Huabiao, the Auspicious Pillars

In front of the Tian’anmen rostrum stands a pair of marble columns. They are elaborately cut in bas-relief following the pattern of legendary dragon. Behind the gate stands another pair of similar columns. There beautifully engraved pillars, as something typical Chinese, are called Huabiao, and is actually an ornamental or symbolic column erected in front of palaces, bridges, city gates, tombs or other places.

The original purpose of the isolated pillar was not just for ornamental sake. According to ancient historical records, Yao and Shun, two legendary saint-like kings that existed over 41 centuries ago, ordered the erection of wooden pillars in public places. On those pillars, common people were allowed to write their wishes, suggestions and even complaints concerning the management of state affairs.

During the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.), the wooden pillars were replaced by some stone ones. With the establishment of monarchical power, Huabiao's function as a criticism media faded. Instead, with carving of dragons and auspicious clouds, it became a pure ornament erected in front of buildings.

Huabiao functioned originally as a road sign. At the same time they were also used by people to record criticism against the king and ministers. Hence, it was also called feibang mu, or wooden column for criticism. Huabiao emerged long before the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.). With the establishment of monarchical power, Huabiao's function as a criticism media faded, and it also no longer played its role as a road sign. Instead, with carving of dragons and auspicious clouds, it became a pure ornament erected in front of buildings.

The one on top of the column inside the gate is named wangdigui (literally, expecting the emperor to come back soon) implying that the emperor should not stay long outside the palace enjoying the beautiful mountains and water, but should come back soon to deal with state affairs. The one on top of the column outside the gate, with its head turned to the outside, is named wangdichu (expecting the emperor to go out), indicating that the emperor should not indulge himself in the luxurious life inside the palace, but should go our frequently to keep abreast of public sentiment.

In ancient China ornamented stone pillars were often erected by a bridge, palace hall or city wall as an ornament or landmark. The Huaobiao in front and behind Tian'anmen were carved out of a whole piece of white marble and bear exquisite carvings in relief. They are the best of Huabiao in the country.

Source: http://sis.ruc.edu.cn/