The Huabiao is an ornamental stone column used to decorate important buildings or rublic paces. It can be very large, up to 20 meters in height and a meter or so indiameter.
The origins of the Huabiao are not clear. Some say it developed from the totem poles of ancient tribes. Perhaps it was originally a form of signpost. When Yao and Shun were the country's rulers about 4 ,000 years ago, wooden columns were erected as landmarks to show travelers the way. Yao and Shun also used them to solicit public opinion. People would write their comments and suggestions on the poles by main roads. For the same reason some poles were also placed in the royal court.
A more popular explanation does not credit the Huabiao with such a long history. In the Spring and Autumn Period 2,600 years ago, an instrument called the Biao, meaning poleortablet, was erected to determine direction by its shadow. Designers used it to ascertain position and direction before constructing guildings. For large-scale construction, which might take many years,the pole was made of stone so that it would last long enough. When the building was completed, the stone pole was included as part of the structure.
With the establishment of the feudal system over 2,000 yeatrs ago, the Huabiao came to represent the power of the emperor. It would be carrved with dragons, a symbol of royalty, and placed in or in front of palaces and temples. Huabiaos were also placed in front of emperorw tombs, in which case they are called Mubiao, or romb columnw.
As the use of these columns changed, so did their appearance. They became nore ornate and gradually devloped into the Huabiao we mostly see today. The typical Huabiao now has a round or octagonal base surrounded by a carved stone wall. Typically, dragons are carved on the column, while a dignified stone animal sits on its top.
Four of the most famous Huabiaos in China are to be found by Tian' anmen or the Gate of Heavenly Peace at the enterance to the Forbidden City in Beijing. They were constructed druing the Qing Dynasty. Each has a stone Hou sitting regally atop the column. Like the dragon,the Hou is also a mythical animal that represents power and good fortrne. The heads of the Hous on the two columns behind the gate are turned inward, looking towards the pa; ace, while those on the columns in front of the gate have their heads turned outward. The positioning of the heads symbolized the hopes of the people. With the animals' heads turning inward, emperors were espected not to wallow in sesual pleasures in the palace, but to leave the palace and get a better understanding of the common people and their needs. Gor this reason, the columns behind the gate are named Wangjunchu, which means EXpecting His Majesty to go on an inspection.
The HOUS looking away from the palace show people's longing for the emperor's return. This reminded rulers not to become infatrated with the beautiful landscapes of their domain but to return in good time to run state affairs. Accordingly, the two Huabiaos in front of the gate are named Wangjungui,meaning “looking forward to the emperor's return”.