Chinese Art & Language Classroom

China Tour--001: One Kind of Chinese Ancient Architecture -- Towers

The tower is an important part of ancient Chinese architecture. They were built with bricks and stones, glazed tiles or wood for performing Buddhism ceremony, storing the Sutras, being the cemeteries of famous Buddhist monks and so on.

In the beginning, most of the towers were built together with temples. But now many of them stand alone.

They are famous things to see in China because of their centuries-old history, classical styles, location on the great mountains and beside famous rivers and in graceful environments.


Two famous examples are the Wild Goose Tower of Xian, and the Forest of Towers in Shaolin Temple on Song Mountain. In the Shaolin Temple alone there are more than 240 towers, with a variety of shapes: four sides, six sides, cylinder, cone, etc. The art on the foundations is amazing.

The Xian Wild Goose Tower was built in A.D.652 (Tang dynasty) for storing the Sutra and Buddhist images that were fetched by the famous monk - Xuanzang - from India. It was only five levels at first, then ten and today there are seven levels, with a height of 64 meters. A foursquare tower with bricks sounds primitive, but it is simply grand. The face and two sides of the first floor hold very famous Chinese handwriting. Then people, who were successful candidates in the imperial examinations, would write their names on the tower as the highest honor before going on to an official career.



Another kind of tower, such as Hangzhou Liuhe Tower, was built for repressing the tidewater of Qiantang River in A.D.970. The tower has eight sides with 13 floors outside, seven floors inside, with a height of 60 meters. There are many figures of people, flowers and birds on it. When you stand on the tower, you can overlook the river tidewater - it is a famous view of Hangzhou.

The styles of tower architecture differ by area. In the northern region and central plains of China (the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River), the towers are pure Chinese style. They are eight, six or four sides, like vases, bottles and so on. There are various patterns on the body and were made with bricks and colored glaze. There are decorations overhanging the eaves... such as Yin County Wood Tower, Wutai Mountain Big White Tower and the Henai Kaifeng Iron Tower.

The Shanxi Ying County Wood Tower is the highest and the only existing Chinese ancient wood tower, which was built in 1056. There are eight sides, nine levels inside and six levels outside. The height is 67 meters, there are no iron nails on it, but 54 kinds of different ways of combining the wood. It was built for performing Buddhist ceremonies and standing guard. There is a Sakyamuni statue, six of his pictures and famous handwriting on the first floors. It is called "The First Tower in the World" for its precision and beauty.

The Kaifeng Iron Tower was built in 1049, with a height of 55 meters. Made with glazed tiles, it has eight sides and 13 levels. Because its color is like iron, it is called the "Iron Tower." Now the bottom is buried in the earth from the Yellow River's flooding. It is still tall and straight, as a pillar to prop up the sky. There are 59 kinds of patterns on it, formed from the wonderful art products of glazed tiles of the Song dynasty (A.D.960-1279).


In the southern and western border areas of China, the towers are made with rich colors and fancy forms for absorbing the foreign and the local cultures. The most typical examples are Yunnan Man Dragon Tower and Xinjiang Emin Tower. Yunnan Man Dragon White Tower is also called "Bamboo Shoot Tower" for its white body and golden top, just like a spring bamboo shoot breaking out of the earth. It was built in 1203, which was designed by three Indian monks. It consists of nine towers, and the bottom is a lotus shape. The main tower height is 16 meters, the smaller towers are nine meters. Every tower like a gourd, there are a lot of beautiful patterns of animals, flowers, grass and clouds on them, you could feel a kind of pretty rhythm and emotional appeal from the beautiful architecture. It is the best combination of architectural habits of Tai nation in the southern area with Buddhism and is also the best combination of the different cultures from Chinese inland and broader area.

The Xinjiang Kashi Ermin Tower was built in 1778 by the Tulufan king for commemorating the kindness of the Emperor Qing to his father. The square stone records, why he built the tower. Its height is 37 meters and it was built with bricks. There are 15 kinds of decorative patterns on it. All of them are the traditional styles of the Weiwuer nation. There are 14 windows facing all different directions. There is a spiral staircase with 72 steps inside. The shape of the tower body and the architectural style of is unique in China.

Today, the ancient towers are becoming an important part of the Chinese landscape, as they are the characters of ancient Chinese architecture and culture. They are a necessary part of any visit here.

Thanks for coming to my web site, any question, suggestion and comment is welcomed.

--Shirley
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