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The meaning of power, both philosophical and contextual , and its manifestation in reality are some of the ways to understand the question whether it is possible to assert power through construction and destruction. I will argue that it is indeed possible to assert power via art and architecture and also through mass destruction of civilisations and buildings.
Focusing upon a specific individual, society, organisation, nation or state, I would critically analyse the use of art and architecture of China as a medium for promoting messages of power in this essay.
First I will establish what really is power? From a philosophical point of what does power mean, quoting examples from works of great philosophers who through research have tried to analyse power in different ways.
Then I would analyse the question of how power can be manifested and arguing that
construction, and that is, via architecture, how power is manifested in physical reality.
I would be quoting examples of great works of architecture which are symbolic of power.
China and its architecture would be my case study to argue and show through examples how really power was manifested through ages and how it affected to either empower civilizations and how destruction of those very arts gave the messages of animosity , revenge, revolution which are components of power.
Also the different typologies in architecture as well as art developed would be discussed as a result of will to assert power.
The wars between dynasties would be discussed as an attempt to manifest the argument that the way power can be asserted through creation so can it be through destruction.
In conclusion I would sum it up supporting the argument that indeed power can be asserted through construction and destruction.
1.1 Understanding Power
Power can be described as an ability to influence others to believe, behave, or to value as those in power desire them to or to strengthen, validate, or confirm present beliefs, behaviors, or values.(French, Raven, 1959, pp. 150-167. )
Over the years philosophers have pondered over the nature of power and how it exists in
reality. As Philosopher Nietzsche claimed, "world is the will to power-and nothing besides!" to some extent examines the existence of power in life. Being an extreme view, it ponders over can really power be manifested and if so, what are the ways and means it
has been happening in today's reality as well as throughout history.
The "will to power" is thus a "cosmic" inner force acting in and through both animate and inanimate objects. Besides instincts, even higher level behaviour in human beings is controlled by the will to power. In fact, Nietzsche considered conciousness itself to be a form of instinct. Various forms of exhibiting power are physical violence, lying, and domination, on one hand, and such apparently non-harmful acts as gift-giving, love, and praise on the other-though its manifestations can be altered significantly, such as through art and aesthetic experience. (Nietzsche,1968. pp. 403.)
. China :A Brief Overview
China as a case study to understand the above question is relevant not only because it is one of the most ancient civilizations but also because it has evolved in art and architecture which has been used to depict messages of power .The history of China is marked by 3 Sovereigns and 5 Emperors and Chinese civilization is one of the oldest dating back to 1.36 million years ago, when first traces of man were found in China. The emergence of Chinese art and architecture was parallel to the battles of power between dynasties which ruled china and were largely responsible for the development but more of symbolism of their power through art and architecture.( Tregar,1997)
2.1.Ancient Chinese art and depiction of power
Chinese Bronze metal casting was the dawn of metal age in China and is known for its accuracy and creativity and bronze metalworks reached their zenith during the Shang (c.1700-1050 BC) and Zhou (c.1050-221 BC) Dynasties, when elaborate ritual vessels and weapons were produced. Swords and armoury ensured military success in this world and ritual vessels played an important role in maintaining a good relationship with gods, ghosts and ancestors. Bronze vessels were especially used to serve food and drinks during festivities and were decorated with figures of mythical creatures.It also was symbolic of wealth and prosperity of affluent classes.(Wikipedia,2010)
Jade was considered of high value in Chinese culture because of the symbolism associated with it. Jade was believed to have spiritual quality and bring strength in life and death.It was used in ornamentation, weaponary and was a indication of power of physical force.In death, jade burial suits were believed to protect from evil forces and spirits.
(Rawson, 2009, p. 22-p25)
From the Eastern Zhou (770-221 BC) and Han (206 BC- AD 220) Dynasties,decorative lacquer became increasingly popular and was praised for its power to protect and
preserve. Thus it became symbolic of showing social prowess.The humid climate of southern and western regions of China was ideally suited to lacquer crafting, preventing the material from drying out or cracking.
(Shuter, 2006, p. 22-p24)
2.1.4 Depiction of dragons in art
Chinese art is characterised by the splendid images of dragons. But were these werent just mere works of art or abstract thought. There was a reason why such art developed and the underlying reason is again in a way to exhibit power. The first dragon appeared in an emblem of the Emperor Huang Di and was believed to have ascended from heaven. His brother, Yan Di was believed to have born out of a telepathy between his mother and a mythic dragon. Hence they were also refered to as "the descendants of the dragon
From then on Chinese dragon was considered a symbol of imperial power.
