Every symbol and pattern in the Chinese culture has a unique meaning and history behind it. Chinese have one the most decorated cultures symbolically making it an interesting area for study to establish the background and importance of these symbols. The primary focus of this paper is to look into the possible influence from other cultures on these patterns and what circumstances led to their development. The paper also examine if the government is played a role in developing these patterns or they resulted from the indigenous cultural beliefs of the Chinese people. Particularly, the paper looks into the impact of the neighboring cultures like the Japanese and Korean by making a comparison of similar symbols and patterns and their origin.
Symmetry in Designs
- One unique feature of the Chinese architecture is the emphasis on articulation and bilateral symmetry that indicates balance. In art or architecture articulation refers to the method of making the element’s joints in the structural design. Each component of the structure is joined together at specific articulation degree to give the desired unique style. In essence, a building’s articulation show the how every part of the whole structural design fit in to create the figure while still emphasizing on each separate part. In other words, an architecture can develop each component of the building independently then join them to form the desired outcome.
- Both the bilateral symmetry and articulation are common features in nearly all designs of the Chinese buildings. Even in circumstances where the building is renovated or expanded the symmetry often remains unchanged as the secondary parts (elements) are often placed on the sides of the main structure. The secondary elements thus acts as wings that maintain the general bilateral symmetry of the building. Additionally, the buildings are often designed to have even number of columns that are expected to produce odd bays. Putting the doors at the central position of the building further helps in creating the symmetry.
- Perhaps to understand the reason behind the bilateral symmetry in the modern Chinese buildings we need to go back into historic cities in China like the Forbidden City. There is no doubt the current designs borrow heavily from extinct cities.
- The Forbidden City is popular for being the center of power for both Ming (between 1368 and 1644) and Qing (between 1644 and 1911) dynasties. As the palace of the Chinese kingdom, it acted as a model city that influenced the current designs in the most Chinese cities including Beijing. In other words, the Forbidden City was the link between the old and modern designs of buildings while maintaining the traditional look that defined the Chinese cultural beliefs and practices.
- The influence of the city goes beyond the borders of China as it culminated to the civilization- with respect to art, in the whole of Pacific region all the way to Asia Minor.
- The city had a 50-wide ditch all around it that protected from invasion by the enemies. Additionally, it had an 8 meter high and 3.6 kilometer long wall around it with only four entrances on each side.
- Forbidden City exhibits an axial symmetry that follows the North-South axis- that also hosted the old Beijing city. It also had central axis that contained the Supreme Harmony Palace, Palace of Heavenly Purity, Preserved Harmony Hall, Peace Pavilion and the union. From these palaces it is evident that city did not only act as center of power but also spiritual center for all the residents.
- Apart from the buildings above, any other construction was done within the axis to maintain the axial symmetry. Similar approach is also common today in most Chinese cities as renovations or extension of the buildings occur on the sides to maintain the bilateral symmetry. Perhaps the only difference between the design of the Forbidden City and current cities is that the former used axial symmetry whereas the latter are using bilateral.
- As noted earlier, Forbidden City served political, cultural and spiritual purpose among during the reign of Ming and Qing dynasties. The existence of Holy places in the central axis indicate that it was the center of all spiritual matters.
- On the hand, the palaces shown the buildings that were used by the rulers between 1368 and 1911 hence reinforcing the idea of feudalism.
- Feudalism is where the rulers hold land within the kingdom and in return offer protection to the people. It is more of a system that have set of rules that define the relationship between the kings and subjects. The king has the full ownership of the land and other precious minerals but can also divide to the subjects based on their loyalty.
- The choice of color for the painting the wooden structures is also a sign of keen interest of the rulers of the city to have an impressive architectural impression. In architecture, colors serve more than just coating the surfaces as they are also used in setting themes.
- Particularly, the paintings serve more purposes than just decorations and coating the walls. They were used in passing the information on the religious beliefs of the city and their cultural practices. For example, the walls of the buildings at the central axis- mainly the spiritual halls and pavilion, had motifs (dragons and phoenix).
- The architectural design of the Forbidden City indicate a feudal society as the seat of power and spirituality are all located in one place signifying that the ruler also acted the spiritual leader of the city. Consequently, he controlled all aspects of lives of people living in the city since they depended on him protection and spiritual nourishment.
Chinese uses a lot of symbols in their cultural and religious beliefs. The symbols vary from plants, animals and even non-existing creatures like dragons. Symbolism is part and parcel of their culture and they hold the in very high regards. Some of the popular symbols include the pine tree which denotes longevity, Bamboo (longevity and vitality), plum blossom (perseverance and purity) and peony (royalty and virtue). Others are bat (happiness and joy), fish (abundance and affluence), phoenix (fortune), dragon (cosmic energy) and the eight mortals among others.
