Religious structures influenced by traditional Chinese culture
The architectural layouts of Buddhist and Taoist temples have largely been similar in China, as the buildings of both religions have been under strong influence from the traditional culture, according to architects.
“To me, the only tangible difference is that the building in the main courtyard of a Buddhist temple is a pagoda, while the building in that of aTaoist temple is an altar,” saidTao Jin, an architect who has specialized in the designing of religious buildings.
Taoist architecture includes temples, palaces, nunneries, altars and huts where religious activities are performed.
Similar to Buddhist architecture, it can be divided into holy halls for sacrifice, altars to pray at, houses to live in and rooms to chant scriptures in accordance with their use, according to the website of the Taoist Association of China.
Liang Sicheng, the late Chinese architect and scholar often known as the father of modern Chinese architecture, wrote that the layout of Buddhist buildings in China had already been shaped during the 4th and 5th centuries.
“They generally adopted the courtyard layout of worldly buildings. Starting from the main gate of the temple, there will be a palace hall between fixed distances. The importance of the halls will increase gradually, with the most important hall is located in the third or fourth of all buildings,” he wrote.
Quite different from the common stereotype that Buddhist temples are generally located in suburban area or even wild mountains, Liang wrote that a majority of Buddhist temples were located in the densely populated urban areas in the ancient times.
Tao said a majority of both Taoist and Buddhist temples were built with wooden structures in the ancient times.
“And that has also made them vulnerable to fire, and difficult to preserve in the long term,” he said.