Using TEI for Chinese Architectural Data

Authors: Miller, Tracy / Anderson, Clifford / Zhuge, Jing / Zuo, Lala / Campbell, Aurelia

Date: Thursday, 7 September 2023, 2:15pm to 3:45pm

Location: Main Campus, L 2.202 <campus:measure>


Architectura Sinica ( is a browser-based research portal dedicated to the study of traditional Chinese Architecture. The open-source database is designed to facilitate advanced research on Chinese linguistic. Architectura Sinica uses TEI as its single source of truth, relying on XQuery for search and discovery to enhance trans-disciplinary research on the built environment of pre-modern China.

Building on the Srophé App (, an open-source eXistDB application for digital cultural heritage, Architectura Sinica is customized for research on historic architecture. Analysis of Middle Period (900-1200 CE) Chinese timber-frame architecture requires detailed investigation of the complex structures supporting the weight of ceramic roof tiles and its characteristic mortise and tenon bracketing. To foster understanding of these intricate structures, connecting TEI-based metadata with images is crucial.

Currently, Architectura Sinica uses Flickr/SmugMug to store its image archive of Chinese temple buildings and illustrations of technical terminology. Although a good pragmatic choice initially, reliance on this commercial provider increasingly poses technical barriers to its scholarly ends. By connecting the TEI with IIIF, we expect to resolve three pressing issues with our project: stronger visual analysis in the interface, better search and discovery of the images, and increased integration of image metadata in the TEI.

This talk will introduce Architectura Sinica, focusing on how it developed from the Srophé app to support an international community of scholars active in the field of medieval Chinese religious architecture. We discuss how the combination of TEI, XQuery, and eXistDB have simplified our application architecture and how these technologies fostered our transition to IIIF. By documenting this phase of Architectura Sinica, we hope to encourage other scholars to consider using TEI and related XML-related technologies to document and preserve cultural heritage in their domains.

About the authors

Tracy Miller is Associate Professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture and Department of Asian Studies at Vanderbilt University. She holds an interdisciplinary MA and PhD in Asian Studies/Art-Architecture History from the University of Pennsylvania (2000) and has published The Divine Nature of Power: Chinese Ritual Architecture at the Sacred Site of Jinci (Harvard Asia Center, 2007), as well as articles and chapters on the religious architecture of Medieval China (ca. 500-1200) in Art Bulletin, Asia Major, Archives of Asian Art, Artibus Asiae, and other venues. An active member of Vanderbilt’s Digital Humanities community, she has spearheaded the development of, a public, collaborative, web-based research portal for the study of Traditional Chinese Architecture, as part of a long-term project analyzing the influence of religious goals on regional style in China’s earliest extant timber-frame structures.

Clifford B. Anderson is Director of Digital Research at the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, NJ and Chief Digital Strategist at the Vanderbilt University Library. He holds a secondary appointment as Professor of Religious Studies in the College of Arts & Science at Vanderbilt University. From 2018 to 2020, he was also an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering. Anderson has a M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a M.S. in L.I.S. from the Pratt Institute. Among other works, he is co-author of XQuery for Humanists (Texas A&M Press, 2020) and editor of Digital Humanities and Libraries and Archives in Religious Studies.

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