The different colours in the dragon were also indicative of particular messages.Yellow and Golden dragons with five claws on each foot was a symbol of many Chinese dynasties to come.The imperial throne was called the Dragon Throne. During the late Qing Dynasty, the dragon was even adopted as the national flag. The dragon is featured in the carvings on the steps of imperial palaces and tombs, such as the Forbidden City in Beijing.
In some Chinese legends, emperor born with a birthmark of dragon was considered to be courageous and saviour of the dynasty.(Zhang, 2008, pp. 13)
3. Power manifested through Architecture
Architecture, master of all arts often being a media to depict power , nonetheless the world sees emergence of varied and monumental architecture though centuries, be it the great cathedrals, pyramids, grand palaces or huge urban civilizations. The typologies in
Chinese architecture that emerged also were largely influenced by what they were depicting for example the division was house of commoners, imperial buildings and religious structures, each establishing its own place in the society via architecture they exhibited.
3.1 House Of Commoners
The house of commoners was for the working classes but was again distinctive because there were different patterns in design depending upon the authority of that person in the society. Generally the layout was as follows:
the center of the building usually would be a shrine for the deities and the ancestors, which would also be used during festivities.
On its two sides were bedrooms for the elders; the two wings of the building (known as "guardian dragons" by the Chinese) were for the junior members of the family, as well as the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen, although sometimes the living room could be very close to the centre.
Large extended families used to be accommodated in two extra wings built on either sides of the main buildings and so resulted in formation of a 'U-shaped' building with a courtyard in the middle.
According to the law , the length of the building and the number of storeys directly corresponded to the class of the person in the society.
Thus it shows that even the housing architecture developed was in a way to show of social standing.(Sickman,Soper,1956)
The difference between house of commoners and those of emporers could be easily made out by the ornamentations made on the palaces and the colours used. One example is the use of yellow roof tiles; yellow having been the Imperial colour, yellow roof tiles still adorn most of the buildings within the Forbidden city. The Temple Of Heaven, however, uses blue roof tiles to symbolize the sky. The roofs are almost invariably supported by brackets, a feature shared only with the largest of religious buildings. The wooden columns of the buildings, as well as the surface of the walls, tend to be red in colour. Black is also a famous colour often used in pagodas. They believe the gods are inspired by the black colour to descend on to the earth.
The chinese five-clawed dragon was also used as a symbol of power on beams and brackets.
Only imperial family buildings had space between two columns and five arched gateways were reserved only for the emperor.(Sickman, Soper,1956)
Generally speaking, Buddhist architecture follow the imperial style. A large Buddhist monastery normally has a front hall, housing the statue of a Bodhisattva, followed by a great hall, housing the statues of the buddhas. Accommodations for the monks and the nuns are located at the two sides. Buddhist monasteries sometimes also have pagodas which may house the relics of the Gautam Buddha , older pagodas tend to be four-sided, while later pagodas usually have eight-sides.( Tregar,1997, p. 26)
4 . Case Studies
4.1 The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City ,an architectural marvel, was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty. Located in the middle of Beijing, China, it now houses the Palace Museum. For almost five hundred years, it served as the home of the Emperor and his household, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.
Built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms and covers 720,000 m2 (7,800,000 sq ft). The palace complex is the best example of traditional Chinese palatial architecture and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987,and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.(Bronson,2004)
4.1.1 Forbidden City :Symbolism
Imperial Decoration of highest status on the roof ridge of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the design of the Forbidden City, from its overall layout to the smallest detail, was meticulously planned to reflect philosophical and religious principles, and above all to symbolise the majesty of Imperial power. Some noted examples of symbolic designs include:
Yellow,being the color of the Emperor, was thus used on almost all roofs in the Forbidden City . Except the library at the Pavilion of Literary Profundity which had black tiles because black was associated with water and thus fire-prevention and the Crown Prince's residences had green tiles because green was associated with wood, and thus growth, rest was all painted in yellow, the colour of power.
The main halls of the Outer and Inner courts were all arranged in groups of three - representing Heaven. The residences of the Inner Court on the other hand were arranged in groups of six - representing the Earth.
