The Architecture of China's Christian Universities: A Semiotic Study
AffiliationArchitecture, Building and Planning
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2023-04-30.
© 2020 Yinrui Xie
Architecture carries meanings, especially in the case of cultural and religious buildings when architecture is often intended to overtly demonstrate symbolic meanings. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, thirteen Christian universities were built in China by British and American missionaries to facilitate religious propoganda. In the quasi-colonial context of China, the university buildings, designed by Western architects, imitated local Chinese architecture in order to pacify local resistance. Chinese architectural elements were carefully adopted and combined with Western ones to express abundant meanings: the universities’ respectful attitude towards Chinese culture and Chinese people, the educational ideal of the universities to synthesise Western and Chinese education systems, and so on. But were the architectural meanings interpreted in the same way as envisioned by the designers? How efficacious was this architectural communication? The cross-cultural context made the situation even more complicated. The meanings embedded in the university buildings were interpreted by various groups of people from different cultural backgrounds: the Western missionaries and architects, Western media, staff from both China and the West, the Chinese students, the local government, and ordinary Chinese people. Each of them derived different meanings from the buildings with their own encyclopaedic knowledge. This leads to another question: How should the meaning of architecture be studied in cross-cultural contexts? This thesis explores the architectural history of China’s Christian universities constructed by Western missionaries in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Focusing on the interaction between architecture, politics, and culture, the thesis analyses how the Christian campuses were constructed against the complex socio-cultural context of modern China. Informed by semiotic theories, cross-cultural architectural “communication” between various groups at the campuses is examined, with a model describing architectural communication in cross-cultural contexts constructed and tested through analysis of case studies.
KeywordsChristian universities; Chinese architecture; Semiotics
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