Five Iconic Chinese Structures

Pimsleur Approach • February 6, 2013 • ChineseComments (0)

Emperors did not stint on bombast or building costs when it came to creating their palaces, temples, bridges and walls. And although we’re past the era in which decades or even centuries are invested into one structure, booming companies still like to make statements with innovative and exclamatory architecture. It’s for this reason that China, home of many an emperor and many a winning business, has some of the world’s most awe-inspiring designs. Here, we humbly pore over the blueprints of the ancient and contemporary alike.

Great Wall of China
Great Wall of China (Image via Wikipedia)

Great Wall of China

Its long, spiny battlements have been likened to a dragon’s tail, and the Great Wall of China truly is a monster piece of architecture; it stretches for five-and-a-half-thousand miles and is mythically one of the few manmade structures visible from space (although it is only “visible” with high-powered photographic amplification or radar). Really it’s a timeline of China’s past, both wealthy and troubled. Though protection of the Chinese Empire was the big raison d’être for segments of the Wall being built, it has also served as a trading point and as a place of worship since various temples were built along the way. Some sections were constructed in the 7th century B.C. while another segment was erected in the 200s B.C. Much of what can be seen today is from the Ming Dynasty. Moving beyond the wall, here is the world’s greatest hodgepodge of structures.

National Aquatics Center
National Aquatics Center (Image via Wikipedia)

National Aquatics Center, Beijing

Not only did the Chinese excel overall in sports at their 2008 Olympics by topping the medal table, they also displayed their distinction in another discipline: architecture. The centerpiece for the Games was of course the “Bird’s Nest” Stadium, the Herzog & de Meuron-designed twisted steel structure that glows from every nook and cranny. To complement this, there was also the National Indoor Stadium, which hosted artistic gymnastics, trampoline and handball competitions under its sloped roof, intended to look like a Chinese fan. But we award our top marks to a third construction in Beijing’s Olympic Park, the National Aquatic Center. Better known as the Water Cube, this bubbling translucent cuboid, made from ETFE foils that took four years to put together, glows blue at night, and looks as if someone has cut out a slice of the ocean and slapped it down in the middle of Beijing. What better venue for China to scoop their seven swimming and 11 diving medals? Show-offs!

Xi'an City Wall
Xi’an City Wall (Image via Wikipedia)

City Wall, Xian

If you granted the Chinese nothing else, you’d have to concede they’re pretty good at building walls. Though Xian’s is nothing in length compared to the Great Wall, it is the most complete city wall in the county, and a sight to behold, whether doused in golden sunlight or emerging from the Xian smog. The story goes that the First Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang, followed the advice of a wise hermit and “built high walls, store[d] abundant food supplies and [took] time to be an Emperor.” The City Wall has been restored three times since then (it was first made with mud, lime and glutinous rice extract), the most recent being in 1983. As a tourist, you have multiple choices as to how to tour it; 8 of the original 18 entry gates are open to the public, with access to the full circuit. Yongning Gate is one of the preferred options, as here one can rent a bicycle, then pedal around the various sites of interest. A pretty park stretches around much of the higher walk and in the moat below. And these days, you won’t have to dodge arrows being fired at you.

Forbidden City Courtyard
Forbidden City Courtyard (Image via Wikipedia)

Forbidden City, Beijing

Just the name itself is tantalizing: “Forbidden City” comes from the fact this complex of 980 buildings was off-limits to the average Joe in dynasties gone by. Now of course, it’s perpetually swamped with average Joes and their cameras. Though it is not actually a city, this is one gigantic amassment of blue-blooded architecture. Incredibly, it took only 14 years to put together what is the biggest single complex in the world; considering it was the early 15th century, this is a difficult feat for modern visitors to comprehend. Mind you, the towering statement of newly-established Ming Dynasty power was helped along by over one million workers, more than a handful of whom undoubtedly perished in the process. Outstanding features include the 10-meter-high walls and 52-meter-wide moat (clearly the Ming and Qing Dynasties took security seriously), its entrances—the front one of which is the Meridian Gate, imbued with five arches and Five Phoenix Turrets—and the exceptional exterior decorations like the water spouts of the Inner Court carved into dragons’ heads and the Nine Dragons Screen. Dragons are popular in this part of the world.

View of the Bund, Shanghai
View of the Bund, Shanghai (Image via Wikipedia)

The Bund, Shanghai

Since the end of the 19th century, those arriving into Shanghai by water have been greeted by the Bund, an assortment of Western-style buildings lining the west side of the Huangpu River, created for various nationalities—including the Belgians, Italians, French, Americans and Germans—as decadent banks and trading houses. The genres are beautiful and varied; Art Deco jostles with Baroque jostles with Beaux-Arts, to create a showcase of European architecture all crammed within one mile. Highlights of the 52 buildings include the three-story redbrick East Wind Hotel (formally The Shanghai Club, once a hotspot for wealthy British nationals), the Asia Building (also known as Shanghai’s “first mansion”) and one of the first HSBC buildings, at the time, claimed to be “the most luxurious building between the Suez Canal and the Bering Strait.” With regeneration of the Bund during the 1990s, and a more recent redistribution of traffic, the district has once again become a hub for finance and tourism. The night view of the Bund with period lighting is memorable. Eclectic contemporary designs— like the orbed Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the 88-story Jin Mao Tower—have sprouted opposite the Bund. Now, the Huangpu is a more fascinating gateway-by-water than ever and really the only way anyone should be introduced, or say farewell, to Shanghai.

Sources

http://www.topchinatravel.com/china-guide/famous-buildings-in-china.htm

http://www.travelchinaguide.com/china_great_wall/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Wall_of_China

http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/shaanxi/xian/citywall.htm

http://facts.randomhistory.com/2009/04/18_great-wall.html

http://www.china.org.cn/top10/2011-03/29/content_22245662_8.htm

http://en1.xian-tourism.com/xiantraveldetail.asp?listID=358

http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/shanghai/bund.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bund

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forbidden_City

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