Arts and Classical Architecture of Taiwan

Boonky Ho, born in 1931, was searching for the true meaning of and experimented with the contemporary art in 1950s. One day, a foreign photographer taking pictures of what Boonky thought was trifle old houses awakened him to the beauty and culture of Taiwan's classical architecture. This incident turned Boonky around and made him realize that to become a great artist, he must search within his own roots and heritages. He started to look for his subject-matter from his surroundings, especially Taiwan's classical architecture. For the past fifty years, he has been tirelessly creating paintings with unique Taiwanese characters. He believes that in order to be recognized and respected internationally as a country, Taiwan must preserves and exalt her own traditional arts and cultures in addition to economic strength and political consciousness. In his works, he often expresses despairs and hopes of Taiwanese people during the white terror period. Bamboo hats and single bird standing symbolize independent country, water buffalos symbolize the strong work ethics of Taiwanese people.

Taiwan's classical architecture.

Generally speaking, four kinds of construction materials were used in the old days, namely bricks, muds, bamboos, and stones.

Houses constructed with bricks usually belong to government officials, wealthy families, or landlords, reflecting their social status.

Muds and rice-stalks are thoroughly mixed by buffalo stamping over and mold into blocks size of a few bricks. Sometimes starch is added to increase the solidity and durability.

Bamboos are used to form the supporting skeletal structure of walls and then coated over with muds mixed with rice-stalk. This type of houses are usually for farmers.

Stones are usually used near seaside, and Pescadores island to better withstand wind.

Of the four types mentioned above, houses made with muds, bamboos, and stones are for ordinary populations. Only brick houses are for people with means, usually one or two landlords in one area or village, and have elaborate structures and designs.

In the following, brick houses are elaborated further.

1. Layout:

A. First dragon rising (Main body):

A linear structure with three rooms is the basis of the house. The center room is the living room with space for ancestor worship decoration. Room at the left is the living quarter for the most senior person and the right is for the second most senior person. If necessary, additional one room each can be added to the left and right of the main body to form a total of five rooms. The last room is the kitchen. If new family members are added, additional one room each is added to the left and right side of the structure, to form a total of seven rooms, and are called "extending hand".

B. Guarding dragons:

If additional rooms are needed due to the arrival of new family members, a three room structure would be constructed to the left side of and perpendicular to the Main Body. It is called guarding dragon meaning to protect the main body. Another guarding dragon can be added to the right side of the main body. These spaces may be used as library, office, or for storage.

C. Three-sided Courtyards:

The five-room Main Body together with two perpendicular Guarding Dragons constitute the three-sided Courtyard with opening in the front.

D. Four-sided Courtyards:

If the opening side of the three-sided Courtyard is enclosed with a fence and a gate in the center, Four-sided Courtyard is formed. Windows on the fence may be used to place guns for defence.

E. Double Guarding Dragons:

One additional structures may be built outside of each Guarding Dragons. These are called Double Guarding Dragons. When Double Guarding Dragons are built, the Main Body must be extended with additional two rooms on each side. Thus the Main Body will have eleven rooms altogether.

F. High Gates:

A High gate can be large as in the City Gate at the entrance of a city, or smaller gate for Three-sided Courtyards or Four-sided Courtyards. Sometimes a double guarding dragon is connected to the guarding dragon with a high gate.

G. Drops:

In an agricultural society, family members stay together to provide needed labors. Therefore, demand for additional living spaces never ends. In order to meet the demand, a second and/or a third Main Body structures may be constructed behind the first Main Body. The first Main Body is called the Front Drop or First Drop, the second and third Main Bodies are called the Middle or Second Drop and the Back or the Third Drop, respectively. The Four-sided Courtyard with three Drops thus possesses a total of sixty nine rooms.

Expressions of Taiwan's Classical Architecture

The beauty and uniqueness of Taiwan's classical architecture are concretely expresses in the designs of swayback roofs, doorways and windows. Their designs reflect wisdom, aesthetic understanding, and love for future generations of the forefathers.

1. Swayback roofs: There are eight types of swayback roofs which represent five elements to enrich and balance family life.

