Qing Dynasty Architecture

Chengde Mountain Resort

The Qing dynasty was the last dynasty of imperial China, ruled by the nomadic Manchu ethnic group. This period was from 1644 to 1912, marking the architectural aspect of the time with a mixture of traditional Chinese characteristics as well as Western and Manchurian influences. 

According to the Chinese-published paper, On the Form Models and Their Context of the China’s 20th-Century Heritage Architecture, urbanization remained at a minimum, showing a contrast between progressive cities and simple villages with vast farmlands. However, the Opium Wars that began in 1839 and ended with treaties with the West brought about five new ports that slowly opened the country to industrial and modern buildings. Communal buildings were also created for commercial, educational, entertainment, and religious purposes. These developments were still behind the official style or “classical Chinese style” used in the country’s architecture throughout its history. These include features in imperial palaces, religious temples, and government infrastructures. 


The Qing dynasty was preceded by the Han Chinese Ming dynasty, which the Manchus aimed to emulate in their rule. Thus, many Qing dynasty architectural characteristics are similar to that of the previous dynasty. There was a great emphasis on intricate details and patterns. Condensed structures were decorated with precise details. Additionally, one of the improvements that the Manchu leaders brought was the advancement of wooden architecture, evident in the Qianlong Garden in the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and the Old Summer Palace. 

After the Opium Wars, many Chinese heritage structures were destroyed and replaced with westernized buildings. Foreign building materials such as cement, bricks, glass, and stone were brought into the country, competing with the timber framework or skeleton commonly used for ancient Chinese architecture. This structure stood on a masonry platform with a pitched roof covering it. The roofs usually had overhanging eaves. Additionally, the introduction of steel reinforcing bars and concrete became increasingly popular during this time. 

Notable Architectures

Chengde Summer Mountain Resort

The luxurious mountain resort in Chengde city was used by the Kangxi, Qianlong, and Jiaqing emperors for some months during the summer. The second Qing emperor, Kangxi, had the resort made. The imperial family used the place during the warm periods of Beijing and the Forbidden city because Chengde was located between the warm temperate zone and the cold temperate zone. The heat from the sun was covered by mountains that protected the valley from the harsh weather. Both Jiaqing and Xianfeng emperors passed away in the location.

The resort was built from 1703 to 1792 under Qing rule, taking 89 years to complete. It was an expansive land with an array of administrative and ceremonial buildings and palaces. A wide range of architectural styles was used to combine the Tibetan religious temples with the imperial gardens. Appreciation for nature was a common theme in the complex, with lakes, forests, and pastureland covering the area. The resort had 120 buildings, 11 temples, and other beautiful sites. 

Qing Dynasty Eastern Tombs 

Found in the town of Malanyu in Zunhua County, the Eastern tombs have been preserved until present-day as one of the most intricately planned, biggest tombs parks in China, the area covering 80 square kilometers. It was constructed in the second year of the Kangxi Emperor and contains a total of 15 tombs for the imperial family; 5 for the emperors, 4 for the empresses, 5 for imperial concubines, and 1 for a princess. There are 235 buildings in the area. Mountains encircle the royal mausoleum complex. 

Five emperors were laid to rest there: Shunzhi, Kangxi, Qianlong, Xianfeng, and Tongzhi. Shunzhi was the first emperor of the Qing dynasty and thus the first to be buried in the Eastern tombs. These rulers valued their final resting places because of their views of the afterlife. Extravagant carvings and tiles with dragons as thematic elements and geometric patterns based on feng shui are evident in the location. The hierarchy was of utmost importance in the planning of the mausoleums, with the emperor at the highest position.

The Old Summer Palace

The Old Summer Palace, also referred to as the Imperial Gardens or the Winter Palace, was once the residence of the family of Qing Emperor Qianlong. The ruler still performed official duties and ceremonies at the Forbidden City but chose to live in the area which stood near the Jade Spring Hill. The naturally beautiful and refreshing landscapes were complemented by the harmonious architectural features added by Qing designers. 

Three gardens comprised the Old Summer Palace: the Garden of Perfect Brightness, the Garden of Eternal Spring, and the Garden of Elegant Spring. Religious structures such as temples were essential to the Qing emperor. He was the 6th Qing emperor and was known as a patron of the arts; thus, galleries and traditional halls were built upon which he could displace his collection. Other structures such as pavilions and ceremony halls served political, recreational, spiritual, and residential purposes. 

Despite the location being attached to the Qianlong, its construction was initiated by the Kangxi emperor for his son, Yongzheng emperor, in 1707. Qianlong would only later take residence in the imperial gardens. It was later sacked and destroyed during the Second Opium War. 

Qianlong Garden in the Forbidden City

The Qianlong Garden is called many names: Qianlong Palace, The Palace of Tranquil Longevity, and Qianlong District are a few. Its name could be translated to “peaceful old age palace.” It was a palace found in the imperial Forbidden City in Beijing, the city which was inhabited by Ming and Qing dynasty emperors. 

The Imperial Gardens was commissioned and designed by the Qianlong emperor in the 1770s. It contains 27 intricately decorated pavilions and four courtyards. The emperor had supposedly built the palace as his residence once he retired; however, he never slept in this palace as he continued to guide his son, Jiaqing, throughout his rule. 

Summer Palace

The Summer Palace was another imperial garden made during the Qing dynasty under the Qianlong emperor. Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill can be found in the area. Furthermore, the Summer Palace is different from the Old Summer Palace which was destroyed during the Second Opium War, rather it was constructed to celebrate Empress Dowager Chongqing’s 60th birthday. She was Qianlong’s mother. 

Many imperial gardens were created during the time of Qianlong, which increased the need for water to maintain the flora on these properties. It was not only known for its lavishly furnished halls but also for the three lakes that served as a reservoir for the place: the Western Lake, Gaoshui Lake, and Yangshuo Lake. The agricultural lands also used the water source near the palace. 

The number three was significant not only in the number of lakes that provided water but also through the divine mountains from Chinese mythology, which heavily influenced the design of the area. Three islands named Nanhu Island, Tuancheng Island, and Zaojiantang Island were also built on Kunming lake to follow this theme. Stone arch bridges, traditional Chinese pavilions, and halls add to the beautiful residence. It was eventually looted and taken down in 1860 during the Second Opium War. At present-day, it is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.