In traditional Chinese architecture, every facet of a building was decorated using various materials and techniques. Simple ceiling ornamentations in ordinary buildings were made of wooden strips and covered with paper. More decorative was the lattice ceiling, constructed of woven wooden strips or sorghum stems fastened to the beams. Because of the intricacy of its ornamentation, elaborate cupolas were reserved for the ceilings of the most important structures such as tombs and altars, although it is not clear what the spiritual beliefs of the early Chinese were, as alters appear to have served as burial sites. In traditional Chinese architecture, the layered pieces of the ceiling are held together by interlocking bracket sets.
Elaborate wooden coffers bordered by a round, square, or polygon frame with its brackets projecting inward and upward from its base were used around the 7th century. Deeply recessed panels shaped like a well (square at the base with a rounded top) were fitted into the ceiling’s wooden framework. The center panel of the ceiling was decorated with water lilies or other water plants. The relationship of the name to water has been linked to an ancient fear that wooden buildings would be destroyed by fire and that water would prevent or quell the fire’s flames.