The evolution of the zhaobi: physical stability and the creation of architectural meaning

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Li, Mengbi ORCID: 0000-0001-7499-8940 (2020) The evolution of the zhaobi: physical stability and the creation of architectural meaning. Journal of Architecture, 25 (1). pp. 45-64. ISSN 1360-2365


The zhaobi is a piece of wall that usually stands at the entrance to the traditional Chinese courtyard. This simple and seemingly unnecessary structure ironically has a 3000-year history and is still in use today. Throughout this long history, the zhaobi, despite minor variations to its physical form, has been used by a variety of social classes and ethnic groups. How has the zhaobi retained its long-lasting charm and attracted different users? This study seeks to address this question by providing a comprehensive analysis of its history. This analysis reveals that the zhaobi experienced an evolution over at least three phases. Each phase bestowed on the zhaobi a different meaning by means of a fascinating process that includes finding new practical and ritual uses for it, and endowing it with new connotations as portrayed in art and literature. This paper demonstrates that the constantly evolving meanings of the zhaobi have contributed strongly to its enduring popularity, allowing it to adapt to a range of users and find a place in different cultures and societies.

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Item type Article
DOI 10.1080/13602365.2020.1734049
Official URL
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 3399 Other built environment and design
Current > Division/Research > First Year College
Keywords build environment, architecture, zhaobi, Chinese architecture
Citations in Scopus 3 - View on Scopus
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