Apart from the symbols named above, near all other aspects of the Chinese lives are full of symbols. Among the most interesting symbols that have close link with architecture is the monster door. The Chinese monster door ring consist of the head of a lion with a ring passing through the nose. In some cases, the monster door uses the dragon head instead of the lion.
Dragon in the Chinese culture is a symbol of cosmic energy and the perhaps the most powerful of all the symbols. It also represents great fortune than the phoenix. On the other hand, a lion is often the symbol of brevity and using it as the head in the monster rings depicts that the building is under tight security. Similarly, having the head of dragon with the ring symbolizes the protection of the fortune.
Dragon is believed to be one of the strongest animals to have ever existed- perhaps the reason it also the most powerful symbol, putting the ring on its nose means that it is caged and under the control. In other words, the ring represents the ability to keep and maintain the fortunes that one gets (since dragon is its symbol).
Even though China is currently among the most industrialized countries in the world, they still produce the monster door rings. However, the rings that are produced currently smaller in size compared to the traditional ones. The producers of these have also incorporated latest technologies like sensors to much the changing environment. Additionally, the materials used in producing the rings currently vary depending on the target market, rings produced for up markets have superior quality compared to the ones targeting the poor. The difference in quality and materials used in production is critical since it makes the locks available for anyone that wishes to use them regardless of his or social and economic status. Cultural and religious beliefs often cut across all the social and economic classes.
The modernization of the monster rings are of great cultural significance to the Chinese people as it help them to practice their beliefs in the modern context. Monster rings were the primary locks used critical doors in the Forbidden City thus making them an integral part of the Chinese people. The city played an important role in shaping and modelling the design in China and the whole of Pacific region. In other words, using the monster door rings creates a sense of connection between the current generation and the past one. It is worth noting that despite their modernization a significant population of the Chinese still hold on their past cultural and religious beliefs. Therefore, the door rings are not only for security but also one of the effective methods of keeping their culture in the modern context.
Chinese Guardian Lion
The Chinese guardian lions also known as the imperial lions traces their origin to the Buddhism in China. It has one lion resting on a stone looking directly to the entrance to the buildings. Just like the name suggest, it was a symbol of protection of the dynasty and was in Forbidden City during the Ming Dynasty.
Traditionally, the lions are carved from marble stones or cast from the bronze to make them appealing to the public since they are often located in open places. Marble stone or bronze have the aesthetic look which is essential for the image of the dynasty which out to be appealing to both the visitors and residents. In fact, the authorities specified the materials that are usable in making the lions which had to be either marble stone or bronze. These materials are expensive thus making the lions only usable by a few elite in the society since they are unaffordable to many. Consequently, the guardian lions got a new meaning which is a symbol of wealth. But currently, just like the monster rings there is mass production with cheaper materials that makes the cheaper.
One thing that must be noted with the guardian lions is that they were often presented in a pair of male and female representing yang and yin respectively. The two was distinguished by putting the front paw of the male on embroidered ball whereas the female had a curb under it. Placing the curb under the female was very strategic as it symbolizes that they are responsible for the generation continuity of the society. Additionally, the arrangement of the lions on the plate signifies that the male is responsible for the protection of the whole plate from external aggression whereas the female protects it from within.
The China guardian lions are perhaps the most popular among all the cultural symbols in the country. Neighboring countries like Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and Tibet all have lions as part of the cultural symbols. However, the meaning might vary slightly from one region to another. The popularity of the guardian lion is perhaps attributed to the fact it traces its origin to the Buddhist community. It therefore means that any person confessing the faith has a new chances of embracing it.
The guardian lion and monster door rings have several similarities and differences despite the fact that they are all part of the Chinese culture. Firstly, the two have withstood the test of time and are currently modernized to fit in the current environment. Today, production of these two critical symbols is fully commercialized and produced from materials with varying quality to the diverse market. Everyone can purchase the product based on the amount they have unlike in the past where production was purely based on marble stone or bronze for the guardian lion.
Secondly, the two symbolize security of with guardian lion depicting external protection (male lion) and internal or soul protection (female). On the other, the monster protection ring symbolizes the protection of one’s fortune (private security). Additionally, they can both have the faces of the lion with the monster having a ring passing through its nose.
One of the difference between the two symbols is the guardian lion have two members, a male and a female while