Aline of statuttes lead by a man riding a phoenix and followed by an imperial dragon, were seen on sloping ridges gf the roofs. This was solely because the number of statuettes represented the status of the building - a minor building might have 3 or 5. The Hall of Supreme Harmony hasd10, the only building in the country to be permitted this in Imperial times. As a result, its 10th statuette, called a "Hangshi",or "ranked tenth" ,is also unique in the Forbidden City.
The layout of buildings follows ancient customs laid down in the classical rites. Thus, ancestral temples are in front of the palace. Storage areas are placed in the front part of the palace complex, and residences in the back.(Wikipedia,2010)
4.2 Great Wall Of China
Great Wall has been one of the wonders of the ancient world. It is like a sleeping dragon spanning across almost the whole China. It is an object, which many legends revolve around. Some exclaimed it as éhe only man-made object visible to the naked eye in space!Some calculated the materials used in the wall are sufficient to build a small wall of eight feet tall and three feet thick around the equator.
4.2.2 The Significance of the Great Wall
The Great Wall played an important part in the history. The perception of Great wall was different in different times. For Chinese rulers it was the best defense system and a great sense of security from the enemies. For commoners ,it was a threat to their survival. In fact, it was also one of the major reasons for decline of Roman empire because it encouraged the Hun rulers to expand in the direction of Rome which started the war. The wall was marveled by the westerners and was often considered as a symbol of Chinese isolationism and prowess.Despite the westernerç-´ praise, Chinese views of the wall was a sorrow one during the post-Ming period, the Chinese people felt the wall was a reminder of their defeat to the Manchurians.
Today the wall symbolises of the most visited tourist spots and is a remnant of the Chinese prowess from ancient times. The Chinese people see it with pride of their ancient ancestry. This can be all summarized by a Chinese saying:There is no good man who has not been up the Great Wall.(Shuter,1997, p. 28)
.Power through destruction
There were a great many battles between the dynasties and each one to show its prowess targeted the architecture for destruction.The forbidden city, a symbol of power was the easy target to establish rule.
5.1 Attack on Forbidden city
From 1420 to 1644, the Forbidden City was the seat of the Ming Dynasty. In April 1644, Li Zichen captured it who proclaimed himself emperor of the Shun Dynasty. He soon fled before the combined armies of former Ming general Wu Sangui and Manchu forces, and to show his power , set fire to parts of the Forbidden City in the process. Manchus eventually gained supremacy over northern China, and a ceremony was held at the Forbidden City to proclaim the young Shunzhi emporer as ruler of all China under the Qing Dynasty.
To commemmorate the new rule, the Qing rulers changed the names of the principal buildings, to emphasize "Harmony" rather than "Supremacy",made the name plates bilingual (Chinese and Manchu) and introduced Shamanist elements to the palace.(Wikipedia,2010)
5.2 The Four Olds Destruction
The Four Olds Destruction was an unique revolution wherein ,Mao Zedong, revoutionary, called for the Four Olds to be swept away at the very early stages of the cultural revolution in 1966. IAs a result, examples of Chinese architecture were ransacked, Chinese literature and classics were burned, Chinese paintings were torn apart, antiquities were shattered. Many families' long kept were burned to ashes. Many ancient Chinese artefacts, important literature was destroyed and people possessing these items were tortured or killed. It was a massacre of a kind wherein destruction of traditional culture, values, literature was used as media to establish power and believed to bring about revolution to pave the way for the new era. ( Kinderman,1980)
Analysing the ancient Chinese art and architecture through examples cited above it can be said that Chinese did believe in showing their power through creativity in art and architecture but also through wars and weaponary.
In conclusion it can be said that indeed , art and architecture, have an everlasting quality to it as a result of which it has been symbolic of civilisation's creativity and progress, and hence is a tool to impose power. Also as it can be seen from the numerous examples that Chinese art and architecture has been emerging like a phoenix through destruction, retaining the original principles while being recreated but having an underlying will to imply power.
Thus it can be concluded that art and architecture can be used as a media of asserting power. This essay has taken china and its art and architecture as an example to establish this view. But similar study can be made of other civilisations as well and in a way a common thread would be the will to exert power which has resulted in all of worlds great art and architecture.
The emerging art and architecture is still the outcome of imposing power and with a will to leave a legacy to coming generations,depicting the power they once established.