Chinese Ting, from Practical to Aesthetical

A common sight in the country, the Chinese pavilion (pinyin ting, which means also a kiosk) is built normally either of wood or stone or bamboo and may be in any of several plan figures-- square, triangle, hexagon, octagon, a five-petal flower, a fan, etc. But all pavilions described as ting have this in common: they have columns to support the roof, but no walls.

While the name is commonly believed to be related to its purpose as a place to stay and rest (Chinese 停留休息pinyin tínglíuxīuxí), the fact that the earliest pavilions were used for military and governmental purposes casts doubt on this interpretation. Pavilions are known to have been built as early as the Zhou dynasty (1121 – 771BC), although no examples of that period remain today. The first use of the character for pavilion dates to the Warring States and Spring and Autumn period (770 – 229BC). During the Han dynasty (BC206 - 220) they were used as watchtowers and local government buildings. These multi-story constructions had at least one floor without surrounding walls to allow observation of the surroundings.

During the Sui (581 - 618) and Tang (618 - 907) dynasties wealthy officials and scholars incorporated pavilions into their personal gardens. During this period the function of pavilions shifted from the practical to the aesthetic. Pavilions provided a place to sit and enjoy the scenery, and they also became a part of the scenery itself, being attractive structures. Brush-and-ink landscape scrolls of the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) show the isolated pavilions of scholar hermits in mountainous regions. Under the impetus of scholarly tastes for the simplicity of a rustic life, while previously pavilions were constructed from stone, other materials such as bamboo, grass and wood came into use.

Pavilions today serve diverse purposes. In parks or at scenic spots, pavilions are built on slopes to command the panorama or on lakeside to create intriguing images in the water. They are not only part of the landscape but also belvederes from which to enjoy it. The wayside pavilion is called liangting (cooling kiosk) to provide weary wayfarers with a place for a rest and a shelter in summer from the sun. The "stele pavilion" gives a roof to a stone tablet to protect the engraved record of an important event. Pavilions also stand on some bridges or over water-wells. In the latter case, dormer windows are built to allow the sun to cast its rays into the well, as it has been the belief that water untouched by the sun would cause diseases. Occasionally one finds two pavilions stand side by side like twins. In modern times, pavilions have been erected in urban areas as postal stalls, newsstands or photographers' sheds for snapshot services.