How Did Chinese Architecture Influence Korea

Korea has been deeply influenced by Chinese culture throughout its long history, and architecture is no exception. Chinese architectural styles pervade throughout the cities of Korea and can be seen all over the landscape in the forms of temples, royal palaces, and more. To gain an understanding of how China’s architecture influenced Korea, it’s important to learn about the countryside of both regions and the various architectural techniques used by the Chinese and Koreans.

The hilly and mountainous terrain of both China and Korea creates deep ravines and gorges, causing them to be divided by valleys rather than flat plains. Therefore, when attempting to construct any type of edifice, both nations had to rely on the vertical approach, building mountain-top monasteries, pagodas, and temples in order to maximize stability while also granting the building a good view of its surroundings. These structures, however, were built using different techniques in each country.

China utilized a method known as ‘timber architecture’, wherein materials such as softwood beams, bamboo rods, and clay tiles were used to create frames and pillars that would support the structure’s load. This enabled walls to be slimmer and more lightweight and to require less internal bracing. On the other hand, Korea used a technique called ‘stone architecture’, wherein existing stones found at the construction site were used to build walls and pillars. As such, Korea’s walls were made from thicker material, making them more distinctive and durable than Chinese walls.

The most distinctive and iconic feature of Chinese architecture is the curved eaves of its roofs. In Chinese architecture, curved eaves are known as dougong and are an incredibly important element of the overall design, serving both aesthetic and utilitarian purposes. The eaves not only look beautiful, they also provide protection against rain and other elements. Architect Nancy ShatzMAN Steinhardt of the University of Pennsylvania stated that “the quintessential form of Chinese architecture was, and is still to some extent, a timbered structure without nails or mortar, featuring heavily bracketed and curved roofs.” Meanwhile, in Korea, curved eaves are known as gambrel roofing and have significantly different aesthetics and functions. Although curved eaves can be found in Korean architecture, they often feature a bell-like shape rather than the sweeping curves of Chinese eaves.

In addition to the curved eaves, the Chinese style features many other distinct features, including the use of natural materials such as marble, granite, and stone, and an emphasis on symmetry, balance, and proportion. Chinese palace architecture also features courtyards and other outdoor spaces, with water and pavilions being added for aesthetic purposes. On the other hand, traditional Korean architecture features fewer courtyards and exterior elements, as the focus was instead to create a cozy and intimate atmosphere within the building itself. However, this does not mean that Chinese architectural style was not present in Korea, rather that the Chinese influences were more subtle due to the differences in the two countries’ cultures.

We can see further evidence of Chinese influence in Korean culture through the presence of Confucianism in Korean society. Confucianism is an ethical and philosophical system originating from China, and its influence can be seen in Korean architecture through its impact on the design and layout of the structures themselves. For instance, the layout of palaces and temples often featured symmetrical spaces, an emphasis on balance and harmony between the human and natural realms, and an overall sense of restraint and simplicity. This is a perfect example of how Chinese philosophy was absorbed and adapted by the Koreans, thereby becoming part of the country’s culture.

Chinese Landscape Gardening in Korea

Chinese landscape gardening also had a significant impact on the architecture of Korea. Landscape gardening is a type of gardening that seeks to create a balanced and harmonious environment by combining plants, stones, water, and other natural elements. Chinese landscape gardening had a major influence on the design of gardens and parks in Korea and was used to create beautiful, functional, and expressive outdoor spaces. This can be seen in the Hexagonal Pavilion Garden in Seoul, where the presence of rocks, plants, and water create a peaceful and beautiful atmosphere.

This type of landscaping technique is present in many of the royal palaces and temples in Korea and is an example of how Chinese landscape gardening has been adapted by the Koreans. The use of rocks and stones to create winding paths, lagoons, and lush rock gardens is a common feature in Korean gardens and reflects the Chinese use of rocks and stones to create paths and pathways in their gardens.

The use of rocks and stones also had a practical purpose in Korea, as it helped to protect the buildings from high winds and other natural events, by allowing them to be rooted in the earth. In addition, up to this day, the use of water in gardens is an integral part of Korean landscaping and is reflective of the Chinese tradition of using water to provide movement and life to a garden.

The Influence of Korean Architecture on China

Though historically, it has been said that Chinese architectural influence has been a major factor in the development of Korean architecture, it is also true that Korean architecture has had a significant impact on Chinese architectural traditions. The most notable example of this is the spread of Confucianism from China to Korea, which not only had an impact on the design of buildings, but also on the way in which architecture was viewed within the two countries.

In addition, due to the close geographical proximity of the two nations, the two cultures came into contact more often than not, and as a result, certain influences from Korean architecture found their way into Chinese architecture. In particular, the use of pagodas in Korean architecture was adopted by the Chinese, who used the same style of building to create impressive structures such as the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

In conclusion, it is easy to see how Chinese architecture has influenced Korea over the centuries. From the use of curved eaves, landscape gardening, and the embrace of Confucianism to the use of pagodas and outdoor spaces in royal courts, Chinese influence is all around us. While both cultures have borrowed elements from each other, the result is an impressive mix of both cultures that is unique to each culture.

Modern Chinese Influence on Korean Architecture

While Chinese architectural influence in Korea is unquestionably evident in the country’s traditional and royal architecture, Chinese influence is still evident in modern-day Korea as well. One example of modern Chinese influence on Korean architecture is the rising popularity of Chinese-style apartments. These apartments, which often feature the Chinese-style curved roofs, are becoming increasingly popular in Korean cities.

In addition, Chinese-style courtyards are being incorporated into modern-day Korean architecture. These are often used to create relaxing outdoor spaces, which are all the more popular in urban environments.

The use of modern technology has also led to an increased influence of Chinese architecture in Korea. One example of this is the fact that the Beijing National Stadium, famously known as the Bird’s Nest, served as a major source of inspiration for the design of the Olympic Stadium in Seoul.

Moreover, the influence of Chinese architecture can be seen in other areas of Korean society as well, such as the use of Chinese-style furniture and design in modern-day homes and businesses. This is just one of the many ways in which Chinese influence on Korean architecture has continued to be felt in modern times.


Through its long history, the relationship between China and Korea has been an incredibly complex one, with the two countries influencing one another culturally, politically, and architecturally. While the Chinese have had a major influence on the architecture of Korea, the Koreans have also had an effect on Chinese architecture as well. Whether it be in the form of Confucianism or the popularization of pagodas, Korean influences can be seen in Chinese architecture all around us.

Nonetheless, it is undisputable that Chinese architectural style had a major impact on Korean architecture, both in traditional times and even in modern times. From the use of curved roofs to landscape gardening and the incorporation of modern technology, Chinese influence in Korean architecture is undeniable.

Anita Johnson is an award-winning author and editor with over 15 years of experience in the fields of architecture, design, and urbanism. She has contributed articles and reviews to a variety of print and online publications on topics related to culture, art, architecture, and design from the late 19th century to the present day. Johnson's deep interest in these topics has informed both her writing and curatorial practice as she seeks to connect readers to the built environment around them.

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