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Chinese Architectural Development in the Early 20th Century


Architecture is a reflection of culture; when culture changes with the times, architecture also, necessarily, changes. Along with the disintegration of the feudal economy and the invasions of the Western powers, marked by the complete collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and the founding of New China in 1949, whether in the material or spiritual aspect, Chinese society underwent tremendous, unprecedented changes.

The complex interweaving of the contradictions of new and old, and Chinese and Western, constitute the special feature of contemporary Chinese architecture. On the one hand, a large batch of unprecedented types of architecture appeared -- factories, stations, banks, hospitals, schools, dining halls, churches, consulates and new residences -- while the application of new building materials represented by iron and steel and cement, as well as corresponding new structural methods, construction techniques and construction equipment have had great impact on the architectural methods featuring prominently traditional wooden structure and manual work. On the other hand, an end has been put to the construction of the type of traditional buildings, such as palaces, altars and temples, imperial mausoleum classical garden and monasteries. All these have provided a new orientation and motive power for the development of architectural arts. Objectively, it is of positive significance. At the same time, changes have taken place in people's esthetic temperament and interest.

However, such "new structures" did not evolve naturally from within traditional Chinese architecture, but rather, they were externally imposed on the vast land of China by the firearms of the foreign powers. A large group of Western-style "yang fang" (foreign-style houses) -- classical, eclectic; and later "modeng (fashionable) buildings" first appeared in the foreign concessions of various big cities. Art is a product of sentiment, a group of patriotic Chinese architects who had received modern Western education naturally rose to resist. Then, countering the tide of completely Westernized architecture, a momentous movement advocating the "national style" was started by contemporary Chinese architectural circles.

During the 1920s and 1930s, while Western buildings were prevailing inChina, the movement for "national style" buildings was very active. There were three methods for handling architectural styles. One was basically copying the ancient style to erect a building with reinforced concrete. Representative works include the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing. The second method of the "national style" is used in large-scale buildings with complicated functional requirements. The third kind of "national style" construction is characterized by the simplification of form.

Generally speaking, contemporary Chinese architectural art was in the process of a major turn. Chinese architects of the new generation who had received modern education did not look upon modernization as Westernization. They had explored a variety of ways to nationalization. Although their efforts were not necessarily successful, in terms of experiences or lessons, they provided a direct foundation for the development of the architecture of New China and represented a transition between classical Chinese architecture and the architecture of New China.

The discipline of Chinese architectural history formally came into being in the late 1920s. Founders of the subject, Liang Sicheng and Liu Dunzhen, had done a great deal of work. They incorporated the building industry, which had been despised consistently by literati and officialdom for thousands of years, into the academic sphere, thus laying an initial base for the study of Chinese architectural history and theory.

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