zǎojǐng 藻井



  • zaojing (Pinyin without tones)
  • 藻井 (Traditional Chinese)
  • 藻井 (Simplified Chinese)
  • zǎojǐng (Pinyin)
  • tsao-ching (Wade-Giles)
  • pondweed (or water-plant) well (lit.) (English)1
  • coffered ceiling (ATTCAT preferred translation) (English)2
  • coffer (English)3
  • caisson ceiling (English)4
  • domed ceiling (English)2
  • figured ceiling (English)5
  • pondweed well (English)6

Note (full)

    Meaning literally pondweed, or water -plant, well (Kroll 2015, 584-585), in pre-modern Chinese literature, zaojing 藻井 refers to a flat or recessed decorative ceiling which is based on an orthogonal grid and obscures the roof frame.1

    The earliest usage of the term zaojing can be traced back to the Eastern Han. Within historical literature, the term zaojing is used in several different ways, but possible interpretations can be summarized as follows. (1) Zao and jing refer to decorative and structural features respectively. Zao refers to the pattern of a water-plant (Zhang 1716), while jing refers to a jinggan style structure. (2) Both zao and jing relate to symbols that protect the building from fire. Zao is a type of plant growing in water, while jing, which usually means a well from which one can draw water (He 1986, 528; Lu 1782), but, in this case, may refer to a star called dongjing (“eastern well”), which was believed to control the balance of water in ancient China.7

    A puzzling aspect of zaojing is how to interpret the form described using the Chinese character 井, meaning “well.” No physical or visual evidence can tell us conclusively what the terms that are used to gloss zaojing in literature before the Song dynasty, such as jiaomufang 交木方 (lit. intersecting timber squares?), weijingxing 為井形 (lit. making a well shape?) or fuliao 覆橑 (inverted eaves rafters?), mean. Do they refer to a flat ceiling divided by timbers laid in an orthogonal grid, which takes a 井-like shape? Or a ceiling coffer that extends upward into the roof frame built in a manner similar to an ancient well? Or both, depending on the circumstance? The only information about the structure of zaojing that can be inferred from classical literature is (1) the zaojing is a highly decorated ceiling that is related to the type and rank of the building; (2) the zaojing is positioned in between the interior space and the roof frame, but might not cover the whole roof structure; (3) and that fabric may have originally hung from the zaojing. Taking early tombs and cave temples--which often imitated wooden structures in stone or brick--as evidence, the form 井 can be understood as either a flat (two-dimensional) frame or a stacked (three-dimensional) frame. The variety of related terms might suggest multiple origins of this kind of decorative ceiling.

    The earliest firm connection we have found between the term zaojing and a visual form is in the Yingzao fashi (1103) (Li 2009, 8.1a-4a). In chapter eight,the section on ceilings includes the terms pingqi 平棊, pingan 平闇, douba zaojing 鬭八藻井, and xiao douba zaojing 小鬭八藻井. Li Jie, the author of the Yingzao fashi, notes that ping’an is an unadorned ceiling, and does not go into further detail. More detail is provided on pingqi, douba zaojing, and xiao douba zaojing, including a particularly detailed description of the structure of douba zaojing. It may be possible that all three ceiling types were described as “zaojing” in pre-modern Chinese sources. In the Ming dynasty, a new relationship between tianhua 天花 (lit. “floral heaven”, i.e. a decorative ceiling) and zaojing appeared, in which zaojing was regarded as the traditional name for tianhua (Cao and Zhu 1914, 168b; Chen 1734, 382a; Wang 1802, 556a).8

    Using the Yingzao fashi as a foundation for understanding premodern Chinese architecture terminology, researchers in the Society for the Study of Chinese Architecture (Yingzao xueshe 營造學社) at the beginning of the twentieth century reestablished the connection among the term zaojing, extant examples, and texts (Liang and Liu, 1937). Compared with historical literature, the usage of zaojing in contemporary architectural history research has narrowed considerably. Today, zaojing refers only to the highly decorated and deeply recessed portion of the ceiling located in key positions, such as above a Buddha image. Because of the modern Chinese interpretation of zaojing, translations of zaojing into Western languages are also often narrowly rendered as “domed,” “cupola,” or “Lanterndecke” ceilings (Fu 2017, 371; Steinhardt 2014, 271). These translations might be misleading when trying to understand the appearance of buildings described as having zaojing in the past.9


