Recreating Splendid and Romantic Jing-chu Style Architecture
The juxtaposition of the two Chinese characters “荆 ( jing)” and “楚 ( chu)” first appeared in a poem “Only thy Jing and Chu people, residing in the south land,” recorded in The Book of Poems, the first collection of Chinese ancient poetry. Chu people had not only created the amazing Chu culture in Chinese history , but also brushed a colorful splendor in the storyline of oriental architecture, whose innovative spirit serves as a good example for modern people to follow.
Long Gone are the Pavilions and Palaces of the Kings of Chu
Jing- chu culture derived its name from the State of Chu ( 1,115B. C.- 223B. C.) and Chu people, which was a representative type of regional culture developed from the Zhou Dynasty (1046B.C.-256B. C.) to the Period of the Warring States ( 475 B. C.221B.C.) in the Jianghan Plain area, which mainly refers to what is now Hubei Province. In the eyes of Guo Heping, the deputy chief architect from CSADI ( Central South Architecture Design Institute Co., Ltd), ancient architecture is a best record of the history and culture of each dynasty.
After Chu State was defeated by the King of Qin State, all the important buildings in the State of Chu were either torn down or looted, leading to an abrupt end to the brilliance of Chu architecture. The remaining Chu buildings were long lost in history, for the ancient earth- and- wood buildings were prone to weathering. Furthermore, in order to prevent the resurgence of the Chu State, Emperor Qin Shihuang, the first emperor in feudal China, broke up Chu land into seven prefectures, thus, the architecture of Chu was assimilated by the adjacent provinces and their features were gradually eliminated.
Though the ancient buildings of Chu style had gone with the wind, their romantic charm was recorded in historical documents. Not only did the poets of Chu State like Qu Yuan and Song Yu repeatedly depict splendid Chu buildings in their works, men of letters in varied dynasties all cherished the magnificent buildings in the Chu State and sang for them over and over again. For instance, they were been depicted in Yue Fu Poems of Han Dynasty. Both Li Bai and Su Shi, who were famous poets of the Tang and Song Dynasties respectively, expressed their admiration for those
great Chu buildings and the regret for being unable to appreciate their beauty in person. Even the great poet Li Bai of Tang Dynasty sighed, “Brilliant are Qu Yuan’s poems, like the sun and the moon shining in the sky; while long gone are the pavilions and palaces of the Kings of Chu.” The fact that in the poems of Tang alone, there were more than ten occurrences for the phrase “the Palace of Chu” fully reveals the tremendous cultural influence of Chu Architecture.
On July 23rd, 2013, Secretary General of CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping mentioned “Jing- chu style Architecture” when inspecting in Hubei. He stressed that the urban and rural construction in Hubei should reflect the unique features of Hubei and Jing-chu culture. According to Guo Heping, Jing- chu style can be generally understood as the architectural style created by ancient Chu people that has continued to this day. In comparison with that of the adjacent areas, Jing- chu style architecture is not as prevalent; however, after all, the Chu State was one of the five super powers in the Period of Spring and Autumn and one of the seven super powers in the Period of Warring States, Jing- chu culture had been historically strong with its architecture as a brilliant part. Gao Jiehua, an expert in Chu Studies, once commented that, the architectural skill of Chu State, with their refined materials and complete construction tools, had been in the front ranks of the time.
“In the feudal times, the monarch had always been the general director of historical culture. As King Huai of Chu had special preference for architecture, the King of Qin ordered the buildings of Chu be demolished, which, in effect, ruined the material foundation for the spirit of Chu State. Therefore, the study on Chu architecture has actually been a cohort study,” said Guo Heping. At present, to seek Jing- chu style, one can only search for its root from historical sites, and get inspiration from the poems and songs of Chu people.
Guo Heping believed, to create the architecture of Jing- chu style means we should inherit the excellent traditions of Chu culture, and arouse our instinct for creating beauty so as to make the urban and rural buildings in Hubei take on their unique features.
Recreating the Elegance and Romance of Chu Architecture
The artistic feature of Chinese architecture has been in the trend of diversification over the time. In the early period of reform and opening- up,
there had been the distinctions among Peking style, Shanghai style, and Linnan style in Chinese architecture. Later on, more styles successively appeared, like Bashu style, Sinkiang style, and so on. Judging from the rise and development of these styles, while all the regions were exploring and carrying forward the cultural features of their own regions, they all defined their differences from the styles of other regions.
Guo Heping believes that the primary purpose for a building is to meet the housing needs of the people and the geographical location and climate conditions of an area are also taken into account. So, when building their houses, Chu people placed great attention to high stylobates and deep eaves extending from the beam prominently, as it is hot and rainy in Jing- chu, deep eaves could help protect the building against the sun and the rain. Most of the Kings of Chu loved to construct their palaces on high stylobates, among which the Palace of Zhanghua Tai ( 535B. C.) built by King Ling of Chu was the most famous one, which had great impacts on the tall buildings built after the Qin and Han Dynasties. Some historical sites in Wuhan, such as Qin Tai, a commemorative building for the great friendship between a musician named Yu Boya and his bosom friend Zhong Ziqi, The Palace of Emperor Yu and Ji, and Pavilion Qinchuan are the cases in point.
The great poet Qu Yuan of the Chu State said in a poem collected in TheSongsofChu that they could stay in the grand warm house with deep courts in winter, and keep a cool interior hall in summer.
