China has the world’s oldest living civilization. It’s written history
goes back almost 3,500 years, and the history told by it’s artifacts and
artwork goes back much farther. The oldest known works of Chinese art
include pottery and jade carvings from the time of 5000 BC.
Jade is a general term used to describe either jadeite or nephrite, known
as true jade. It’s composed of several minerals. It’s smooth and rich in
texture, but it’s also extremely tough. It can be off-white, or dark
green, and sometimes has a reddish tint. Authentic jade is cool and never
translucent. The philosopher Confucius described jade perfectly when he
“It is soft, smooth and shining- like intelligence. It’s edges seem sharp
but do not cut- like justice. It hangs down to the ground- like humility.
When struckm, it gives clear, ringing sounds- like music. The strains in
it are not hidden and add to it’s beauty- like truthfulness. It has
brightness- like heaven. It’s firm substance is born of the mountains and
the waters- like the earth.”
The material has been used since the Shang dynasty, which lasted from
1766-1022 B.C. They see it as a sign of wealth and authority and also as
an object of beauty. The chinese word for jade is yu. During the Ming
dynasty, the Chinese people thought that only green or white stones were
true jade, and the other colors were called fu yu, or false jade. It was
classified into nine different colors during the Tsin dynasty, and has more
recently been classified into many different categories.
Jade is one of the touchest stones in the world, near the diamond because
of overlapping fibers within the stone. Tons of pressure are needed to
crush some of the larger pieces of jade. A single cut through a one foot
cube of jade would take several weeks.
The ancient chinese people thought that jade had special powers, and they
used it in rituals and ceremonies. It was also beleived to have medical
uses, but the most common use is for decoration. Jade is not mined in
China, but China is still considered the “home” of jade because the artists
from China have learned to carve the stone better than the artists from any
other country. The ancient artists would stare at rough pieces of jade,
and then decide what they wanted to carve it into.
Chinese pottery is also an ancient form of art in China. It was first
created in the pre-dynastic neolithic era. Some fragments of pottery are
from 3,000 B.C. 4,000 years
after that, the porcelain from the Sung and
Ming dynasty, the most famous and beautiful porcelain in the world, was
created. Although other countries also created China, the pottery
originated in Asia. French porcelain was inspired by the delicate white
work from the Ting dynasty, and Clue and white Dutch Delft porcelain was
modeled after pottery from the Ming dynasty.
Pottery started out as functional, but became more ornamental as the
centires continued. the themes of the painted and carved porcelain were
mostly nature scenes, but they were also from folklore. Artrists originaly
molded the clay with their hands and set it in the sun to try. Eventualy
they began to use a potter’s wheel, and they used a glaze at the same time
as the romans.
During the Tang dynasty, Chinese pottery began to develop it’s own distict
style. They used the first colored glazes, and underglaze painting. The
best pottery came from the time between the Sung dynasty and the Ming
times, when the King hired officials to work in his court strictly as
potters. When these artists made mistakes in their work (cracks or drips),
they used the mistakes to create a picture, such as turning a crack into a
tree, or a drip into a teardrop.
Although painting was not China’s first form of art, it is probably the
most important and dominating form today. Chinese paintings have always
tried to capture philosophy as well as details. 1,400 years ago, Hsieh Ho,
made six basic laws for painting, which artists in China still follow
today. They are:
1. Paiting has to have rythem and movement, it has an existence of its own
2. The brush should be used to establish structure in painting in the same
manner as in calligraphy
3. Observe conformity with nature and natural proportions
4. Use color appropriately
5. Live up to tradition by copying the masters
Chinese artists try to create perfect artwork because they beleive
strongly in the philosophy of painting, and many paintings are missing
objects that the artist did not think necessary, such as the water around a
Even if a chinese artist draws something that does not exist, such as a
dragon, what he creates is always done in the style of realism, so that the
finished product looks like it could actualy be alive.
Artists try to paint from memory rather than from pictures, and they use
brushes, solidified ink, a stone slab to grind the ink, color pigments, and
paper or silk. A Chinese painter will always hold his brush as perfectly
perpendicular to the paper as possible, and he will never use an easel.
The human figure did not appear in Chinese art until the Han dynasty, where
it was used to express religious ideas.
The people of china write their language in the form of calligraphy, and
it has become as much of an art form as painting or sculpting. It is not
considered just handwriting, but it has to show personality and
style.General Yueh Fei was an accomplished caligrapher. The emperor began
to suspect his loyalty, and so he turned to calligraphy because he was hurt
so deeply. The result was his copy of the Report to the Emperor Before an
Expedition, which has become a calligraphic masterpiece.
The brush used for calligraphy in China was invented before the fifth
century B.C. and quick-absorbing paper was invented to go along with it.
The system of calligraphy is beautiful, but works of calligraphy have to be
done perfectly, because wrong figures cannot be corrected.
When an artist writes something with calligraphy, what he writes is not
always as important as how the figures look on paper. Sometimes they will
even be unrecognizable, but it’s not considered wrong if the artist thought
it would improve the project.
For ten to fifteen years, an artist must be an apprentice to a classic
Chinese calligrapher, and then work on developing a style of his own.
There are three basic categories in calligraphy, regular, running, and
grass tyles. Regular is elaborate, running is rapid, and grass is a
shorthand form of writing.
Over a thousand years before crafters in Rome began molding bronze,
artists in China’s Shang dynasty were begining to experiment. The works
were burried and forgotten, but in 1934, dozens of inscribed bronze works
were excavated at Anyang in Honan province. The pieces of art that were
discovered were nearly perfect, and historians could not beleive what they
saw. Most of the art had been burried in the soft banks of the Yellow
river, and were perfectly preserved. The National Palace Museum in Taipei
has more than 4,000 bronze items.