Liang Sicheng

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This is a Chinese name; the family name is Liang.
Liang Sicheng
Liang Sicheng.jpg
Liang at Tsinghua University, 1950
Born (1901-04-20)20 April 1901
Tokyo, Japan
Died 9 January 1972(1972-01-09) (aged 70)
Beijing, China
Alma mater Tsinghua University
University of Pennsylvania
Political party Communist Party of China
Spouse(s) Lin Huiyin
Lin Zhu
Children Liang Congjie
Liang Zaibing
Parent(s) Liang Qichao
Chinese name
Chinese 梁思成

Liang Sicheng (Chinese: 梁思成; 20 April 1901[1] – 9 January 1972) was a Chinese architect and scholar often known as the "father" of modern Chinese architecture. His father, Liang Qichao, was one of the most prominent Chinese scholars of the early 20th century. His wife was the architect and poet Lin Huiyin. His younger brother, Liang Siyong, was one of China's first archaeologists.

Liang is the author of China's first modern history on Chinese architecture and founder of the Architecture Department of Northeastern University in 1928 and Tsinghua University in 1946. He was the Chinese representative in the Design Board which designed the United Nations headquarters in New York City. He, along with Lin Huiyin, Mo Zongjiang (1916–1999), and Ji Yutang (1902–c. 1960s), discovered and analyzed the first and second oldest timber structures still standing in China, located at Nanchan Temple and Foguang Temple at Mount Wutai.

He is recognized as the “Father of Modern Chinese Architecture”. To cite Princeton University, which awarded him an honorary doctoral degree in 1947, he was “a creative architect who has also been a teacher of architectural history, a pioneer in historical research and exploration in Chinese architecture and planning, and a leader in the restoration and preservation of the priceless monuments of his country.”

Early life[edit]

Liang Sicheng was born on April 20, 1901 in Tokyo, Japan, where his father Liang Qichao was in exile from China after the failed Hundred Days' Reform. During the waning years of the Qing Dynasty, China’s last Imperial dynasty, the empire endured a series of foreign invasions and vicious domestic struggles, beginning with the first Opium War in 1840. Foreign powers soon divided China into spheres of influence, while the weak and corrupt Qing Dynasty could do little to stop them. In 1898 the Guangxu Emperor, led by his circle of advisers, attempted to introduce drastic reforms to stem the decay and bring China onto the path to modernity. Liang Qichao, a well-educated and energetic man, was a leader of this movement. However, in the face of opposition from conservatives in the Qing court, the movement failed. The Empress Dowager Cixi, the emperor's adoptive mother and the power behind the throne, imprisoned the emperor, and executed many of the movement's leaders. Liang Qichao took refuge in Japan, where his eldest son was born.

After the Qing Dynasty was overthrown in 1911, Liang Qichao, Liang Sicheng's father, returned to China from his exile in Japan. He briefly served in the government of the newly established Republic, which was unfortunately taken over by a faction of warlords in Northern China (the "Beiyang" clique, meaning Northern Ocean). Liang Qichao quit his government post and initiated a social and literary movement to introduce modern, Western thought to Chinese society.

Liang Sicheng was educated by his father in this progressive environment. In 1915, Liang entered Tsinghua College, a preparatory school in Beijing. (This college later became Tsinghua University, now among the best universities in China.) In 1924, he and Lin went to University of Pennsylvania funded by Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship to study architecture under Paul Cret. Three years later, Liang received his master's degree in architecture. He greatly benefited from his education in America, which also prepared him for his future career as a scholar and professor in China.

In 1928, Liang married Lin Huiyin (known in the United States as Phyllis Lin), who was an equally renowned scholar in modern China. She was recognized as an artist, architect and poet, admired by and friend with several famous scholars of her time, such as poet Xu Zhimo (whom she also had a brief relationship with), philosopher Jin Yuelin and economist Chen Daisun.


When the couple went back in 1928, they were invited by the Northeastern University in Shenyang. At that time Shenyang was under the control of Japanese troops, which was a big challenge to perform any professional practice. They went anyway, established the second School of Architecture in China, but also the first curriculum which took a western one (to be precise the curriculum from University of Pennsylvania) as its prototype. Their effort was interrupted by Japan’s occupation in the following year, but after 18 years, in 1946, the Liangs were again able to practice their professorship in Tsinghua University in Beijing. This time a more systematic and all-around curriculum was discreetly put forward, consisted of courses of fine arts, theory, history, science, and professional practice. This has become a reference for any other school of architecture later developed in China. This improvement also reflected the change of architectural style from the Beaux-Arts tradition to the modernist Bauhaus style since the 1920s.

