second row, and the third row. The various parts of the compound are connected by corridors. The area covered is enormous. However, if the space available is inadequate, of if a full-size large siheyuan is not affordable, the southern house may be omitted.

The middle or small siheyuan was usually inhabited by ordinary people, while the large siheyuan served as the mansion of a senior official or government office.

The houses in the Beijing siheyuan are built with wood and bricks. The frameworks–purlins, columns, beams, thresholds, rafters, doors, windows, and partitions—are made of wood. The beams, columns, doors, windows and the ends of rafters are lacquered or decorated with colored paintings, holding their own against magnificent palace halls to some extent. The walls are customarily built with polished bricks and broken bricks. The roofs may be tiled, with drip-tiles below the eaves; they may also be simply covered with graphite, with no tiles at all.

The main gate usually occupies the space of a chamber. It has a complicated structure, composed of over twenty types of components, such as frames, leaves, thresholds, bolts, nails and hinges.

The main gate is usually coated in black lacquer, and may be decorated with a couplet with black characters on a red background. Behind the main gate are the festooned gate and the moon-shaped gate. The festooned gate is the most beautifully decorated of all the gates, with eaves modeled on the top of the pailou (decorated archway). It serves to divide the courtyard into two parts——an outer part consisting of the living room, the gate house, the carriage house and the stable, and an inner part, or the living quarters. The moon-shaped gate may also serve the same function if there is no festooned gate.

The festooned gate is beautifully lacquered. The ends of rafts under the eaves are in bluish green, and the wangmu in red; the round raft ends are decorated with a pattern of concentric blue, white and black circles, and the square raft ends, with golden patterns or diamond designs. The middle of the front eaves also has decorative designs. The lotus-shaped ends of the columns on both sides, with patterns carved on them, are colorfully lacquered.

The carved patterns in the siheyuan are symbols of good luck, such as the combination of the character meaning longevity and the bat (meaning happiness), the vase with a Chinese rose in it (meaning “peace in four seasons”), and tokens of “long-lasting clan”, “three friends in winter”, “riches and honor”, and “happiness, wealth and longevity”. They reflect old Beijing dwellers' wish for a happy life.

Trees and flowers are planted in the siheyuan to add to its beauty. Traditionally planted are such flowers as lilacs, Chinese crabapples, flowering almonds and mountain peaches, and such trees as jujube and locust. Flowers may also be grown in flowerpots or in water.

Plants grown in flowerpots are usually pomegranate trees, oleanders, cassiabark trees, osmanthus fragans, Indian azaleas, and gardenias. Pomegranate trees are symbolic of fertility. In flowerbeds before the steps of houses are usually planted jasmines, garden balsams, morning glories, and hyacinth bean flowers.

Life in a siheyuan is described in a Qing-dynasty saying :“awning, fish jars, and pomegranate trees; master, fat dog, and plump maidservant.”

Though it is usually inhabited by one household, a siheyuan may also be shared by several poor households. In the case it would be called a dazayuan, of which many old Beijing dwellers cherish fond memories.

Edit by: Dorothy


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What are most fascinating about the modernized Beijing are not the skyscrapers or broad streets, but the winding, secluded hutong (lanes/alleys), where there are beautiful siheyuan.

It is therefore fitting and proper to call the culture of the ancient capital “hutong culture” or “siheyuan culture”.

Beijing used to comprise tens of thousandsof siheyuan of different sizes orderly arranged in rows. The passages between the rows were hutong.

In the Yuan Dynasty, each hutong was as wide as a large three-courtyard quadrangle. It was later divided into many nameless narrower lanes by houses built in it. Hence the saying that goes, “there are 3,600 hutong with names, while nameless ones are as many as the hairs on a cow”.

By 1949, there were 6,074 streets and lanes with names, among which were 1,330 hutong, 172 avenues, 111 lanes, 85 streets, 71 alleys, and 37 roads. Streets, lanes and alleys were customarily lumped together as hutong.

Beijing is crisscrossed by thousands of hutong, where there are numerous “sweet homes”. That is the main reason why citizens of Beijing are so much attached to them.

The slimmest hutong is Qianshi Hutong in Dashilan Area beyond the Front Gate (qianmen). The narrowest part of it measures only 40 centimeters wide. Some hutong are known for being tortuous. Beixinqiao Hutong, for instance, was said to have nine bends, but it actually had more than twenty; it was later divided into five parts. The lane beyond the Front Gate, also said to have nine bends, actually has thirteen. The names of hutong are like an encyclopedia of the city’s history and folk customs. In recent years, hutong has been developed as a precious tourist resource.

As the shabby old dazayuan (quadrangle shared by several households) are being replaced by modernized buildings, old hutong will be gone too. However, many famous hutong have been preserved as cultural relics reflecting the city's history as an ancient capital. They are among the remnants of the past of this fast developing city.

