Nanchan Monastery, great hall  南禪寺大殿


  • great hall (English)
  • 大殿 (Traditional Chinese)
  • 大殿 (Simplified Chinese)
  • dàdiàn (Pinyin)
  • ta-tien (Wade-Giles)
  • Nanchansi dadian (English)
  • 南禪寺大殿 (Traditional Chinese)
  • 南禅寺大殿 (Simplified Chinese)
  • Dadian


  • Coordinates:
    • Lat. 38.7013333° Long. 113.114°
  • Building Information

    Slightly less famous than the Foguang Monastery Great East Hall, the great hall at Nanchan Monastery is the earliest extant timber-frame building in China (Chai 1999A, 353). It is dated to 782 by an inscription on an interior level cross beam 平梁, saying that the hall was repaired (chongxiu 重修) in the third year of the Tang Jianzhong reign period (782; the original text read: 因舊名告大唐建中三年歲次壬戌月居戊申丙寅朔庚午日癸未時重修殿法顯等謹志), indicating that the building was first constructed earlier than 782. Stylistically speaking, however, the structure should not pre-date the Tang dyansty (Qi and Chai 1980, 61; our update into traditional characters).2

    In 1964 and 1966, just over a decade after its 1953 discovery, Nanchan Monastery went through two destructive earthquakes. Nevertheless, architectural historians converted the calamity to an opportunity to study the building's structure piece by piece (Steinhardt 2004, 235). Three-bays wide both across the front façade and in depth, Nanchan Monastery great hall is almost a perfect square in plan. The building itself has a single-eaves hip-gable roof covered by grey barrel tiles and plate tiles. Around the building, there are twelve extant eaves pillars 檐柱, each slightly inclining inward (cejiao 側角) and set into stone column bases (Gao 2001, 16). The three rectilinear pillars are the original ones made in the Tang dynasty, and the nine round pillars were replacements of the first year of the Yuanyou reign period in the Northern Song dynasty (元祐元年, 1086) (Steinhardt 2004, 235). The pillars are connected by lan’e 闌額 on the top without pupaifang 普拍枋 above them. The corbeled bracket sets are five puzuo 鋪作 and appear on the pillar tops only (Guojia wenwuju 2006, II:579). The transverse frame is secured by a four-rafter beam joining into the pillar-top bracket sets as the second level of huagong on the front and back facades. Chai and Qi note that four-rafter beams spanning the building front to back eaves pillars are also called "four rafter eaves beams" (sichuanyanfu 四椽檐栿; Qi and Chai 1980, 66). Like most other Chinese timber-frame structures, Nanchan Monastery great hall utilized a modular system, however not precisely. Visible in the dimensions of the dougong 斗栱 bracket set, the module of the great hall is approximately 26 by 17 centimeters, which places it at fourth rank in Yingzao fashi 營造法式 (Steinhardt 2004, 235).3

    Nanchan Monastery great hall was at least 1100 years old and severely weathered when it was found. Many of the building’s timber components had split, and some of them were already seriously decayed. After the two earthquakes in 1964 and 1966, a variety of the wood components were shaken out of the mortise holes 卯眼 and nearly ruptured (Chai 1999A, 354). In 1974, the restoration project of the great hall officially started, and it strictly conformed to the principle of “restoring to the original state or preserve the current state” (Chai 1999B, 361). The restoration team consolidated the important structural components such as the eaves pillars 檐柱, lan’e 闌額, shuatou 耍頭, linggong 令栱, dingfu 丁栿, and chashou 叉手 on pingliang 平梁 by adding iron reinforcements in well-concealed positions (Chai 1999B, 366-367). 4

    Date Repaired in 782
    Dynasty Tang 618 - 907 1

    Works Cited

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

    • 1 WILKINSON. 2000. Chinese History: A Manual, 12.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
    • 2 柴. 1999. 五臺南禪寺大殿修繕復原工程設計書, 353.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; 祁. 1980. 南禅寺大殿修复, 61.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
    • 3 高. 2011. 南禅寺大殿修缮与新中国初期文物建筑保护理念的发展, 16.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; STEINHARDT. 2004. The Tang Architectural Icon and the Politics of Chinese Architectural History, 235.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; 祁. 1980. 南禅寺大殿修复, 66.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; 国家文物局. 2006. 中国文物地图集. 山西分册, II:579;40-C1-1.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
    • 4 柴. 1999. 五臺南禪寺大殿修繕復原工程設計書, 354.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; 柴. 1999B. 南禪寺大殿修繕工程竣工技術報告, 361-367.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record

    Contained in Place

    Architectural Features

    How to Cite This Entry

    ZOU Yuyang 鄒宇洋 et al., “Nanchan Monastery, great hall 南禪寺大殿 ” in Architectura Sinica last modified February 19, 2022,


    ZOU Yuyang 鄒宇洋 et al., “Nanchan Monastery, great hall 南禪寺大殿 .” In Architectura Sinica, edited by Tracy Miller. Entry published March 21, 2018.

    About this Entry

    Entry Title: Nanchan Monastery, great hall 南禪寺大殿

    Authorial and Editorial Responsibility:

    • Tracy Miller, editor, Architectura Sinica
    • ZOU Yuyang 鄒宇洋 and Tracy Miller, entry contributors, “Nanchan Monastery, great hall 南禪寺大殿

    Additional Credit:

    • Editing and proof correction Tracy Miller
    • Adding citations Song Qisen
    • Initial research 2021 by ZOU Yuyang 鄒宇洋

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