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Roof Crowns

One of the structural members of traditional Chinese architecture, the baoding (literally, 'treasure top') stands at the center on top of certain types of pavilions, pagodas and towers which have no horizontal main ridges. Normally made of glazed tile, it may be in one of several forms (a gourd-shaped bottle, a vase, a pagoda, etc.), often surrounded by bas-relief carvings of dragons, phoenixes, peonies and the like.

The roof crown is not only an ornament at the top of a building but helps to reinforce the roof itself. Buildings on which baoding crowns are found are all constructed according to a traditional method by which the wooden parts of the roof structure go upward and gradually gather together at the top of a king post in the middle. The king post keeps the roof structure securely balanced rather like the stick of a parasol holding the ribs of its frame together. To give additional strength to the structure, ancient Chinese used glared material for the crown to protect the king post from weathering and erosion. As the top of a building is most vulnerable to lightning, the king post was named in the old times leigongzhu (post of the God of Thunder) in the hope that thunderbolts might keep away.

Many ancient buildings of this type, thanks to the king posts and roof crowns, have stood innumerable tests including storms and earthquakes over the ages and remained intact down to this day.

Zhonghedian (Hall of Complete Harmony) and Jiaotaidian (Hall of Union and Peace) in the Beijing Palace Museum (or the Forbidden City) where the Ming and Qing emperors handled state affairs) have roof crowns completely gilded with gold, in harmony with the sumptuous surroundings and setting them apart from the red-or green-glazed crowns of lesser buildings.

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