• Traditional Chinese name: Zhong-guo (Middle Kingdom)
• Name dates back to the Xia dynasty (2205-1700 BCE)
• Modern day China, comes from Qin (chin), the name of the
first imperial dynasty, established 221 BCE.
• Over its long history, China had many capitals and border
• Two main cultural centers: mouth of Yangzi River and in north
along the Huang He /Huang Ho (Yellow) and Wei rivers.
• Chinese art has changed constantly, and each of the many
periods in its long history has its distinct character.
• Some helpful ideas regarding Chinese culture include:
• The Chinese believed that their deceased ancestors have a
spiritual form of existence that gives them access to the gods.
• The living continue to pay them respect and provide for their
upkeep in the spirit realm.
• Much of early information about Chinese art comes from
royal tombs. These yielded rich treasures such as lacquered
items, paintings, sculptures in wood, stone, jade, bronze, etc.
• The Chinese follow Confucian respect for age, authority and
morality after Confucius’ teachings (li, perfect harmony, ren,
• Daoism (Taoism) meanwhile provided important principles to
guide the individual’s private or spiritual life. It refers to the
animistic beliefs of the Chinese that seeks balance with nature
through the practice of the Dao (The Way). Based from Laozi’s
book Dao De Jing.
• Buddhism, which arrived in China in the first century CE and
became widespread by the 5th century, introduced the
Chinese to a new organization of the cosmos and new gods.
• The first aesthetics of the Chinese can be read in the
philosophy of a painter named Xie He (active c. 479-502 CE)
who wrote his Canons of Painting.
• Many of the scholars in ancient China were known as wenren
(literati) who painted as expression of their cultural
refinement. They came from wealthy families who had
• The art of writing, calligraphy, developed concurrently with
painting and an excellent painter may be a better calligrapher.
• The finest ceramics or imperial wares are simple vessels of
highly refined patterns coated with thick glazes of color, often
with crackle patterns.
• Neolithic period 700-2250 BCE
• Xia dynasty c. 2205 – 1700 BCE
• Shang dynasty c. 1700-1045 BCE
• Zhou dynasty 1045-480 BCE
--Lao Zi born c. 604
--Confucius c. 551-479 BCE
• Period of Warring States
• Qin dynasty 221-206 BCE
• Han dynasty 206-220 CE
• Period of Disunity: Six Dynasties 220-589
• Sui dynasty 589-618 and Tang dynasty 618-907
--invention of block printing in China (late 8th century)
• Five dynasties 907-960
• Northern Song dynasty 960-1127
• Southern Song dynasty 1127-1279
--Genghis Khan unites Mongols (1206)
--Polo family in China (1275-92)
--Khubilai Khan conquers Hangzhou
• Yuan dynasty 1279-1368
• Ming dynasty 1368-1644
• Qing dynasty 1644-1911
--Opium Wars open ports to foreign trade
--Taiping Rebellion 1850-65
--Boxer Rebellion 1900
• Modern China (from 1911)
--Chinese republic ends dynastic systems
--Chinese People’s Republic established (1949)
--Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution 1965-79
• Bronze age in China –began
around 2205 BCE (Xia dynasty)
• Xia –developed the technology to
• Bronze –an alloy of tin and
• Bronze vessels – used in banquets
where offerings were made to
the ancestors and gods
• Shang leaders controlled the
workshops that designed and cast
over 30 distinct ritual vessels
Map of Shang Dynasty
c. 1600 BC–c. 1046 BC
• Ding– a popular vessel with three feet
• Derived from well-known Neolithic
• Rounded, rectangular scrolls and animal
forms may have been developed in pre-
• Taotie –ogre or glutton mask, may
represent a number of gods or
monsters, guardians that protected
people from evil spirits.
• They were highly polished and some
were brushed with black pigments.
• Over time, they developed patinas –
blue, green and reddish color that
resulted with the interaction with the
Ding (ceremonial food vessel).
Shang dynasty, 11th century BCE.
Bronze, 8 and 3/8 inches. Seattle
• Yu– another bronze form
• Complicated form that uses
intricately entwined human and
• Decorated with miniature scrolls
and serpentine forms
• Pattern and ryhthms are carefully
arranged to accent and
complement the shapes of these
Yu. Western Zhou dynasty.