In 1930, Liang and his colleague, Zhang Rui, won an award of the physical plan of Tianjin. This plan incorporates the contemporary American techniques in zoning, public administration, government finance and municipal engineering. Liang's involvement in city planning was further inspired by Clarence Stein, the chairman of the Regional Planning Association of America. They met in Beiping in 1936 during Stein's trip to Asia. Liang and Stein became good friends and in Liang's visit to the US in 1946/7, Liang stayed in Stein's apartment when he came to New York City. Stein played an instrumental role in the establishment of the architectural and planning program at Tsinghua University.[2]

In 1931, Liang became a member of a newly developed organization in Beijing called the Society for Research in Chinese Architecture. He felt a strong impulse to study Chinese traditional architecture and that it was his responsibility to interpret and convey its building methods. It was not an easy task. Since the carpenters were generally illiterate, methods of construction were usually conveyed orally from master to apprentice, and were regarded as secrets within every craft. In spite of these difficulties, Liang started his research by "decoding" classical manuals and consulting the workmen who have the traditional skills.

Residential building in Lijiang, Yunan province

From the start of his new career as a historian, Liang was determined to search and discover what he termed the “grammar” of Chinese architecture. He recognized that throughout China’s history the timber-frame had been the fundamental form of construction. He also realized that it was far from enough just to sit in his office day and night engaged in the books. He had to get out searching for the surviving buildings in order to verify his assumptions. His first travel was in April 1932. In the following years he and his colleagues successively discovered some survived traditional buildings, including: the Foguang Temple (857), the Temple of Solitary Joy (984), the Yingzhou Pagoda (1056), Zhaozhou Bridge (589-617), and many others. Because of their effort, these buildings managed to survive.

Following the Mukden Incident in 1931, Imperial Japan began establishing strangleholds throughout China's north, ultimately culminating into a full-scale war generally known as War of Resistance (a culmination of the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War 2, 1937–45), which forced Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin to cut short their cultural restoration work in Beijing, and flee southward along with faculty and materials of the Architectural Department of Northeastern University. Liang and Lin along with their children and their university continued their studies and research work in temporary settlements in the cities of Tianjin, Kunming, and finally in Lizhuang. During the later stages of WWII, the Americans began heavy bombing of the Japanese homeland.[3] Liang, whose brother-in-law Lin Heng served as a fighter pilot in the air force and died in the air war against Japan, recommended that the Americans military authorities to spare the ancient Japanese cities of Kyoto and Nara: "architecture is the epitome of society and the symbol of the people. But it does not belong to one people, for it is the crystallization of the entire human race. Nara's Toshodaiji Temple is the world's earliest wood-structure building. Once destroyed, it is irrecoverable." The U.S. military accepted Liang’s proposal. As a result, even though Japan was heavily bombed, Nara remained intact with its original scenery unaffected by the war.[4][5]

After the war, Liang was invited to establish the architectural and urban planning programs at Tsinghua University. In 1946, he went to Yale University as a visiting fellow and served as the Chinese representative in the design of the United Nations Headquarters Building. In 1947, Liang received an honorary doctoral degree from Princeton University. He visited major architectural programs and influential architects in order to develop a model program at Tsinghua before returning China.


To spread and share his understandings and appreciation of Chinese architecture, and most importantly, to help save its diminishing building technologies, Liang published his first book, Qing Structural Regulations in 1934. The book was on the study of the methods and rules of Qing architecture with the 1734 Qing Architecture Regulation and several other ancient manuals as the textbook, the carpenters as teachers, and the Forbidden City in Beijing as teaching material. Since its publication, for more than seven decades, this book has become a standard textbook for anyone who wants to understand the essence of ancient Chinese architecture. Liang considered the study of Qing Structural Regulation as a stepping stone to the much more daunting task of studying the Song dynasty Yingzao Fashi (Treatise on Architectural Methods), due to the large number of specialist terms used in that manual differing substantially from the Qing dynasty architectural terminology.

Liang's study of Yingzao Fashi spanned more than two decades, from 1940 to 1963, and the first draft of his Annotated Yingzao Fashi was completed in 1963.[6] However, due to the eruption of the Cultural Revolution in China, the publication of this work was cut short. Liang's Annotated Yingzao Fashi was published posthumously by Tsinghua University Architecture Department's Yingzao Fashi Study Group in 1980. (The text occupies all of Volume 7 in his ten-volume Collected Works).

