Palaces and Power in Early China: Comparative Analysis between Shang and Zhou Elite Courtyard Complexs

Author(s): Xiao Chen; Steffan Gordon; Zhuo Sun

Year: 2016


The courtyard building, enclosed by walls or corridors, was a typical architectural pattern in ancient East Asia. According to archaeological excavations, such as in the Yanshi and Huanbei Shang city sites, and the Zhouyuan Zhou capital site, this pattern emerged early in China, before the emergence of Qin-Han Empires (ca. 221 B.C.E. to 200 C.E.), and then was used widely in high-class buildings such as palaces and ancestral temples. Comparison of the high-class courtyard buildings of the Shang and Zhou periods suggests that the size and proportion of courtyard space decreased, while the interior space of the main hall and length of the north-south axis increased, the surrounding corridors disappeared, a fixed U-shape pathway connecting the entrance and main halls appeared, and sacrificial remains moved from south of the main hall to north. These variations of the fixed- and semifixed-feature elements suggest a concurrent change in the nonfixed-feature elements, the people involved, such as their numbers, relationships, and the types of activities, meetings, or rituals they engaged in within these structures. Space syntax analysis helps to show how these changes in the built environment facilitate changes in strategies for the establishment, transmission and inheritance of power in early China.

Cite this Record

Palaces and Power in Early China: Comparative Analysis between Shang and Zhou Elite Courtyard Complexs. Xiao Chen, Steffan Gordon, Zhuo Sun. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 405123)

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min long: 66.885; min lat: -8.928 ; max long: 147.568; max lat: 54.059 ;