Architectural colour and power: a case study of the Summer Palace, Beijing (1750-1912)
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date20/07/2024
Although for the Chinese authorities, colour, and in particular architectural colour, has always been a crucial way to exercise influence, classify hierarchies, and maintain national and international order, the significant relationship between Chinese architectural colour and political power has long been being neglected by theorists and historians. This thesis addresses this omission. The power-oriented use of colour was continually exercised from the Shang Dynasty (ca.1600-1046 BC) to the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912), although the meanings of specific and related colours changed and evolved as they were continuously renewed in response to changes in the social context and the appearance of new knowledge. This thesis focuses on the Summer Palace in Beijing(1750-1912), which witnessed how the Qing Empire went from its apogee to its collapse. The Palace is a microcosm of the Qing Empire constituted by over 3,000 buildings, which were purpose-built for the imperial court, including religious temples, royal residences, and the naval academy. All these buildings were constructed to perpetuate the supremacy and legitimacy of successive sovereigns. Accordingly, the thesis investigates how the colour of these buildings demonstrated and implemented imperial power, laying particular emphasis on four integral perspectives: politics, religion, the imperial family, and the military. The aim of the thesis is to answer three questions: why were specific colours chosen by the Qing Monarchs for the Palace; how did these colours express and exercise power; and what kind of social-political results were produced by successive colour schemes? The thesis offers a new way of understanding architectural colour in the Chinese context and particularly during the Qing Dynasty, when architectural colour was employed in the service of authority. It was a practical technique for the expression of monarchical power that functioned in many dimensions, ultimately as a web of power relations. In exploring the importance of architectural colour in the historical context, the thesis will also shed light on both the use and interpretation of colour in contemporary architectural practice in China.