Think of Chinese design and architecture and red and gold dragons, lanterns, peaked roofs and stone lions come to mind. While some of these clichés ring true, there’s much more to the architectural styles of this sprawling nation – and there are countless UNESCO sites where you can really get into the history and culture behind each style. Here are some of our favourite places in China to enjoy ancient architecture.
The most famous landmark of China (other than the Great Wall, of course), has to be Beijing’s Forbidden City. Serving as the imperial palace for more than 500 years, this immense compound comprises around 980 buildings – the former homes of the imperial families. Sporting classic palatial architecture, the Forbidden City has influenced countless styles right across Asia, with its ornamental eaves and auspicious red and gold hues. The city is also laid out symmetrically, with the placement of certain structures chosen according to Confucian philosophy. In person, it’s truly one of the greatest architectural feats a traveller is likely to see, full of history and decadent beauty.
The ancient village of Hongcun can be found in southern China’s Anhui province. Dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties, the architecture here is beautifully preserved – crumbling stone townhouses mirrored in lazy canals. This former centre of trade features a few must-see buildings, including Chengzhi Hall, with its intricately carved wooden panels and gold slogans on the walls. Spend some time here getting lost in the village’s maze of tiny lanes…
These circular earthen houses represent another distinct face of Chinese architecture. Unique to the Hakka people, they serve as a defensive structure, with the outer wall having only one entrance and no windows. Inside, more gates and circular structures add extra protection. Complete with an interior source of water, storage for grain and sometimes even a sewage system, these Hakka houses are exceptional fortresses, with nothing quite like them anywhere else in the world.
The Qiao Family Compound is another iconic example of Chinese architecture. Located just outside historic Pingyao, this beautiful 18th century structure provided the location for the film, Raise the Red Lantern. Once a private residence, it now serves as a museum – and a spectacular example of the craftsmanship and detail that went into the houses of China’s elite.
Beijing is also home to another outstanding example of architecture: the Temple of Heaven. This expansive religious complex once served as the site where prayers for a good harvest would be offered. Believed to be Daoist, this temple complex was built in the early 1400s, renovated in the 1800s, and featuring intricately decorated interiors. Outside, the surrounding parks provide a place for locals to exercise and relax.
If you’d like to see the different sides of China’s beautiful architecture, get in contact with one of our Travel Specialists for information on a bespoke China tour.