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The Idea of Labyrinth (Migong) in Chinese Building Tradition

Hui Zou
The Journal of Aesthetic Education
Vol. 46, No. 4 (Winter 2012), pp. 80-95
DOI: 10.5406/jaesteduc.46.4.0080
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Page Count: 16
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The Idea of Labyrinth (Migong) in Chinese Building Tradition
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The concept of labyrinth as a design idea is prevalent throughout the history of Western architecture. In the late-eighteenth century when the Western Jesuits built a labyrinth as a part of a "Western-like" garden within the Chinese imperial garden Yuanming Yuan, the labyrinth appeared exotic and enjoyable for the Chinese. This essay explores the idea of labyrinth in Chinese building tradition through analyzing the historical literature of imperial buildings, imperial mausoleums, and gardens. The analyzed cases of labyrinth include the Perplexing Multistoried Buildings (Milou), the thirteen Ming imperial mausoleums, the imperial gardens imitating fairylands, and the rockery hill in a literati garden. The essay relates the discovered idea of labyrinth to Confucian and Chinese cosmological aesthetics. The revealed perception of labyrinth facilitates the understanding of the encounter between Western and Chinese concepts of labyrinth in early modernity. In addition, it aids in the development of a comparative perspective on the meaning of labyrinth in the art of building.

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