Chinese cities grew from a very early age. Slightly later than some of the Sumerian civilizations but parallel to some middle east civilizations. The first evidence of urban city and civilization in China was in 2000bc. From the earliest cities they carried a continuity in there urban form. This was down to the Chinese importance of the plan and an early scripting of what a Chinese city should be made up of. Chinese attitudes towards tradition and continuity were strong. With each new dynasty creating a new capital, usually in new locations, but all returning to traditional planning.
Chinese imperial cities all had a few key features that most stuck to. For a start Every city had walls. Initially the walls were for defence as china’s vassals were fighting. So a wall and sometimes a moat were essential. This led to a lot of rectilinear walls being fundamental in Chinese planning, The ‘walls within walls’ theme is very popular. In Written Chinese the Word for a city is ‘Cheng’ Which also means city wall.
A gate or several gates opened to each direction from the city, leading to the countryside and connecting thoroughfares. The layout of the streets was regular and in a grid pattern, with the palace office at the centre. Important streets ran in a north south direction, creating a strong axis in the city. From these early cities a book was written during the spring and autumn (772-481bc) of the zhou dynasty, which is clearly based on Confucian doctrines. Here is Confucian. he placed emphasis on moral order and observance of the family and social relationships of authority, obedience, and mutual respect. His emphasis on tradition and ethics attracted a growing number of pupils during his lifetime.(552-479bc)
One of the main ideals of the book was to symbolize the palace as the center of power and emphasized the authority of the emperor. Here is an extract: (OHP) The master builders who laid out a capital, made it a square and three miles on a side, each side having three gateways. Within a capital city there were nine lengthwise and nine crosswise avenues.(usually this was interpreted as having 3 avenues from each side- being composed of 3 parallel roads.) with the width of each avenue nine chariot tracks or axle widths. On the left (east) Was located the ancestral temple, on the right, the alter of the earth. The court and palace were placed in front (south) and to the rear, the marketplace (north).
It was the Chinese custom to place important things, or an important guest to the east. Thus the ancestral temple is placed there as it was considered more important than the Alter of the Earth. Also the width of these main roads varied according to whether it was a main ring road or a suburban road. This indicated that even 2500 years ago the width of the roads varied to accommodate different levels of traffic.
This text was followed right up to the cities of Dadu, of the Yuan dynasty and Beijing of the Ming dynasty, some 2000 years after it was written! In China the dynasties are complicated and the way they created a new capital each time complicates things further. I have prepared a brief timeline which only covers the major dynasties and some of the major cities they created. Some of which were covered in the lecture.