A. Single-flat: represents earth;

B. Double-flat: represents earth;

C. Single-arc: represents wood;

D. Triple-arc: represents water;

E. Acute-angle: represents fire;

F. Multi-angle: represent fire;

G. Multi-lateral: represent wood;

H. Mixed-shape.

2. Decorations of swayback roofs and their meanings: Symbolic designs are used for different purposes:

A. Ward off evil influences: designs of lion faces, tiger faces , mirrors, and swords, etc. are used;

B. Prayer: about four hundred years ago, ancestors of Taiwanese people risk their lives by crossing billowy Taiwan Strait and immigrated to Taiwan to seek better life for themselves and for future generations. The spirits of their love for descendants are expressed exquisitely in concrete forms. Bat designs symbolize happiness; old coins, wealth; and peaches, longevity.

C. Education: Taiwanese ancestors hope their descendants to excel both in letters and swords. Scrolls and books symbolize scholars; swords, physical skills.

D. Social status and virtue of the family: Virtuous landlords or families usually receive gifts of flower-garland containing foods and flowers from their tenants during Lunar New Year celebrations. Even refused, tenants still leave gifts under eaves. These gift items are incorporated forever in the roof decorations to show the virtue of the occupants. Designs used in this respect include eight immortals, flower-garlands and phoenixes (birds).

3. Decorations of the friezes of the doorways and their meanings:

A. Above the doorway: Often Chinese characters are decorated indicating ancestral origin of locality on the mainland and family names, or sometimes pictures or characters are decorated for symbolic purposes.For example:

Kao-yang-tang indicates Hsu family from Kao-yang district;

Ho-nang-tang indicates Chiou family from Ho-nang district;

Lu-chiang-tang indicates Ho family from Lu-chiang;

In-chuan-tang indicates Chung family from In-chuan;

Fen-yang-tang indicates Wu family from Fen-yang;

A picture of lion head is to ward off evil;

Mao-lin is a prayer for prosperities;

Wen-kuei indicates the residence of a government official;

Wu-kuei indicates military official;

Fu-lu-shou or Wu-fu-lin-men written on red papers are decorated during lunar new year.

B. Sides of the doorway:

On each side of the doorway, a pair of rectangular red papers with auspicious poem/phrases written on them are decorated for lunar new year's celebration. The phrases usually are prayer for the family's prosperities or some new year's resolutions.

C. The doors:

Designs of the eight trigram are often decorated on or around the doors or as door knobs. The idea is to ward off evils. Sometimes characters such as "Chia-kuan" and "Chin-lu" are painted on red background on the left and right piece of the door. Also painted are pictures of Door God holding a crown and a jade belt one on each door. These are prayers for the prosperities of the future generations. The phrases "shi-li-chuan-chia" on the doors denote family teachings; while the phrases such as "Li-men", "yi-lu"on temple doors indicate society teachings.

4. Decorations of the windows and their meanings:

There are three types of windows:

A. Brick windows: Bricks are constructed to express Chinese character or vegetation designs.

The most common character designs are:

"longevity", prayer for entire family's health, peace, and longevity;

"double happiness", to celebrate newly wed; and vegetation designs:

pine tree, prayer of longevity;

bamboo, plum blossom, symbolize nobleness and happiness;

deers (lu) symbolize prosperity, and bats (fu), happiness, by virtue of their identical sound.

B. Green-glazed tile windows:

Green color does not fade, therefore symbolizes longevity and prosperity (chang-lu, chang shou).

C. Muds and lime window:

They are made into bamboo shape to symbolize virtue and high moral character (kao-chieh, high node).

4. Swallow-tail shaped roofs designs and their meanings:

Both ends of roof top spine are extended upward to form swallow-tail designs (plates 46, 47, 50, 51, 52, 53). This type of roofs is for temples and government buildings only. Merchants, farmers, and ordinary people are prohibited to use this type of roofs.

Decorations used for Swallow-tail shaped roofs are similar to that of the Sway-back roofs. Usually dragons, phoenixes, elephants, fishes, deers, tigers, small birds, flowers, and Saints etc. are used to symbolize prayers for the happiness, longevity, and prosperity.

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