CITIES. The city in ancient City in ancient China is many things. In the cosmological landscape, it is an industrial machine designed to capture and redistribute Qi, the divine breath, the power that animates human affairs and carries with it the mandate of heaven. It is embodied in the magic square, Feng. In this section of the course, we will look at the contents of that magic square and some of the logic that binds it together. Later, in other sections, we will look at how the magic square developed, and how the belief system that represents still exerts vast cultural power in modern China.


On the left, we have the Shang Dynasty ideograph for "city." It is a kneeling person beneath a city wall. The kneeling person signifies submission to the state and the burden of citizenship. It recognizes that a city is most essentially the people who live within its walls. The city wall is not simply a matter of defense. Cosmologically, it creates a divine vessel that centers God's rule on earth and projects the power of the state. Hence, traditional chinese cities and the governments they nurture are primarily sacred in their fundamental nature.

On the right, he ideograph for "capital" adds the symbol for a granary, which evolves into the symbol for a market.


Atop Xian's city wall. This is the largest ancient city wall still in tack in China. Built in the 14th century, the wall is more than 12 miles long and encloses 5.4 square miles.

Learn more about Xian's city wall

Tour Xian's city wall

Move Out and Build In
The history, current city planning, & future of Xian

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The Kaogongji (Kao Gong Ji) was an official guide that set forth standards to be followed in various crafts and trades, including those for the structure of a provincial-level capital for a prince. It dates to the late Spring and Autumn period (about 500 BC), but the oldest surviving copy dates to 1235 AD. According to the Kaogongji:
   "When the builder constructs the capital, the city should be a fang (a four-sided orthogonal shape) nine li on each side with three gates each. Within the city are nine longitudinal and nine latitudinal streets, each of them 9 carriages wide. On the left (i.e. east) is the Ancestral Temple, on the right (west) are the Altars of Soil and Grain, in front is the Hall of Audience and behind the markets."
   The Kaogongji, which disrupts movement within the city by having a large, walled administrative district in the center, was used by early states particularly in southern China and owes much of it's spatial arrangement to the field well system, which places activities that directly support the ruler in the center of a three-by-three grid. As administrative cities increased in size and complexity, this design was impractical and another, also based on the field well system, was widely adopted.

Get the presentation on the field well system


Daxing was built by the Sui dynasty Emperor Wen in 582 AD and renamed Chang'an in 618 AD by the first Tang dynasty Emperor Gaozu (Li Yuan, Duke of Tang), and was abandoned in 904 AD when Emperor Zhu Quanzhong moved the capitol to Luoyang. The map at the left shows Chang'an at its height during the Tang Dynasty. The layout was created in 582, but the extensions on its north side and some changes in the Imperial City occurred later in the Tang period.

Read about Chang'an, it's development and many components.

Some of the places we will look at in Tang Chang'an.


Changan through time.


An alternative tradition for the design of ancient Chinese cities is mirrored by the arrangement of military forces for the purpose of training and in battle. Tai Gong (Jiang Ziya, system on left) was Duke of Zhou in the 11th century BC. Li Jing (system right) was a famous Tang general. Depending on the period, a pace varied between ca. 1.0 and 1.5 meters. These systems are also based on the field well mandala:


The basic units used to construct the grid at Chang'an.


Grid units superimposed on plan of Chang'an.


Plot definition at Chang'an.


Ward structure in Chang'an.


Location of Yongning Ward at Chang'an.

Yongning Ward populated with typical structures assuming a 15 x 30 meter plot size. Click to enlarge.

Yongning Ward built out assuming a 15 x 15 meter plot size, as seen from above. Click here to enlarge.

The upper lefthand quarter of Yongning Ward projected as an architectural model Note the agricultural production. Click here to enlarge.


Detail from within Yongning Ward. Notice the open sewers.

Residential houses in Tang Chang'an, rebuilt as part of the the Daming Palace Ruins Region.

Read about the Daming Palace Ruins Region in Xian.

Move Out, Build In: read about how this projects fits into Xian urban planning.

Buddhist and Taoist religious structures in Chang'an. Click to enlarge.

Zoroastrian, Manichean, Mazdaist and Nestorian religious structures in Chang'an. Click here to enlarge.

The location of known family shrines in Chang'an. Click here to enlarge.

Chang'an government offices and military facilities. Click here to enlarge.

Chang'an shops and hostels. Click here to enlarge.


Chang'an waterways.

The eastern market in Tang Chang'an.

The eastern market in Tang Chang'an.

The eastern market in Tang Chang'an.

Do a flyover of the Eastern Market.

1894_Chinese_pass_for_Dr_Morrison, who travelled 3,000 miles, mostly by foot, from Shanghai to Rangoon.

Learn about this audacious Australian.

Mingda Gate, southern entrence to Tang Chang'an.

Mingda Gate from above showing the city that lay beyond. Notice the cart tracks and the five entrences - and also the difference between the two reconstructions.

Danfeng Gate, Daming Palace, Chang'an.  Read gates with five doors.

Daming Palace.

Front elevation, Hanyuan Hall, Daming Palice, Chang'an. This hall was used to receive foreign dellegations.

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Front elevation, Hanyuan Hall, Daming Palice, Chang'an. This hall was used to receive foreign dellegations.

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Rear elevation, Hanyuan Hall, Daming Palice, Chang'an.

Linde Hall, Daming Palice, Chang'an. This hall was used for parties and entertainments.

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Rebuilding of Linde Hall, Daming Palice, Chang'an, which you can visit today in Xian.

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Read about the Daming Palace Ruins Region in Xian.

Move Out, Build In: read about how this projects fits into Xian urban planning.

Xian City planning, 1990 to 2020.

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In Tang Chang'an, the nine-in-one square is the basis for planning the internal layout of the city. It governs the size and location of spaces with different functions. It defines the number and position of streets and gates. Gates insure the proper separation of societal functions. It is also used to organize the governing of the state. For example, as there are nine internal divisions and 12 external segments, there are a total of 12 ministers of whom three are high ministers of state. The nine internal squares also represent the nine provinces of China. This is reflected in an annual ritual in which the Emperor - the Son of Heaven - visits the locus of each province as it is embodied within his capitol city. It defines where the rituals of state are performed, where ancestors are worshiped, where the activities of religious orders are situated, and many aspects of the religious rites themselves.


Just to remind you of the the family building units.


Center of power


Beijing in plan view.


Approaching heaven in Beijing.


Tang Cloud Pillar in Beijing.


The Chinese cartographic view of the city. This is the cover illustration from Chinese Imperial City Planning, by Nancy Steinhardt. A good, watery choice - and a good book.


A city as represented in a 19th century gazetteer, with it's satellite towns and villages, its water and its mountains; that is to say, its qi resources.


From another gazetteer. A somewhat different artistic conception, but the same things are important.


Here is a similar landscape as viewed through the sensibilities of a Western cartographer.


Idealized geometry of central places.


This is a bit of China showing a series of districts and the distribution of their central places. Each cell is thought of as a distortion of the ideal geometry seen above. If you can show what causes the distortion, you can understand Chinese utilization of the landscape.


This is what the distribution of central places looks like superimposed on a traditional Chinese map.


County seats in 1095 AD (black) and 1550 AD (red). Notice the remarkable stability over a period of 455 years for seats previously settled territory and the addition of red flags in areas little settled in the earlier period.


The central place hierarchy in 1050 AD, showing province, prefecture and county capitals. Notice the relationship between the situation of these cities and agriculturally important, lowland basins.