Liang considered the Yingzao Fashi and Qing Structural Regulations as "two grammar books of Chinese architecture." He wrote, "both government manuals, they are of the greatest importance for the study of the technological aspects of Chinese architecture."[7]

Another book, History of Chinese Architecture,[8] was "the first thing of its kind." In his words, this book was "an attempt to organize the materials collected by myself and other members of the Institute during the past twelve years." He had divided the previous 3,500 years into six architectural periods, defined each period by references to historical and literary citations, described existing monuments of each period, and finally analyzed the architecture of each period as evidenced from a combination of painstaking library and field research. All of these books became the platform for later scholars to explore the principles and evolution of Chinese architecture, and are still considered classics today.

Liang's posthumous manuscript "Chinese Architecture, A Pictorial History", written in English, edited by Wilma Fairbank (费慰梅) was published by MIT Press in 1984 and won ForeWord Magazine's Architecture "Book of the Year" Award".[9]

Restoration works[edit]

Wenyuan Chamber in the Forbidden City

Liang's first experience participating in the restoration of an old building was in 1932, when he was asked to restore a two-story imperial library, the Wenyuan Chamber, erected in 1776 in the southwestern part of the Forbidden City. In 1935, he was selected as the advisor of the restoration project of the Temple of Confucius. In his proposal he expressed his attitude toward historic buildings. He said, "in the face of all the old buildings dating from different periods of time, it is our responsibility to protect and restore them. Before starting our work, we need to carefully look into its background, to fix it in a rational way in order to extend its existence for as long as possible."[citation needed]

Design works[edit]

Monk Ganjin memorial Hall, Yangzhou, designed by Liang Sicheng

In around 1950, when he and his wife were both appointed to the groups designing the new national emblem. They urged that the emblem should have Chinese characteristics, not a hammer and sickle. They succeeded and in the end a representation of the façade of the Tiananmen in red and gold became the emblem that is still used today.

In 1951, they were commissioned to design the Monument to the People's Heroes, which was to be erected in the center of the Tiananmen Square. Liang's advice that it should resemble the stone memorial stele universally found throughout China swayed the design group.

The National Style[edit]

When Liang was later given the responsibility to develop a national style of architecture by the Communist Party of China, his intention was to pass on the essence of Chinese architecture. This specific "essence", was considered to be the "large roof", the temple-style concave curved roofs and overhanging eaves to denote their Chinese origin. Though he was severely criticized for this during political campaigns, a wave of the National Style had already spread out and even continued to be influential after one or two decades. Famous examples include the China Fine Arts Gallery (1959), the National Library of China (1987), and Beijing west railway station (1996), which are all typical of their large roofs.

Urban planning of Beijing[edit]

Liang's biggest ambition was to preserve Old Beijing, which had served as the capital city of the Jin, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, in its entirety. Under the Communist government, he was named Vice-Director of the Beijing City Planning Commission. In his early recommendations for transforming Beijing into the new national capital, he insisted that the city should be a political and cultural center, not an industrial zone. He later put forward a proposal that a new administrative center for government buildings with a north-south axis be established west of the Forbidden City, a significant distance from the ancient Inner City. He also advocated that the city walls and gates be preserved, and that the roadways around the ancient city be built with chicanes, so as to slow motor vehicle traffic to help insure additional safety of ancient structures. He even published an article entitled "Beijing: a Masterpiece of Urban Planning", hoping to win the support of the general public. Liang's dreams were not realized, ending only in frustration. Despite his best efforts, most of Beijing's ancient gates and city walls have been torn down. The original footprint of the Old Beijing City Wall have become largely built-over with an inner-city highway known as the 2nd Ring Road, with a few of the original ancient city gates still standing.[10][11]

Repression, respite, and death during the Cultural Revolution[edit]

Despite Liang's contribution to designing national emblem of the People's Republic of China and helping with the reconstruction of Beijing, his theory of architecture, which emphasized the greatness of Chinese building tradition, was severely and publicly criticized; Liang was accused of "thinking that the Communist Party did not understand architecture", and that his affinity to traditional designs was a "phenomena of waste in construction". In 1955, both Liang and his wife Lin Huiyin, already in precarious health, were both dealt a great emotional and spiritual blow by the barrage of criticisms for their efforts to revive China's traditional architecture, that their health both worsened. His wife, in particular, had succumbed to her long ailment in April 1955 after beaten their doctor's prognosis on the estimated time left in her life with tuberculosis by several years. In 1956 Liang was forced to self-criticize and admit that he had made "mistakes"; which were deemed by the authorities as "academic mistakes", rather than "political mistakes".[12] Although the open criticisms against Liang and his beleaguered ideals for a new China with a "national character" had already stopped, the new focus of open criticisms and calls for self-criticism had suddenly shifted against the academics of philosophy and social sciences represented by such scholars as Hu Shi, Hu Feng, and Liang Shuming.[13]

