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Taoist Architecture

Taoist architecture mainly refers to the Taoist temple buildings, which basically consist of the divine hall, the alter, the room for reading sculptures and practicing asceticism, the living room, the reception room for pilgrims, and the park where visitors can have a rest. The general layout adopts the form of Chinese traditional courtyard, with the divine hall on the mean axis and the reception room and Taoists' living room, etc., on both sides. Together with a park cleverly built on the basis of the architectural complex, a kind of fairyland thus comes into being.


Taoist temple buildings also clearly reflect Taoists' strong will in the pursuit of happiness, longevity and immortality.

Taoism is a religion native to China. Laozi, (also spelled Lao-Tse, Lao Tsu, Lao Tzu, etc.) a famous thinker living in 6th Century BC, established this philosophy and came to be regarded as the father of Taoism. It formed mainly during Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220). Many Taoist ideas and thoughts are greatly reflected in Taoist architecture.

Taoism pursues the harmonious unity of humans and nature. Taoists skillfully built temples that conformed to the contours of the land. Starting with inherited Chinese traditional ideas of construction, they added their own concepts. Splendorous symmetric architectural complexes are composed of many ordinary yards spreading orderly along a central axis. In every single yard, there are neatly located attached architectural structures. The whole layout reflects Taoists' emphasis on order and equability.

Taoist architecture includes various structures according to different functions, categorized as palace for oblation and sacrifice, altar for praying and offering, cubby for religious service, residence for Taoist abbes and garden for visitors.
During the last period of the East Han Dynasty when Taoism was introduced, Taoist ascetics mostly lived in huts and even caves in remote mountains under guidance of their philosophy of nature.

Early Taoist architectures were all traditional.

During the Jin dynasty and the Northern and Southern dynasty, Taoism experienced reforms and was accepted by the rulers. Many Taoist temples were set up in the capital under imperial orders. Taoist architecture reached a rather large scale then.


   The roof decoration of a traditional building in the Yuquan Temple - a taoist temple in Tianshui

Taoism reached its peak during the Tang Dynasty and the Song Dynasty, when Chinese timber framed architecture, characterized by high base, broad roof and perfect integration of decoration and function, matured in all aspects. There were strict regulations on size, structure, decoration and use of colour. For the 660 years, Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism influenced each other, so that certain structures in Buddhism and Confucianism architectures were transformed into Taoism architecture. As a result, there remained similarities in designing and grouping among the three systems.

Taoist architecture applies two architectural styles - traditional style and Bagua style.

In the former style, traditional architectural layout, which is symmetric, will be applied. Main halls will be set up on the central axis, while other religious structures on the two sides. Usually, on the northwest corner of the complex, Lucky Land to Meet God will be located. Annexes like dining hall and accommodation will be located at the back or the flank of the complex.

The second is the Bagua style in which all structures surround the Danlu (stove to make pills of immortality) in the center according to Bagua's position request. The center axis from the south to the north is very long and structures flank the axis. The style reflects Taoist philosophy that the human cosmos follows the natural cosmos to integrate energy, qi and spirit.


   A taoist in Yuquan Temple, Gansu

Most Taoist architectures resort to nature topography to build towers, pavilions, lobbies and other garden structural units, decorated with murals, sculptures and steles to entertain people, fully interpreting Taoist philosophy of nature.

Taoist architectural decoration reflects Taoist pursuit of luck and fulfillment, long lifespan, and eclosion into the fairyland. Taoist architectural motifs are all meaningful. Celestial bodies mean brightness shining everywhere while landscape and rocks immortality. Folding fan, fish, narcissus, bat and deer are used to imply beneficence, wealth, celestial being, fortune and official position, while pine and cypress stand for affection, tortoise for longevity, crane for man of honor. There are many other symbols very traditional and Taoist decorations root deep in Chinese folk residential houses

Taoist architecture provides us an opportunity to experience genuine Taoist culture. It has important artistic and historic values in lucubrating Taoist philosophy and thought of ancient China.

Famous Taoist Holy Mountains in China include Mt. Wudang, Mt. Longhushan, Mt. Qingcheng and Mt. Laoshan. And Famous Taoist Holy Temples are Qingyang Temple, Taoist Temple of the Eight Immortals (Ba Xian An) and Wong Tai Sin Temple.


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