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A semi-circular roof tile with two men riding horses on it

A fancy roof tile from the Zhou Dynasty

What were people building?

By the time of the Zhou Dynasty, about 1100 BC, there seem to have been a lot of big palaces and shrines to people’s ancestors. But nothing much is left of any of them for us to look at now.

The Zhou Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty art
Assyrian palaces
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What building materials did they use?

We know from stories and songs written down at this time that these palaces were built mainly of big wooden beams. They had rammed earth walls, like the buildings of the Shang Dynasty. They had courtyards. Archaeology tells us that some of these buildings had clay roof tiles.

Shang Dynasty architecture
Shang houses and altars
Clay bricks and tiles
What is clay?

What kind of houses did they have?

The songs also tell us that rich people’s houses already looked a lot the way rich people’s houses looked in later China, with walls around them and courtyards and more private areas for the women in the back.

Chinese houses
Inside Chinese houses
Women in ancient China

Special rules for rich people

The Zhou emperors made laws about how fancy your house could be. Only the emperors were allowed to have artists carve their pillars and paint them red. Only the very richest families could paint their pillars black. People who were not so rich painted their pillars yellow.

Why do people plaster walls?

But most people were too poor to have any pillars at all in their house, and they just had rammed earth walls, whitewashed or plastered to keep them clean, with a firepit in the center, just like in the Shang dynasty.

Qin Dynasty architecture
More Chinese Architecture

Bibliography and further reading about ancient Chinese architecture:

Zhou Dynasty History
Zhou Dynasty Art
Qin Dynasty architecture
More about Chinese Architecture
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