A period of respite for Liang Sicheng came few years later when his ideas and theories about traditional designs for modern China gained resurgence, and was once again widely published. He regained his position as Director of Architecture at Tsinghua University, conducted more surveys on ancient architectural structures, and completed his decades-long work, the Annotated Yingzao Fashi. He remarried to a fellow Tsinghua faculty member Lin Zhu in 1962. However, during the Cultural Revolution, Liang Sicheng was again persecuted as "an authority of counter-revolutionary scholarship", and all his co-workers at Tsinghua University were sent off to the rural regions as part of the "Down to the Countryside Movement". Liang's wife Lin Zhu helped her husband secretly hide the notes and manuscripts, including the Annotated Yingzao Fashi (to be published posthumously over a decade later), to avoid possible confiscation or destruction by the Red Guards. He died in Beijing in 1972, three years before the Cultural Revolution officially ended.[14] In 1973, Lin Zhu recovered and arranged her husband's papers for publication under the titles of A Complete Collection of Liang Sicheng's Works; and continued authoring the works Bewildered Thoughts of a Great Master, Architect Liang Sicheng, and History and Society for the Study of Chinese Architecture.[15] He was subsequently rehabilitated posthumously.


  1. ^ Liang reported his birth year as 1902 at University of Pennsylvania and to the United Nations Design Board.
  2. ^ Sidney Wong. "The Planning Connection between Clarence Stein and Liang Sicheng in Republican China," Planning Perspectives, 2013
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Sichen Liang and Iraq's Cultural Heritage". 
  5. ^ 梁思成の胸像建立へ - 戦火から文化財守った古都の"恩人" (in Japanese). 
  6. ^ Preface to Annotated Yingzao Fashi, Liang Sicheng, Aug, 1963, Collected Works of Liang Sicheng, Vol 7 Yingzao Fashi, p16 ISBN 7-112-04431-6
  7. ^ Liang Ssu Cheng: Chinese Architecture, A Pictorial History, p14 ISBN 0-486-43999-2
  8. ^ Liang Sicheng. Zhong guo jian zhu shi. Baihua Literature and Art Publishing House. 2005
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Chou p. 283
  13. ^
  14. ^ *Chou, Chih-p'ing. "Literature and Society." Princeton University Press, 1999. p.284 ISBN 0-691-01044-7
  15. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Hu, Xiao (胡晓) 2006. “Preserving the Old Beijing: The First Conflict between Chinese Architects and the Communist Government in the 1950s” Paper presented at the 1st Annual James A. Rawley Graduate Conference in the Humanities, Lincoln, Nebraska.
  • Alessandro, Pergoli Campanelli. 2012. Il restauro in_Cina, L'Architetto italiano, IX (48), pp. 24–31.
  • Li, Shiqiao (李士桥) 2002. “Writing a modern Chinese architectural history: Liang Sicheng and Liang Qichao,” Journal of Architectural Education 56(1): 35-45.
  • Steinhardt, Nancy Shatzman. 2002. “China: Designing the future, venerating the past,” The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 61(4): 537-48.
  • Ruan, Xing (阮昕) 2002 “Accidental affinities: American Beaux-Arts in Twentieth-Century Chinese architectural education and practice,” The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 61(1) (March): 30-47.
  • Ch 9, “Chinese Friends,” John King Fairbank. Chinabound: A Fifty-Year Memoir. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. ISBN 0060390050, pp. 104–113.
  • Fairbank, Wilma. Liang and Lin: Partners in Exploring China's Architectural Past. University of Pennsylvania Press. 1994. ISBN 0-8122-3278-X
  • Xue, Charlie Q. L. Building a Revolution, Chinese Architecture Since 1980. Hong Kong University Press. 2006.
  • Sennott, R. Stephen Encyclopedia of 20th Century Architecture. page 767-6. 2004. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. ISBN 978-1-57958-433-7.
  • 王军 《城记》 2003 三联书店
  • Wong, Sidney (黄振翔). "Lin Huiyin (林徽因) and Liang Sicheng (梁思成) as Architectural Students at the University of Pennsylvania (1924-27)" Planning and Development Volume 23, No. 1, page 75-93, 2008.
  • Wong, Sidney. "Background and Influences on Liang Sicheng’s Planning Thoughts" Planning and Development 27(1): 62-76, 2012.
  • Wong, Sidney. "The Planning Connection between Clarence Stein and Liang Sicheng in Republican China" Planning Perspectives 28(3): 421-439, 2013.