9 and ¼ inches high. C. 10th century BCE
• Jade –closely associated with the
mainstream of Chinese art and
• In pre-Shang period, jades found
in Shang tombs may have been
• By late Zhou, it gained divine
qualities and was the perfect
material for the carving of objects
in religious rituals
• The solid areas represent the the
undulating bodies of dragons,
while the interacting pattern of
open spaces can be read as a
Jade openwork plaque of intertwined Animals and Birds
, 4th-3rd century BCE
Zhou dynasty, Warring States period, 475-221 BCE
Pale green and whitish, translucent nephrite (form of jade)
4.7 x 6.7 x 0.6 cm (1 7/8 x 2 5/8 x 1/4 in.)
• Importance of Jade– (as
summarized by Confucius in Liji,
“Book of Rites”)
• Men in ancient times equated
• Gleaming surface – benevolence
• Luminous quality – knowledge
• Unyielding nature – uprightness
• Jade is compact and strong,
symbol of intelligence,
truthfulness and moral leadership
• King Chen of the Qin kingdom,
ruled in 221 BCE after the Period of
the Warring States
• First to unify China
• He assumed the name Qin
Shihhuangdi (August First Emperor
• In his new system, only the imperial
family had true hereditary
• Aristrocrats in government were
determined by the emperor’s whim
(favors with the emperor).
• Contributions: standard forms of
script, coinage, system of
government, first large scale
factories, laid the foundations of
the Great Wall
The section built under Qin
Dynasty, one of the 3 main
phases. The other two: Han and
• In 1974, workers digging a well at
Lintong near Xi’an (Shaanxi
province) discovered the first of
the 3 large burial pits for Emperor
• A funerary tomb containing the
• Pit 1—army of over 8,000 lifesize,
polychrome, terra cotta soldiers
standing in attention in correct
• Pit 2- more than 1400 chariots
(some inlaid in gold and silver),
bronze horses, archers, infantry
men and cavalry
Pit 1 of Qin tomb
• Pit 3– much smaller group of elite
• Hundreds of artists and workers
produced the incredible spectacle
• System of production –
prefabricated molded body parts
• Parts made separately and joined
• Costumes and faces were carved
and modeled individually on thin
fine moist clay.
Bronze chariot for the Emperor
General of Qin Shih Huang Terra cotta warriors and horses
• Wu family tombs represent one
of the earliest stone bas-reliefs.
• These reliefs are some of the
most important surviving
examples of early Chinese
• The Wu family created a complex
of tombs from 151 to 170 CE.
• They were not aristocrats but
members of the newly emerging
official class that served the
• The tomb bas-reliefs praise
Confucian virtues, which help the
deceased get to paradise.
Detail from a rubbing of a relief in
the Wu family shrine. Eastern Han dynasty.
c. 151 CE, Jiaxiang, Shandong, China.
Middle, figures paying homage to a seated man
Above, banquet in a roofed pavilion
Below, procession of chariots and foot soldiers
A pair of que, or "pillar gates", small monumental gate
towers standing in front of the Wu Family Shrines built in
Shandong province, China, during the 2nd century AD. This
photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century by Édouard
Chavannes (died 1918).
Period of Disunity: 6 Dynasties
• Six dynasties (220-589 CE): period
that followed the fall of Han
dynasty saw the rise and fall of
many governments and ongoing,
bloody civil wars.
• Central Asian groups conquered
north of China and drove many
Chinese towards the southeast.
• Many practice Daoist-derived
magic and superstitions and
many became hermits/ascetics.
• Spread of Buddhism and fusion
with Daoist and Confucian ideas.
Flying Horse Poised on One Leg on a Swallow
From the tomb of Gov. General Zhang
Wuwei, Gansu. Late Han Dynasty, 2nd century CE,
bronze. 13.5x17 ¼ inches
• Central Asian Wei dynasty, which
ruled portions of Northern China
after 388 CE, created important
Buddhist religious centers.
• They played host to Buddhist
monks and artists.
• They had workers build 53 caves
along about 1 mile of the cliffs
with colossal Buddhas, as
protectors of their kingdom.
• This is in atonement for the
persecution made by the father
of Emperor Wen Cheng who
persecuted Buddhism from 446-
Colossal Buddha, Cave 20, Yungang,
Shanxi, late 5th century. Stone. Height is
Façade has fallen as this was used to be
in a niche intended to be experienced in