Guo Heping maintained, one should always be able to find in a building, whether it was a traditional building or a modern one, something closely linked with life today. Since the essence of buildings is to serve people, good functional quality
and advanced facilities are the basis for the success of modern architecture. Guo Heping held that, with the exploration of national culture and the essence of regional architecture as the foundation, and combining with the conditions of construction sites and the specific requirements of the users, creating unique architectural character would be the supremacy of the art of architecture. In the same way that each piece of musical work carries its own melody, and the lyric for each song contains its own special meaning, only the town and countryside, which reflect local ethnic characteristics, could embody the nostalgia for one’s hometown, and only such personalized buildings could touch one’s heart.
Chu people advocated the theory that man was an integral part of nature, so they sought to make their buildings highly fused with nature, which was revealed in their pursuit of geomancy. “We should inherit geomancy discriminatingly,” said Guo Heping, “by removing the superstitious and bad parts, and taking the scientific part, which concerns the physical elements of human settlements, like wind, water, light, earth, mountains, and plants, which is the essence of modern geomancy and is helpful for housing development.”
Chu- style architecture is not simple and static; instead, it integrates the styles of both southern and northern China, and contains the characteristics of the east and the west of China. Guo Heping held that architecture of the northern style tends to be square and upright and is somewhat abstract; while, the southern style on the other hand, is refined and delicate; and Bashu architecture in western China is simple and artless, and Wu- yue style in eastern China is graceful and feminine owing to their unique cultural features.
Only Jing- chu culture manages to strike a balance, which is refined but not too feminine and delicate and still contains its own vigor and daring courage.
Only after such comparison and exploration, can the features of Jing- chu style be highlighted, and a style without features is lifeless. Guo Heping said. To have a comprehensive understanding of Jingchu style architecture, besides tracing the signs and clues from the unearthed relics and historical books and records, one can go to the folks for that. After all, even Confucius once said, “When the etiquette is lost, one can still find it practiced in the populace.” Similarly, dynasties were lost in the long history, but culture would be retained among the folks. “Judging from the unearthed articles of daily use, the handcrafts had been so exquisite, not to mention the architecture. So, based on the remaining Jing- chu relics and the record of the architectural image, we could embody the Jing-chu style by means of modern technology.”
Pursuing the Soul of Jing- chu Style Architecture
At present, compared with other regional architectures, like Hui- style architecture, which is typical of Anhui Province, the construction practice and promotion of Chu architecture has not been too successful, which is definitely a great regret. “Promoting architecture with regional characteristics is of great significance, which is in agreement with the beautiful China Dream put forward by Secretary General Xi Jinping. If China is filled with buildings of the Western style, we will lose our own homes in the end,” said Guo Heping.
“We should make the past serve the present and display the modern functions of the buildings with modern crafts. As China is such a vast country, there are huge differences among different parts of the country. So, besides meeting the functional
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needs, buildings should also possess national characteristics, not just Chinese characteristics, but more importantly, the local features. Only in this way, can we escape the embarrassment that “all our towns and cities look the same, and the villages are all constructed in the same pattern.”
Guo Heping held that, the failure of the promotion of Chu architecture mainly resulted from the following two reasons. Firstly, this is a result of psychological problems. In the early orthodox architectural traditions, there had been contempt for the Chinese nation, which had a lot to do with the fact that China was extremely weak at that time, and which in turn led to the exocentric mentality in every sector of society, more or less.
Secondly, this is a problem specific to the stage of social development. “Any project, no matter how well you have planned, needs the joint efforts of people of several generations to accomplish. As our country is currently developing, it would be hard to make great difference to the present situation in the short term,” says Guo Heping. “From the perspective of the modern functions of buildings, is every Chinese person satisfied with their living conditions? Maybe the quality for both the interior and exterior environment fails to meet certain standard. However, that does not mean we will abandon our pursuits because of the difficulties.”
Architecture is a kind of visual art involving form and space, whose style is embodied in concrete images. In these years, there have been some Jingchu cultural elements integrated into the design of some public buildings to some extent. Besides the artistic expression in industrial design, some
properties of the developers also display the pursuit for Chu- architecture. For instance, the project of Baoli Huadu, in which Guo Heping has participated, contains some modern buildings that present the beauty of Chu architecture both in its entirety and in detail.
What is worth mentioning is that, there have been a group of high- level architects in Hubei, with whose joint efforts, some modern buildings like Hubei Provincial Museum, Wuhan Qintai Grand Theatre, and Hubei Cultural Town for Publishing have demonstrated a distinctive Jing- chu style.
German thinker Geothe once said that, music is fluid architecture, and architecture is frozen music. Hubei has undergone great difficulties in order to create Jing- chu style architecture with their unique features. Since China’s reform and opening- up, the Housing and Construction Department of Hubei has continued electing for excellent architectural designs over the years, and a large number of distinguished designs have been awarded, thus accumulating rich practical experience in embodying Jing-chu culture.
“It is a development process from modern architecture, to modern Chinese architecture, modern Chinese regional architecture, and finally to modern Chinese regional architecture with unique features. What we pursue is creating symbolic architectural works of high quality, which could stand the test of time, and which will be accepted and loved by people in Hubei. Jing-chu style architecture is bound to be brilliant and will occupy a special position in the history of the world architecture,” said Guo Heping. (Photos by Shi Hai)
宝通禅寺 The Baotong Temple
晴川阁 Qingchuan Pavilion
龙王阁 dragon King Pavilion
武汉大学 Wuhan University