Gate Piers in Beijing Courtyard Houses
The gate pier might not be very important to the architectural art of traditional Beijing courtyard houses, but it does have its own distinctive features.
In fact, the gate pier is not only for "little kids" to ride on and play with, but also to be used to join and support the doorframe, the doorsill and the door leaf of the main door or the middle door of the residences. The rear part of the stone gate pier is drilled with an axial trough, which is used to hold the door leaf; the front part opposite to the doorsill is mostly polished into square or round shape and carved with lines or patterns of birds, beasts, flowers, grass, as well as musical instruments, chess, Chinese calligraphy and paintings. These lines and patterns make use of puns to express best wishes for an auspicious and wealthy life. For example, "xishang meishao" (a magpie on a plum tree branch) symbolizes joy and happiness; "pingsheng sanji" (three short halberds in a bottle) symbolizes a promotion to three levels up; "wushi tongju", (five lions in one house) symbolizes the flourishing population in one family since five generations all live under one roof; and "qilin wosong" (a kylin standing on a pine tree) symbolizes the long-lasting luck.
The wide application of gate piers in the courtyard buildings with Beijing flavor is closely related to the construction of Beijing as the capital of Liao and Yuan Dynasties. It was called Zhongdu in the Liao Dynasty and Dadu in the Yuan Dynasty. In the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the ruling class started to construct the city in a planned way and led the general public to build the residential buildings spontaneously. As a result, the buildings ranged from the mansions of government officials with different rankings to those residential courtyards of different sizes. During the construction, gate piers, more than a component, had been given the important function to display the social ranking, family status and even personal accomplishment of the resident, just like the buildings themselves did.
For decades and hundreds of years, even longer, those gate piers, sitting there in silence, have endured extreme weather, experienced ups and downs of the society, and witnessed the history of the old Beijing.
♦ Gate Piers in Beijing (pictures)