As a result of wars and invasions, there are few existing buildings in China predating the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Insubstantial construction, largely of wood and rice-paper screens, also accounts for the tremendous loss. However, evidence of early architectural development is provided by representations in Han dynasty (202 B.C.–A.D. 220) bronze vessels, tomb models, carvings, and tiles. One substantial early structure that remains is the Great Wall, begun in the 3d cent. B.C.
The background of Chinese architecture has been somewhat clarified as a result of the increase of archaeological activity since 1949. Discoveries in 1952 near Xi'an brought to light a complete Neolithic village near Banpo. Two kinds of mud-walled dwellings were found—of round and rectangular shapes. As in later construction, buildings were usually oriented to the south, probably as a protection against the north wind.