Glazed Tiles and Imperial Architecture 琉璃瓦与宫廷建筑
A: I went to the Forbidden City on Sunday. It was a beautiful day with a blue sky and white clouds. The yellow tiles looked gorgeous.
B: Glazed tiles are unique to Chinese architecture. They were used exclusively on Imperial Palaces and buildings. Junior officials or ordinary people were not allowed to use them. That’s why you can only see them in the Forbidden Palace, the Summer Palace and other Imperial architecture. There is a place in Beijing called Liu Li Chang, which means “glazed tile factory.” It is where glazed tiles were made during the Ming Dynasty.
A: Is yellow the only color for those tiles?
B: No, there are other colors such as green, blue, purple and black. There were strict rules for the use of the tiles: yellow tiles for Imperial Palaces and green tiles for the homes of the Emperors’ brothers.
A: Sound special! Could you tell me more about the colors?
B: The colors are related to the five elements that make up our world. Those elements are metal,wood, water, fire and earth and they are represented by the colors of white,green,black,red and yellow. Each element is also influenced by the four seasons. The five regions on earth are ruled, respectively, by five different Emperors. The Yellow Emperor is in the center and is assisted by the God of Earth. In the east is the Green Emperor, who is assisted by the God of Wood and is responsible for spring. The Red Emperor in the south is assisted by the God of Fire and is responsible for summer. The White Emperor is in the west. He is assisted by the God of Metal and is responsible for autumn. The Black Emperor is in the north, being assisted by the God of Water and responsible for winter. So, the colors used in traditional architecture correspond to the theory of the Five Elements and Five Regions.
A: Are those theories used in any of the contemporary buildings?
B: Not much. The Ten MileStone buildings, built in the 1950s, followed the traditional style but not today’s landmark buildings in Beijing. Those buildings were designed together with Western architects. They seldom use any of the traditional colors.
A: If Beijing uses the five Olympic colors to dress up the city it will definitely look very impressive. It will also be in turn with the Five Color theory.
B: That’s an interesting thought. Unfortunately there is no white in Olympic colors, otherwise it would be a perfect match to the Five Colors.