cǎihuà 彩畫



  • caihua (Pinyin without tones)
  • 彩畫 (Traditional Chinese)1
  • 彩画 (Simplified Chinese)
  • cǎihuà (Pinyin)
  • ts’ai-hua (Wade-Giles)
  • Polychrome painting (lit.) (English)
  • Decorative coatings (English)2
  • Decorative polychrome paintings of Architectural Members (English)3


    Painted decoration on architectural surfaces and objects, including clothing, utensils, boats, and chariots, created using polychrome colorants. In Chapter 14 of the Yingzao fashi (1103), the craft of applying polychrome painted decoration on architectural surfaces (caihuazuo 彩畫作) is categorized as a specific division of architectural works.

    In traditional Chinese literature, caihua can be used to refer to the decoration of clothing, utensils, boats, and enamel. It also refers to the method of decoration applied to the surface of building components, which were controlled by sumptuary laws. An example from the Sui shu 隋書 11.218 reads: “The emperor said, “The system of forms (xingzhi) is based on this. From today it is first established and must be followed for frugality. The people who use embroidery and weaving may apply polychrome paint and gold pigment. Those ornamented with pearl and jade [should] make use of mother-of-pearl (帝曰:形制依此。今天下初定,務從節儉。應用繡、織成者,並可彩畫,金色宜塗,珠玉之飾,任用蚌也)." Restrictions on the use of polychrome paint based on rank can also be found in Chapter 18 of the Tang Liudian 唐六典 and in the Song shi 宋史 149.3484."1

    We also found a few examples of wall paintings referred to as “caihua” in traditional Chinese texts. For example, the Han shu 漢書 has "hua tang 畫堂" and "hua shi 畫室". Hua tang refers to the "hall of paintings in the palace," and "hua shi" means the "room of carving and painting." The Tang dynasty commenter Yanshi Gu 顔師古 noted that the "paintings" and "carvings" here should be murals. References in other literature include: Daoshi 道師's Fayuan zhulin 法苑珠林 (Grove of Jewels in the Garden of the Dharma ca. 660s CE), which describes wall decoration as: "...Like todays works of painting on walls (如今壁上彩畫所作)” and Liu Daochun 劉道醇's Songchao minghua ping 宋朝名畫評 (Critique of Famous Paintings of the Song Dynasty, ca. 1059 CE) where decoration on walls are similarly described as: “polychrome painting arranged on walls 彩繪列壁”.

    指衣飾、器物、舟車、棺椁或建築等等表面施用的多彩裝飾。《營造法式》(1103年) 卷十四,將在建築表面裝飾彩畫的工藝單獨列為一類營造工種。

    彩畫在古代文獻中又通 “采畫”,既可以指衣飾、器物、舟車、棺椁的彩畫裝飾,也指施于建築構件表面的裝飾方式。例如《隋書》:“帝曰:形制依此。今天下初定,務從節儉。應用繡、織成者,並可彩畫,金色宜塗,珠玉之飾,任用蚌也”。《唐六典》:“其棺椁禁雕鏤、彩畫、施戶牖欄檻者,棺內禁金寶珠玉而斂者。”《宋史》:“……橫貫大木以為軸,夾以兩輪,輪皆彩畫。” 古代文献中有一些壁畫也称作彩畫,例如《漢書》記有“畫堂”和“畫室”。“畫堂” 意为 “宫殿中彩畫之堂”,“畫室” 意 “雕畫之室”,唐顏師古推斷這裡的“彩畫” “雕畫” 應該是壁畫,又如道師寫的《法苑珠林》中有 “如今壁上彩畫所作”,《宋朝名畫评》有“彩繪列壁”的说法。1

Related concepts

Works Cited

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  • 1 李. 2009. 營造法式 (1103; 故宫藏抄本), 2.10a-b; 14.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; 李. 2011. 《營造法式》彩畫製度研究, 76-77.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; 脫脫. 1978. 宋史, 149.3484.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
  • 2 GUO. 2002. A Visual Dictionary of Chinese Architecture, 21.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
  • 3 FU. 2017. Traditional Chinese Architecture: Twelve Essays, 350.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record

How to Cite This Entry

REN Sijie 任思捷 et al., “ 彩畫 cǎihuà” in Architectura Sinica last modified January 15, 2024, https://architecturasinica.org/keyword/k000004.


REN Sijie 任思捷 et al., “ 彩畫 cǎihuà.” In Architectura Sinica, edited by Tracy Miller. Entry published May 15, 2019. https://architecturasinica.org/keyword/k000004.

About this Entry

Entry Title: 彩畫 cǎihuà

Authorial and Editorial Responsibility:

  • Tracy Miller, editor, Architectura Sinica
  • ZHUGE Jing 諸葛净, associate editor, Architectural Terminology
  • REN Sijie 任思捷 and YANG Wantian 楊莞闐, entry contributors, “ 彩畫 cǎihuà

Additional Credit:

  • Website coordination by Yuh-Fen Benda
  • Initial research and revision by REN Sijie 任思捷 YANG Wantian 楊莞闐
  • Peer review by ATTCAT 2018
  • English proofreading by Aurelia Campbell
  • Chinese proofreading by ZHUGE Jing 諸葛净
  • Data entry and revision by Yuh-Fen Benda, Tracy Miller
  • Adding various languages and revising title statement by SUN Zheng 孫正

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