In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Palace Architecture in Premodern China (Ming-Qing)

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Official Architecture
  • Forbidden City Palace Planning and Layout
  • The Three Halls in the Forbidden City
  • Gardens, Retreats, and Temples in the Forbidden City
  • Forbidden City Interior Furnishings and Decoration
  • Shenyang (Mukden)
  • Bishu shanzhuang and Chengde (Rehe or Jehol)
  • Yuanming Yuan and Yihe Yuan
  • Palace Construction Materials

Chinese Studies Palace Architecture in Premodern China (Ming-Qing)
Aurelia Campbell
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0208


The majority of scholarship on palace architecture from the Ming and Qing dynasties concentrates on the Forbidden City (Zijincheng 紫禁城) in Beijing. This palace served as the emperor’s primary residence and seat of power for more than five centuries, from the early Ming dynasty (1368–1644) to the end of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Most of the current buildings date to the Qing dynasty and are continuously refurbished (if not entirely rebuilt) to keep them in pristine shape for the millions of tourists who visit the palace, now a museum, annually. The two most prolific publishers of Chinese-language scholarship on the architecture of the Forbidden City are the academic press associated with the palace, Gugong chubanshe 故宮出版社 (formerly Zijincheng chubanshe 紫禁城出版社) and Zhongguo jianzhu gongye chubanshe 中國建築工業出版社, which publishes extensively on premodern Chinese architecture. While English-language scholarship on the Forbidden City’s architecture is still scant, it has been growing in recent years alongside the more general expansion of the field of Ming and Qing architectural history. The summer palaces of the Qing emperors—Bishu shanzhuang 避暑山莊 (“Mountain Estate to Escape the Heat”) in Chengde, Hebei; Yuanming Yuan 圓明園 (“Garden of Perfect Brightness”) and Yihe Yuan 頤和園 (“Garden of Preserving Harmony”), located northwest of the Forbidden City in Beijing—have also generated a great deal of scholarship in recent years. Because much of the early architecture at both Bishu shanzhuang and Yuanming Yuan no longer survives, scholars have devoted much of their attention to trying to understand the architectural histories of these sites through textual evidence, visual documentation, archaeology, and new digital technologies. Much more so than the Forbidden City, the Qing summer palaces incorporate natural landscape elements such as lakes, islands, forests, and grasslands into their designs, and therefore have been examined from the angle of landscape studies in addition to architectural history.

General Overviews

For scholars seeking an overview of the most important imperial sites and buildings in the Ming and Qing dynasties, the best places to start research are Pan 1999 and Sun 2002. Though not strictly about palatial architecture, these volumes provide a solid introduction, accompanied by detailed line drawings, to the most important palace buildings. Yu Zhuoyun has published a vast amount of scholarship on the architecture of the Forbidden City. Yu 1984 is the most comprehensive English publication to date on the palace’s architecture. Yu 1995 and Yu 2001 offer excellent overviews of all aspects of the palace architecture, from the general (palace layout) to the specific (bracket-sets). Yu Zhuoyun, together with Shan Shiyuan, the former deputy director of the Palace Museum, was the editor of a seven-volume collection of essays that cover an enormous range of topics related to the Forbidden City (Shan and Yu 1997–2013). Shan Shiyuan was a pioneer of scholarship on the Forbidden City’s architecture, particularly from a historical and textual perspective. His writings on the subject were published after his death in Shan 2015. He and Wang 2017 and Lei and Li 2005 are excellent resources for scholarship pertaining to the Lei 雷family of architects, who designed and constructed imperial palaces throughout the Qing dynasty. Scholarship on the Lei family provides a useful introduction to Qing palace architecture.

  • He Beijie 何蓓洁 and Wang Qiheng 王其亨. Qing dai Yangshi Lei shijia ji qi jianzhu tudang yanjiu shi (清代样式雷世家及其建筑图档研究史). Beijing: Zhongguo jianzhu gongye chubanshe, 2017.

    A thorough overview of scholarship on the Lei family archives from the last century. Includes a useful appendix of facsimiles of numerous architectural drawings and models from the archives.

  • Lei Xianchi 雷湘池 and Li Guoqiang 李国强, eds. Yangshi Lei jianzhu wenhua xinlun (样式雷建筑文化新论). Nanchang: Jiangxi kexue jishu chubanshe, 2005.

    A collection of essays that consider the Lei family of architects from several different angles, including their involvement in the Qing summer palaces, the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan 天壇), and the Imperial Ancestral Temple (Taimiao 太廟). The essays also address aspects of the Lei family history and Lei family archives.

  • Meng Fanren 孟凡人. Mingdai gongting jianzhu shi (明代宫廷建筑史). Beijing: Zijincheng chubanshe, 2010.

    A comprehensive study of Ming palace architecture that covers a wide range of topics, including the Nanjing palaces in the reign of the Hongwu emperor, the establishment of the Beijing palaces under Yongle, the architectural arrangement of the Forbidden City, and discussions of important buildings in and around Beijing.

  • Pan Guxi 潘谷西, ed. Zhongguo gudai jianzhu shi, di si juan: Yuan, Ming jianzhu (中国古代建筑史, 第四卷: 元明建筑). Beijing: Zhongguo jianzhu gongye chubanshe, 1999.

    A comprehensive survey of Yuan and Ming dynasty architectural history that includes several relevant sections related to Ming palace architecture, including city planning, palace halls, temples and altars, and gardens. Accompanied by excellent black-and-white architectural drawings and photographs. A good place to begin research on Ming palace architecture.

  • Shan Shiyuan 單士元. Gugong yingzao (故宮營造). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2015.

    A far-reaching collection essays on the Forbidden City during the Ming and Qing dynasties, written by one of the foremost scholars on the subject. Covers a wide range of topics, including walls and moats, the Three Main Halls, inner courts, the Qianlong garden, and the Yangshi Lei family of architects. Draws heavily on primary textual sources.

  • Shan Shiyuan 單士元and Yu Zhuoyun 于倬云, eds. Zhongguo Zijincheng xuehui lunwenji, di yi dao di qi ji (中国紫禁城学会论文集, 第一到第七辑). Beijing: Zijincheng chubanshe, 1997–2013.

    An indispensable collection of scholarly essays spanning nearly two decades on architecture of the Forbidden City and imperial Beijing.

  • Sun Dazhang 孫大章. Zhongguo gudai jianzhu shi, di wu juan: Qingdai jianzhu (中國古代建築史, 第五卷: 清代建築). Beijing: Zhongguo jianzhu gongye chubanshe, 2002.

    A comprehensive introduction to Qing dynasty architecture that includes several chapters on palace architecture and gardens. Superbly illustrated with black-and-white line drawings and photographs. A good place to begin research on Qing palace architecture.

  • Yu Zhuoyun. Palaces of the Forbidden City. New York: Viking, 1984.

    A general introduction to the history, layout, architecture, and ornamentation of the Forbidden City. Includes numerous high-quality color photographs and line drawings.

  • Yu Zhuoyun 于倬云. Zhongguo gongdian jianzhu lunwenji (中国宫殿建筑论文集). Beijing: Zijincheng chubanshe, 2001.

    A collection of essays related to various aspects of the architecture of the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, including detailed discussions of the timber-frame and bracketing systems.

  • Yu Zhuoyun 于倬云, ed. Zijincheng jianzhu yanjiu yu baohu (紫禁城建筑研究与保护). Beijing: Zijincheng chubanshe, 1995.

    An edited volume that covers numerous issues related to the Forbidden City’s architecture and conservation. Topics cover the palace layout, individual buildings, gardens, architectural decoration, and issues of preservation.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.