Color Drawings of Chinese Architecture (Essai sur l'architecture chinoise) Anonymous, translated by fan dong yang, Beijing times chinese press, june 2017
Prior to the emergence of photography, priests, missionaries and scholars from Western countries transmitted information about the Eastern world by drawing what they saw. The color drawings collected in this book were completed in the 18th Century by French missionaries and Chinese painters and lack historical records.
The 188 drawings selected for the book showcase almost every segment of traditional Chinese architecture including tools, materials such as bricks and tiles, walls, screens, pavilions, bridges, towers and a wide variety of structures with both highly detailed and macro-perspective work.
The editors illustrate connotations of traditional Chinese architecture with text from various perspectives: The screens represent the official system in ancient China; The pavilions and towers represent the unique Chinese landscape; The indoor details depict social positions and the sense of propriety in social activities in ancient China; And the relationship between towers and limits on building height evidences beliefs and ideals of ancient Chinese royal families and officials. Artists attempted to describe a morphological China, said translator Fan Dongyang.
The drawings appear in both Chinese axonometric and Western scenographic methods, leaving an assumption that they were compiled by both Chinese and French artists. Also worth mentioning is that they depict a combination of reality and imagination: The “pavilion,” for instance, is a real structure but was depicted in an abstract manner, while some of the “altitude buildings” were inspired completely by imagination.
In the preface, Fan Dongyang admits that the information surrounding these works is incomplete and even wrong. For example, there is little about the technique used to make wooden structures in traditional Chinese architecture, and the imagined “altitude structures” may be entirely wrong based on available evidence. Nevertheless, the drawings represent the entire process of “material collection, categorization, analysis, assumption and seeking evidence, establishing cause and effect and asking and answering questions” on the subject of Chinese architecture in a spirit of “science” advocated by Europe in the Age of Enlightenment during the 18th Century. It is therefore of great value from this perspective.
The translator of the book, Fan Dongyang, is a young Chinese scholar specializing in Chinese architecture and urban and rural planning. He received a master’s degree from Sciences Po in Paris and a PH.D. in urban and rural planning from China’s Tsinghua University.
Old tools for bricklayers.
Old tools for carpenters.