Cultural Heritage

Introduction (Chenxing Sun)

With a reputed history of more than five thousand years, China is undoubtedly a wealthy country in terms of cultural heritage: tangible or intangible, man-made or natural, spectacular or exquisite. Although some of the invaluable heritages no longer exist due to environmental issues or political reasons, there is still a great deal of worth looking. The theme of this photo reportage is to look into some cultural heritage sites in China, which might not be well known but which have real significance.

Landscape-Heaven Lake, Changbai Mountain (Yanpei Li)


The Heaven Lake is a crater lake on the top of Changbai Mountain, which is on the border between China and North Korea. Even though the lofty mountains and precipitous road might be frightening, it is still calming when having reached the top, able to view the huge, blue, calm waters of the lake.

Undoubtedly, humans can learn some lessons from nature. How to integrate architecture with its context and how to let them be – untouched, unspoiled? Maybe the Heaven Lake is a good answer.

Water has its way to influence our mood and attitudes, so do mountains. It is not necessary for different elements to have similar shape or texture, neither is it necessary to make nature and architecture into a conflictual relationship. Sometimes nature can play a foreground role even while remaining in the background.

The Relic Park of Qujiang Pool, Xi’an (Shiyu Qian)


As one of the cities with thousands of years of history in China, Xi’an keeps its history and sprit through preserving and redeveloping its cultural relics. The Relic Park of Qujiang Pool – located in the Qujiang district of Xi’an, Shaanxi province – is an important project in this grand process.

Since the Han and Qin dynasty, Qujiang District in Xi’an was the royal site for nobility. In Tang dynasty, the impressive view including royal gardens and palaces around the Qujiang Pool was one of the symbols of a powerful country. After the end the Empire, the original palace and gardens were in ruins, replaced by farmlands. Finally in 2007, preservation and redevelopment within Qujiang was put on the political agenda. Designed by the famous local architect, Zhang Jingqiu, this refurbishment (rebuild) covers 1500 acres and was completed in 2008.


The original relic park was designed to ‘restore’ the prosperity of the Qujiang district in Tang dynasty in some ways. However, it is obvious that the park is not royal any more (or the revolution achieved nothing). So to harmonise ancient imperial design with the needs of urban modernity, the relic park is designed in a Tang classical style, while offering modern construction standards..

Shan-hai Ching (Anni Dai)


Some animal figures in Shan-hai Ching

The Classic of Mountains and Seas, or Shan-hai Ching, is a Chinese classic book and a compilation of geography and myth. Versions of the text have existed since the 4th century BC, but the present form was not realised until the early Han Dynasty, a few centuries later. It is largely a fantastical cultural account of pre-Qin China as well as a collection of Chinese story-telling.


5It shows our Chinese ancestors’ respect and awe for nature and its, then unknown mysteries. It has had an impact on the layout of Chinese architecture and urban planning of that period and since.

 Folk Art in Architecture (Anni Dai)


 The Chen’s Lineage Hall is an academic temple in Guangzhou, China. It was built by 72 Chen clans who intended for it to be a place for the younger generations to prepare for the imperial examinations in Qing Dynasty, 1894. Later on it was used for festivals and nowadays, it is the Guangdong Folk Art Museum, feted for its luxuriant architectural decorations:

The main hall has a large collection of wood carvings, which can be seen at the corners of the beams, walls, and doors. On the beams in the main entrance sit eight pieces of exquisite wood carvings describing historical tales.

Plaster carvings occur mostly on the underside of ridges and the roofs of corridors. The theme of the plaster sculptures is similar to those of pottery crests: scenes in traditional dramas, birds and flowers, pavilions, and landscapes. Since plaster has to be made on site, artists brought their talent to play according to the what they were observing in their actual surroundings.


Brick carvings on the inner walls of each great halls contain figures with distinguished facial expression and poses, those carvings – a 3D translation of Chinese scroll paintings.

The iron engravings in the Chen’s Lineage Hall are mainly used on the platform railings, although it is sometimes not easy to see, the detail is highly elaborate, showing dragons, phoenix and other fantastical creatures, although there are also less threatening characterisations of goldfish too.

 Mu Fu Mansion (Rochen Gong)

It is an epic, hidden in China’s southwestern borderland. There is a saying here that “North has the Forbidden City while south has the Mu Fu Mansion” and it shows the remarkable position of this location and of ruling family structures in Chinese history. Additionally, one of the most famous ancient travelers, Xu Xiake, also had highly praise for this architecture. He claimed that it was good enough to be compared to the buildings of royal family.


The overview of the Mu Fu Mansion

Mu Fu Mansion used to be the main judgment hall (a hall where courts are held) in Lijiang. For three dynasties, the Mu family lorded it, from Yuan through Ming to Qing. In its heyday, the mansion covered an area in one hundred mu (a Chinese unit of area equal to 0.0667 hectares), comprising nearly one hundred buildings – at the heart of Dayan ancient city. Those remnants still exist, including grand palaces, temples, delicate carvings, exquisite components, bright paintings, albeit restored and not authentic (in the Western conceptualisation of the word). However, for the Chinese, these structures reflect the period building techniques and as such, genuine heritage.

According to the Lijiang Government Record, the former Mu Fu Mansion had lofty halls and a “rigorous layout”, whose central axis is 369 meters long, along which are sited the Congress Hall, Scroll Library and Dharmapalas Hall. Its overall architectural style is similar o the Forbidden City in Beijing. Buildings here sit west to the east, meeting the rising sun.


The Congress Hall


The cultural heritage sites and sounds reported here are probably not so famous to the world, or even in China. However, the design practices, philosophical origins, handcraftwork, construction techniques, etc are all being used today as a way to regenerate heritage. In the current climate, where China needs to maintain national cohesion. As a result, such sites are being developed as a way of helping to make history meaningful to us in our more contemporary era. Also, by referencing to those heritages, it is similar as a way of rethinking the past; rethinking history. As Confucius said: “Consider the past, and you shall know the future”.