History and craftsmanship beneath your feet
Traditional pavement art
Walking in a classical garden in jiangnan area, or regions south of the lower reaches of Yangtze River, you will find the paved paths and the rocks, ponds, plants and architecture combine to create its spirit.
Ji Cheng, an influential garden designer in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), concluded that “stone slabs are the right answer for the paving of garden pathways and bricks are appropriate for the courtyards.”
Pavements can, with their various forms and rich patterns, embody the beauty of artistic conception and reflect the wisdom and imagination of craftsmen.
In Jiading, there are many pavements with rich regional characteristics in classical gardens and traditional dwellings. They integrate with the plants, halls, pond pavilions, temples, galleries, bridges, kiosks and towers in a poetic way.
Four to five thousand years ago, China attached great importance to road planning and design in the construction of cities and towns. From archeological discoveries and the modern preservation of ancient cultural relics, the country’s pavements are rich and colorful in terms of structure and pattern on the ground, such as cross-shaped and geometric pattern floor tiles unearthed in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), sun-pattern floor tiles unearthed from the Xianyang Palace in the Qin Dynasty (221-201 BC) and lotus-pattern floor tiles in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) .
Particularly in the late Tang Dynasty, the patterns of foreigners with camels and foreigners on horseback were not only exquisitely crafted, but also reflected the busy situation of business travelers from different nationalities on the Silk Road. It could be said that pavements had become an important part of Chinese architectural art.
Among Jiading’s gardens and dwelling pavements, the common patterns include herringbone, squares and buckets; half bricks and half pebbles with hexagonal and octagonal patterns; tiles and pebbles with crabapple, cross lamp and cracked ice patterns; tiles and pebbles with strings of coins and sesame flower patterns; broken tiles with wave pattern and pavements inlaid with broken porcelain, cylinder pieces, bricks or stones to form the patterns of auspicious Chinese characters, animals, items and plants.
In addition to showing its own beauty, pavements can also be used to reflect people’s various ideologies. Most of them embody the traditional Chinese idea of auspiciousness. Therefore, they are full of a positive interest in life, matching the surrounding environment.
With the rapid development of the economy and technology, the pavement art of Jiading is also changing in its inheritance.
During the period of the Republic of China (1912-1949), the application of cement made the pavement not limited to traditional materials, but more innovative.
Nowadays, the busiest Bole Road in Jiading Old Town still features pavements with traditional, auspicious patterns. Although these pavements are the product of machinery, they tell the long history and profound cultural connotations of Jiading.
Jiading’s traditional pavement art is exquisite, elegant, atmospheric and dexterous. It also shows Jiading people’s yearning and pursuit for a better life.
In the process of old streets renewal, which is constant these days, it is hoped that people can regain the art in the renovation and reconstruction of classical gardens and traditional dwellings.
In Jiading, pavements are divided into garden and residential. Brick, tile, stone, broken porcelain and cylinder pieces are the most commonly adopted.
Different materials are adopted according to the design. For example, in order to prevent moisture and reduce dust, indoor floors of a building would generally be paved with water-milled square bricks. Outdoor platforms are mostly paved with stone slabs to make them flat.
In a garden pathway, corridor, courtyard and other places, in order to prevent water accumulation or rain erosion, bricks, tiles, strips, irregular stone plates, pebbles, broken porcelain and cylinder pieces are often used, alone or together, to form a variety of rich and colorful patterns.
Jiading is home to two of the five classical gardens in Shanghai — Guyi Garden and Qiuxia Garden. It is also where Huilongtan Park and a number of private gardens and mansions of prominent families are located.
In Guyi Garden, a dharani pillar built in the Tang Dynasty has a surrounding pavement made of white porcelain. A crimson lotus made of cylinder pieces is at the center to set off the elegance and nobility of the pillar and give people a strong sense of Buddhism.
In front of the main hall of the garden, Yiye Hall, is a pavement featuring the patterns of the Eight Immortals in Chinese legend.
The patterns are made of small stones in different shapes and colors and reflect the exquisite meaning of “being all things to all men.”
There are also pavements with bamboo patterns in Guyi Garden as the character yi in Chinese means bamboo grows straight and upright.
The Qiuxia Garden built in Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) adopts cobblestone pavements for garden pathways and granite pavements indoors. Among the pavement patterns, there are snowflakes and peach blossoms.
The Huilongtan Park built in the Ming Dynasty was previously part of Jiading’s Confucius Temple. The patterns of butterfly, carp, dragon and crabs are widely used in its pavements as they all represent success in the imperial exams.
Meanwhile, two halls in the mansion of Liao’s family adopt the lotus as the pavement pattern as a metaphor for the honesty of officials.
Combination of nature and humanity
The courtyard is the center of a traditional Chinese dwelling and an internal public space in a house. It is also the symbol of feng shui and the pavement in a courtyard embodies the combination of nature and humanity.
A courtyard is an open space and bound to become muddy with the risk of accidents when people slip and fall on wet days.
Hence, well-off families paved courtyards with green bricks and stones to prevent slips and falls and keep it clean on rainy days.
With the continuous development of the economy, people’s interest in aesthetic pursuits is also constantly improving. At this time, pavements not only have a practical function, but also indicate cultural appreciation and yearning for a better life.
Although these traditional dwelling courtyards are not as sophisticated as garden courtyards, they still have some highlights.
Usually there are several kinds of pavements in such kinds of courtyards — green bricks, floor, granite slabs and cement pavements and the patterns adopted are usually geometric shapes, auspicious items, plants and symbols.
From earlier last century, with further improvements in the drainage system and the application of cement, pavements are no longer limited to traditional materials.
Cement paving emerged, and more innovations have been added.
They reflect the blending of Eastern and Western cultures and a contrast between old and new, yet complementing each other.