    “藻井”一詞的使用最早可以追溯至東漢。古代文獻中對“藻”“井”二字詞義的說法不一,但大致可以歸納為以下兩個方面:(1) “藻“和”井“可以分別指向其装饰和结构形式意涵:“藻”的裝飾意味來源於水草所具有的花紋(張 1716); “井”则指向木交方如井幹的结构形式。 (2) “藻”和“井”被認為均具有厭火的象征目的: “藻”的厭火意象來源於蓮花等水草生发于水的属性(何 1986, 528;陸 1782);“井”的厭火意象可能與主水衡的東井宿聯繫更為直接,而非現今一般認為的地上的水井。(数种著作均引《风俗通》,如《文选笺证》,但今本《风俗通义》无此句。)7

    而最為模糊的是“井”字所指向的“井形”結構形式。宋以前的文本中所謂“交木方”、“為井形”、“覆橑”的藻井實際做法并无圖像或實例與之確實地對應,無法完全確定當時“藻井”之所指,而歷代詩文中對”藻井”一詞的使用所透露的隱含信息僅限於:1)藻井裝飾華麗,與建築的類型和等級相關 ;2)藻井位於室内空间上方,且可能并未将屋架完全封闭 ;3)藻井上可能垂有織物帷幔 。若以墓葬或早期石窟寺的案例對中國古代木構的效仿作為旁證,則出現在頂部的“井形”可以被理解為平鋪式的橫縱交錯的井口分隔,抑或 “井”字形木條方的層疊形式。與“藻井”相關的多種詞彙可能暗示了此類遮蔽屋架的構造的多重來源。

    營造法式》中記載了“平棊”、“平闇”,“鬭八藻井”和“小鬭八藻井”等遮蔽屋架的構造類型,並提供了作為“藻井”某種特殊構造的“闘八藻井”和“小鬭八藻井”的細緻描述(李 2009 8.1a-4a)。其中,“平闇”因其不加裝飾的本質與“藻井”的所指相矛盾,但“平棊”、“鬭八藻井”和“小鬭八藻井”均可能属于古代文獻中“藻井”的所指範圍。時期“藻井”被視為“天花(板)”之古名。(曹和朱 1914,168b;陳 1734,382a;王 1802,556a)8

    20世紀初,營造學社出版的刊物和論著以《營造法式》為基礎,重新建立“藻井”一詞與實例和“鬭八藻井”等文字之間的聯繫,從而使得“藻井”的所指逐漸特殊化,尤其強調藻井形象特征的向上突起,且位於建築中重點位置,以區別于天花或《營造法式》的平棊(梁和劉 1937)。較古代文獻而言,“藻井”如今在當代中國建築史研究領域,通常僅指代屋內天花重点位置向上拱起的裝飾精美的構造部分。也由于这一认知,西方語言中也常使用“domed” “cupola” 或 “Lanterndecke” ceilings等僅表示向上拱起特征的詞彙表示“藻井”(Fu 2017,371; Steinhardt 2014, 271),這有可能誤導英文讀者對“藻井”所指的理解。9

Works Cited

Any information without attribution has been created following the Syriaca.org editorial guidelines.

  • 1 KROLL. 2015. A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese, 584-585.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
  • 2 FU. 2017. Traditional Chinese Architecture: Twelve Essays, 371.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
  • 3 GUO. 2002. A Visual Dictionary of Chinese Architecture, 93.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
  • 4 LIANG. 2005. Chinese architecture: a pictorial history, 192.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
  • 5 XIAO. 2014. Wen xuan, or, Selections of refined literature. Volume one, 186-187.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
  • 6 XIAO. 2014. Wen xuan, or, Selections of refined literature. Volume two, 288-289.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
  • 7 何. 1986. 景福殿賦, 528.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
  • 8 曹. 1914. 曹集考異, 168b.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; 陳. 1734. 格致鏡原, 382a.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; 王. 1802. 直隸太倉州志, 556a.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; STEINHARDT. 2014. Chinese Architecture in an Age of Turmoil, 200-600, 271.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
  • 9 梁. 1937. 建築參考設計圖集第十集·藻井Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; FU. 2017. Traditional Chinese Architecture: Twelve Essays, 371.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record

Broad Match: building frame

How to Cite This Entry

BAI Ying 白穎 et al., “ 藻井 zǎojǐng” in Architectura Sinica last modified November 21, 2021, https://architecturasinica.org/keyword/k000154.


BAI Ying 白穎 et al., “ 藻井 zǎojǐng.” In Architectura Sinica, edited by Tracy Miller. Entry published April 8, 2021. https://architecturasinica.org/keyword/k000154.

About this Entry

Entry Title: 藻井 zǎojǐng

Authorial and Editorial Responsibility:

  • Tracy Miller, editor, Architectura Sinica
  • ZHUGE Jing 諸葛净, associate editor, Architectural Terminology
  • BAI Ying 白穎 and XIE Qizheng 謝祺錚, entry contributors, “ 藻井 zǎojǐng

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  • Chinese proofreading by ZHUGE Jing 諸葛净 ZUO Lala 左拉拉
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