North-south alignment, the square and high walls are the three elements which form the basis ofthe traditional Chinese town plan.
According to the rules of geomancy (fengshui) which are based on the concepts of Yin and Yang – the contradictory and complementary constituents of all phenomena-every human dwelling must face away from the north representing cold and shadow (Yin) and face towards the south for light and the sun (Yang). The minor axis should run at right angles to the main north-south axis – an idea which would later accord with the principle of local and functional symmetry, an element of Confucian thinking.
The significance of the square originates in ancient Chinese thinking which visualised heaven as a sphere and the earth as a square. Living space could only be created in accordance with these geometric configurations. Houses, palaces, temples, even whole towns were built accordingly. In the Shang and Zhou Dynasties (16th c-221 b.c.) country estates were planned using the “jintian” model, in which a square was divided into nine plots. The middle plot was common land and cultivated communally by the families living in the eight adjoining plots.
Fortified walls are an inheritance of the first Chinese dynasty, the war-like Shang (16th 11th c. b.c.), who always built tall defensive walls around their settlements. The two concepts “cheng” (wall, enclosure) and “yi” (fortification) now combine to create the Chinese word for “town”. Despite the flourishing economy and active trading links which several towns enjoyed between the 7th and 14th c. they were not able even in the course of their later historical developmentto grow out of their role as military garrison and administrative centre. They were also committed to this state function by Confucian teaching. Fie constructed the classical code (zhou li) by which Chinese society was expected to abide and which included a treatise on town planning known as”jian ren” (the builder). It clearly established the nature ofthe relationship that urban settlements were to maintain between each other and the imperial capital.
At an administrative level the “jian ren” created a hierarchical structure not unlike the hierarchy within the nobility. Every level within the feudal system had a corresponding type of town. The emperor’s town was laid out as a square with each side split into nine units in a way similartotheold “jintian” pattern for dividing up agricultural land. The size of other towns corresponded with the position of the feudal lord within the hierarchy. The lower his rank, the smaller the town. This formalised ranking system was based on such criteria as size, height and numbers. No town could be larger than the emperor’s and no building bigger than his palace.
At the time that the “jian ren” was devised there was no firm guidance for the varied situations which existed in the real world. The walls of the Zhou Dynasty settlements often followed an irregular course allowing for the natural contours of the locality. Linzhe (near Zhengzhou) the Qi capital, for example, had an asymmetrical enclosure, Luoyang’s outer walls had to accommodate a number of unusual salients, while in Shanghai the old town is elliptical in shape.
This gap between theory and practice closed over the centuries and the town-planning “jian ren” guidelines served as a binding model for later planners.
Chang’an (now Xi’an), capital of the Tang Dynasty, was the first town constructed in accordance with Confucian guidelines. It was built between a.d. 600 and 800 on the ruins of the earlier Han town.
A high, rectangular defensive wall-made originally out of straw and mud but from Mongol rule onwards out of stones and bricks has since surrounded the town, protecting it from the gaze of outsiders. Depending on the size and importance of a town, each ofthe four walls would be reinforced by a number of towers.
The town was divided into districts, also enclosed. Straight roads constructed on a north south or east-west axis crossed each other at right angles, forming the boundaries between the individual districts, but the roads surrounded a confusing maze of alleyways. In the centre of the town a second ring of walls enclosed the Forbidden City, comprising the emperor’s residence and military garrison. Market stalls lined this second inner wall allowing the town’s administrators to oversee all economic activity, while in the middle of the town, at the heart ofthe Forbidden City, stood the imperial palace, although hidden well away from the gaze of the court by another high wall.
This long and stubborn adherence to a town planning model incorporating old architectural theories bears witness to the imperial bureaucracy’s inability to move beyond feudalism. Private initiatives were