Eaves tiles are constructional accessories fixed at the end of rafters on the classical Chinese architecture to adorn the eaves and keep off the rain and wind. Generally speaking, eaves tiles consist of the half-round tiles and the cylindrical tiles.
Eaves tiles emerged in West Zhou Dynasty (11th century-771 B.C.) and reached a pinnacle during Qin and Han Dynasty (221B.C.-220 A.D.).
Tiles were invented in Zhou Dynasty. And eaves were firstly studded with the eaves tiles during the late West Zhou Dynasty. At the end of the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476B.C.), eaves tiles were vigorously developed and widely employed on the upscale buildings. Eaves tiles of these periods were mostly half-round with simple animal images. As time passed, the decorative function and aesthetic value of the eaves tiles developed. The Qin Dynasty (221B.C.-206B.C.) and Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) were the 隆掳Golden Age" of eaves tiles. Eaves tiles were innovated from the earlier half-round shape to the cylindrical one during Qin Dynasty and were prevalent in Han Dynasty. The animal, plant and pillar cloud patterns prevailed in Qin Dynasty. Few eaves tiles were inscribed with the Chinese characters. Motional images like fleeing deer and agile leopard and static images like perching birds and insects appeared alternatively on the eaves tiles. Plant images included leaves, lotus petals, and sunflowers. Pillar cloud consisted of the internal and the external rings. The interior ring was decorated with square, gridded, circular, tree, and branch patterns. Han Dynasty eaves tiles feature the exquisite and lifelike patterns of animals and characters. Eaves tiles of this period manifested the ambition of the emperor. Characters were carved on the eaves tiles meaning opulence, longevity, national integration, regime stability, and affluence etc. And the layout of the characters was mostly symmetrical and stylish, adding a hue of grace to the eaves tiles. At the end of Han, eaves tiles bore such images as green dragon, white tiger, red phoenix, and black turtle, which equal to four guardians in the west, east, south, and north according to the traditional Chinese culture. In addition, the four guardians were associated with four seasons. Green dragon represents spring, white tiger fall, red phoenix summer, and black turtle winter. Han people believed that the four guardians resembled four seasons and four directions. Placing these four guardians on eaves would ward off the evils and bless the household. Currently, Eaves tiles with four animal guardians are the mascot of Han eaves tiles.
The versatile eaves tiles are the embodiment of Chinese calligraphy and painting, craftsmanship and carving as well as the manifestation of ancient pragmatic and aesthetic pursuits.
Eaves tiles not only decorate the ancient architecture but also offer the valuable references to archeological dating. In a word, eaves tiles are a trove of the ancient Chinese traditions including mythology, totems, history, palaces, mausoleums, place names, auspicious messages, folklore art, and family names. They form a history book that bears a witness to the economic, cultural, and political development of various dynasties.