China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Regression in Yuan Timber Construction System and Why It Happened

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Washington Room 1, Exhibit Level

Chinese architecture has a perpetuate timber construction system that retains principle characteristics from pre-Qin period till the early 20th century. Concerning the development of such a structural system through thousands of years, modern scholarship has been focusing on extant building manuals (i.e. the Yingzao fashi) and specific structural features (i.e. dougong, the bracket sets). Based on established theories of Chinese timber construction system (i.e. by Liang Sicheng), Yuan timber architecture has been argued to have a lack of consistency and display a division caused by regional traditions.


In light of recent scholarship using anthropological method to study contemporary vernacular timber architecture built by ethnic minority groups in China, this paper argues that the inconsistency and division found in Yuan timber architecture are in fact a technological regression. In other words, outdated and premature structural features that were once popular before the 7th century were again chosen by the Yuan people to build less important buildings in certain regions. The regression in particular is featured by the revival of the obsolete longitudinal-enhanced-frame that was completed replaced by the transversal-enhanced-frame during late Tang and early Song. This paper will quest answers to why the regression happened in Yuan and whether the regression is in connection with the craftsmen administration system, the limitations of resources or other social problems of the Yuan dynasty.

Lala Zuo

United States Naval Academy, Maryland

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