Yingbi, known as a "screen wall" in English, is the isolated wall either outside or just inside the gate of a traditional Chinese house to shield the rooms from outsiders' view. It is also called Zhaobi or Zhaoqiang in Chinese. It can be made of any material-brick, wood, stone or glazed tile. If you are lucky enough, you may see the Yingbi in the folk villages along your China tour.
The yingbi dates back at least to the Western Zhou Dynasty (11 century-771 BC). In ancient times, the Yingbi was a symbol of rank. According to the Western Zhou system of rites, only royal palaces, noblemen's mansions and religious temples could have a screen wall. Apart from keeping passers-by from peeping into the courtyard, the screen wall could also be used by the visitor, who would get off from his carriage and, standing behind the wall, tidy up his dress before going in. It was not until much later that private houses (mainly the quadrangles of bungalows in the northern parts of the country) began to have screen walls. Many students show great interest to the distinctive Yingbi while enjoying their China educational tours.
The most exquisite of all ancient screen walls are three "nine-dragon walls" built of glazed color tiles. The largest of these, 45.5m X 8m X 2.02m, is now in the city ofDatong,ShanxiProvince. It originally stood in front of the princely mansion of the thirteenth son of Zhu Yuanzhang, first emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Sculpted on it in seven different colors are nine dragons flying in clouds. The most splendid of the three is the one which belonged to a palace of the Ming Dynasty and now stands north of the lake inBeijing'sBeihaiPark. It is a mosaic of glazed color tiles showing on each side nine curly dragons in relief. An observant visitor could also count 635 dragons of smaller sizes on the ridges and roof tiles of the wall. The third of these walls stands opposite the Huangji Gate in theForbidden City and is well-known to sightseers. All the three mentioned above were built during the Ming Dynasty and all used to stand in front of the entrance to a courtyard, making a component part of the architectural complex and adding to the magnificence of the buildings. So along your China travel packages of Beijing, you could see the Yingbi in theForbidden City.
There is a screen wall in each of the side palace courtyards of the Forbidden City. Whether made of wood, carved out of marble or built with glazed tiles, it is invariably a fine piece of work with designs symbolic of good luck.In the vicinity of the Five Dragon Pavilions (Wulongting) in the Beihai Park of Beijing, there is a so-called "iron screen wall," a relic from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) of the thirteenth century. At first glance, it appears to have been cast of iron but actually it is a piece of volcanic rock. Carved on it in vivid style are, on one side, lions playing with a ball and, on the other, a legendary unicorn; it is noted for its antiquity and simplicity of execution. It is no wonder that so many architecture-addicts particularly like to discover Yingbi along their China tour deals.
Chinese palaces, temples and mansions have on their roofs a special kind of ornaments called Wenshou or zoomorphic ornaments, some on the main ridges and some on the sloping and branch ridges. Along your China travel of Beijing, you would see the Zoomorphic Ornaments decorated in the corner of each wall in the Forbidden City.
The monstrous thing at either end of the main ridge, called Chiwen, appears roughly like the tail of a fish. Fierce and formidable, it looks as if it were ready to devour the whole ridge; so it is also known as Tunjishou or the ridge-devouring beast. It is, according to Chinese mythology, one of the sons of the Dragon King who rules the seas. It is said to be able to stir up waves and change them into rains. So in ancient times, a Chiwen was put at either end of the main ridge to conjure up downpour to put out any fire that might break out. But for fear that it might gobble up the ridge, ancient Chinese transfixed it on the roof with a sword.At the end of the sloping and branch ridges there are often a string of smaller animals, their sizes and numbers being decided by the status of the owner of the building in the feudal hierarchy. The zoomorphic ornaments is just a vivid reflection of Chinese culture on architecture.
The largest number of zoomorphic ornaments is found on Taihedian (the Hall of Supreme Harmony) of theForbidden City. Leading the flock is a god riding a phoenix, after whom come a dragon, a phoenix, a lion, a heavenly horse, a sea horse and five other mythological animals, all called by unusual names. Qianqinggong (the Palace of Heavenly Purity), which the emperor used as his living quarters and his office for handling daily affairs, being next in status to Taihedian, has a band of nine animal figures. Still next in importance is Kunninggong (thePalaceofFemale Tranquility), which served as the empress's apartments; it has a group of seven zoomorphic figures. This number is further reduced to five for the twelve halls in side courtyards that used to house the imperial concubines of different grades. Some of the side halls have only one animal figure each on their roofs. These small animals were also believed to be capable of putting out fires. Many China tour agents designed different kinds of China tours for the architecture-lovers to discover unique Chinese architecture along the trip.
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