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Huabiao

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Introduction
Huabiao is a type of ceremonial columns used in traditional Chinese architecture. Huabiao are traditionally erected in front of palaces and tombs. The prominence of their placement have made them one of the emblems of traditional Chinese culture. When placed outside palaces, they can also be called bangmu. When placed outside a tomb, they can also be called shendaozhu.

History & Background
Classical texts in China attribute the beginning of the huabiao to Shun, a legendary leader traditionally dated to the 23rd-22nd century BC. Some say it developed from the totem poles of ancient tribes. The Huainanzi describes the feibangmu, or bangmu for short, literally "commentary board", as a wooden board set up on main roads to allow the people to write criticism of government policies. However, tradition holds that by the mid-Xia dynasty, the king had moved the bangmu in front of the palace, in order to control public criticism. During the notorious reign of King Li of Zhou, the king would monitor those who wrote on the bangmu, and those who criticised the government would be killed. The practical use of the bangmu gradually diminished as a result of such practices.

In the Han dynasty, the bangmu became merely a symbol of the government's responsibility to the people. These were erected near bridges, palaces, city gates and tombs; the name huabiao arose during this time. During the Southern and Northern Dynasties, the Liang dynasty restored the institution of the bangmu, by installing boxes next to the bangmu. Those wishing to air grievances or to comment on government policies could post their writings in these boxes. However, by this time, the column itself was no longer treated as a bulletin board.

It is thought that, in their use on spirit roads, the huabiao replaced the ornate que towers, which were commonly used during the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220 AD).

Structure
Extant huabiao are typically made from white marble. A huabiao is typically made up of four components. At the bottom is a square base, called a sumeru base, which is decorated with bas-relief depictions of dragons, lotuses, and other auspicious symbols. Above is a column, decorated with a coiled dragon and auspicious clouds. Near the top, the column is crossed by a horizontal stone board in the shape of a cloud (called the "cloud board"). The column is topped by a round cap, called the chenglupan (承露盤) "dew-collecting plate" (see fangzhu). At the top of the cap sits a mythical creature called the denglong (Chinese: 蹬龙), one of the "nine children of the dragon", which is said to have the habit of watching the sky. Its role atop the huabiao is said to be to communicate the mood of the people to the Heavens above.

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Source: Wikipedia

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