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Chinese architecture is the embodiment of an architectural style that has developed over millennia in China and has influenced architecture throughout East Asia. Since its emergence during the early ancient era, the structural principles of its architecture have remained largely unchanged. The main changes involved diverse decorative details. Starting with the Tang dynasty, Chinese architecture has had a major influence on the architectural styles of neighbouring East Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, and Mongolia in addition to minor influences on the architecture of Southeast and South Asia including the countries of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines.
Chinese architecture is characterized by bilateral symmetry, use of enclosed open spaces, feng shui (e.g. directional hierarchies), a horizontal emphasis, and an allusion to various cosmological, mythological or in general symbolic elements. Chinese architecture traditionally classifies structures according to type, ranging from pagodas to palaces. Due to the frequent use of wood, a relatively perishable material, as well as few monumental structures built of more durable materials, much historical knowledge of Chinese architecture derives from surviving miniature models in ceramic and published diagrams and specifications.
Some specimens show the influence of styles from beyond China, such as the influences on mosque structures originating in the Middle East. Although unifying aspects exist, Chinese architecture varies widely based on status or affiliation, such as whether the structures were constructed for emperors, commoners, or for religious purposes. Other variations in Chinese architecture are shown in vernacular styles associated with different geographic regions and different ethnic heritages.
The architecture of China is as old as Chinese civilization. From every source of information—literary, graphic, exemplary—there is strong evidence testifying to the fact that the Chinese have always enjoyed an indigenous system of construction that has retained its principal characteristics from prehistoric times to the present day. Over the vast area from Chinese Turkistan to Japan, from Manchuria to the northern half of French Indochina, the same system of construction is prevalent; and this was the area of Chinese cultural influence. That this system of construction could perpetuate itself for more than four thousand years over such a vast territory and still remain a living architecture, retaining its principal characteristics in spite of repeated foreign invasions—military, intellectual, and spiritual—is a phenomenon comparable only to the continuity of the civilization of which it is an integral part.— Liang Sicheng, 1984
Throughout the 20th century, Chinese architects have attempted to bring traditional Chinese designs into modern architecture. Moreover, the pressure for urban development throughout China requires high speed construction and a greater floor area ratio: thus, in cities the demand for traditional Chinese buildings (which are normally less than 3 levels) has declined in favor of high-rises. However, the traditional skills of Chinese architecture, including major and minor carpentry, masonry, and stonemasonry, are used in the construction of vernacular architecture in China's rural areas.