The tour of hutong has been developed as a new sightseeing program for foreign tourists. Man-powered tricycles, a means of transport typical of old Beijing, will take them past Shichahai and Yinding Bridge to the drum tower, where they may enjoy a view of the old city crisscrossed by lanes. Then they will be taken to Houhai, where they may visit such ancient hutong as the southern and northern Guanfang Hutong, the big and small Golden Lion Hutong, and Qianhoujing Hutong. They may walk into siheyuan and chat with the inhabitants. Finally, they will be taken along Liuyin Street to the mansion of Prince Gong, known as the Garden of Grand View, to see the houses of nobles and imperial gardens.

Foreign tourists are profuse in their praise for the beauty of hutong. Carrying the age-old culture of Beijing, hutong has eternal charm.

Edit by: Dorothy


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Beijing used to have more pailou (decorated archways) than any other city in the world. Apart from hutong and siheyuan, omnipresent pailou was the most characteristic structure of Old Beijing. But they have almost disappeared without a trace. Such famous downtown areas as Dongdan, Xidan, Dongsi and Xisi were all named after the pailou that used to be there, which few people know nowadays. In fact, their original names were respectively Dongdan Pailou, Dongxi Pailou, Xidan Pailou and Xisi Pailou. When the pailou were demolished, the word pailou was omitted. Also demolished were many pailou so familiar to old Beijing dwellers, such as the one on Zhengyangmen Avenue, the one on Eastern Chang'an Avenue, and the one on Western Chang'an Avenue.

The pailou has a long history, and came in a great variety of forms. Through ages it became a cultural phenomenon unique to China. Researchers found that its first appearance dates far back to the Zhou Dynasty. It was mentioned as hengmen in Book of Songs, which was compiled in the Spring and Autumn Period. The poem in which the word occurs was written between the early Zhou Dynasty to the middle of that period. That is to say, hengmen appeared no later than the middle of the Spring and Autumn Period. Composed of two columns and one horizontal beam, it was a primitive form of paifang. In an architectural complex, a pailou, though serving but for decoration, signifies the identity of the complex or a street, like the cover of a book or the face of a man. The pailou is a cultural symbol of Chinese architecture. As American sociologist Edward AlsworthRoss wrote in The Changing Chinese after his visit to Beijing in the late Qing Dynasty, wherever there were stones, you would see memorial arches striding across main roads along the way. Built under official approval, they were well known as pailou.

Incomplete statistics show that there used to be more than 300 well known pailou in Beijing, of which over 100 remain at scenic spots. Almost each of them has an interesting story.

Famous pailou included the one on Qianmen Avenue, the one on Eastern Chang’an Avenue, the one of Western Chang’an Avenue, the one in Dongjiaominxiang Lane (Legation Quarter in Peking), the one in Xijiaominxiang Lane, the one at Temple of Monarchs, and the one before Dagaoxuan Hall at Jingshan Front Street. They were demolished in the 1950s to make way for traffic. Most of the remaining pailou are located before the gates of temples. The one in Temple of Earth, for instance, has been re-lacquered.

The pailou in Zhongshan Park was originally located at the end of the lane of Western Headquarters at Dongdan and named Monument to Ketteler, who was the German ambassador to China. Ketteler was killed by Qing soldiers when the Eight-Power Allied Forces invaded China in 1900. The German government demanded the life of Empress Dowager Cixi or Emperor Guangxu, but finally consented to letting them have a memorial archway built by way of showing contrition. The agreement was written into the appendix to Xinchou Treaty (1901 Treaty ending the Boxer war). The archway way completed in 1903. When Germany lost WWI in 1918, Beijing took it down and moved it to Central Park, changing the inscription on its top to “Victory of Justice”. The name was changed to Archway of Guarding Peace in 1953, when the Peace Conference of the Asia-Pacific Region was convened in Beijing.

Edit by: Dorothy

Folk Woodblock Picture

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Folk Woodblock Picture is a kind of picture enjoying popularity among the people with a large variety. A few of them are singled out for appreciation, but most of them are used for different worldly life and protocols, such as the portrait of the Gate God, the portrait of gods, illustration, pictures for packaging and decorating, window flowers, lamp pictures, kites, paper cards, colourful squares, flags, embroidery patterns. Of these pictures some are printed in a single colour (black), some others are printed in chromatography or by the continuation of colour applying. It is a characteristic way of picture popularization from the invention of China's woodblock printing to the contemporary printing skill. Their authors are professional painter and engravers. Some of them are anonymously created by farmers.

Folk Woodblock Picture is spread in the north of China, and named after the village where it is produced. It originated in the Chongzhen Period of the Ming Dynasty, and flourished in the Yongzheng Period and the Qianlong Period of the Qing Dynasty. It inherits the traditional printing craft: it is coloured after the image appears on the link lines. The characters' countenances and attires are painted in lead powder in golden colour. Its sources of themes are from the Three Beauties, the Theft of the Charmed Herb, etc.

Edit by: Dorothy
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