ART IN CHINA
China's fascinating story has been preserved in its art. Explore China's art and culture through this collection of photography.
A LONG ARTISTIC TRADITION
Art in China reflects the long history of Chinese civilization that stretches back over many millenia. Chinese art inspired the rest of Asia and eventually influence Europe.
ART AND CHI
One of the things that Chinese society has preserved from ancient times is an understanding of natural energy, which Chinese people call chi. Chi plays a fundamental role in Chinese life, including the arts. An artist will perform tai chi in preparation for a session with the paint brush or potter's wheel, and the energy of chi is evident throughout Chinese art. Chi is often expressed by a line sweeping up to a focal point, then curving in a different direction.
The works below illustrate the artist's use of chi.
Another concept in Chinese art is harmony and balance held together by a certain tension. The artist uses the space between objects to achieve this. Empty space is as important as the objects themselves. This is an essential difference between Asian and Western thought, which only values the object.
Decorative gardens are an art form in China. They create flowing views through the skillful use of ponds, trees, shrubbery, pavilions, and rocks. Strangely shaped rocks often dominate the composition.
Pavlilions not only provide a place to view the gardens, they also act as a focal point for the garden's sweeping lines. Poetry is an intimate part of Chinese culture, so naturally, garden pavilions bear poetic names. These names evoke romantic images like Pavilion of Moon and Breeze, Hall of Distant Fragrance, Devotion Under Snow Hall, and Pavilion of Poetic Elegance. Pavilions are decorated with family scrolls and exquisite Ming furniture.
The art of decorative gardens originated in palace gardens and the private gardens of wealthy government officials. The best known style is called South of the Yangtze. Suzhou, near Shanghai, is famous for its South of the Yangtze style gardens.
The Tang Dynasty (7th to 10th century A.D.) stands out in Chinese history as a golden age. Its capitol was Chang'an, near present day Xi'an in central China, and it was the largest city in the world in its time. Located at the eastern end of the Silk Road, the Tang court grew prosperous from trade with India. There was also trade with Korea, Japan, and Central Asia.
Qiongzhu Temple, known as the Bamboo Temple, provides a wonderful glimpse of life in the Tang Dynasty. Located near Kunming in Yunnan Province, the Bamboo Temple houses a collection of five hundred statues of Tang Dynasty people. The statues were meant to symbolize different aspects of daily life, but the artist's sense of humor seems to have gotten the best of him. The near life-size statues are caricatures of real people of the day, many of them influential in Kunming society, who did not take kindly to the artist's interpretation.
Qin Shi Huang, the founder of the Qin Dynasty (3rd century B.C.), had a taste for large buliding projects. The reception hall of his palace was said to hold ten thousand people. His mausoleum compound was measured in kilometers. It is not surprising that he wanted the Imperial Guard to accompany him into the afterlife. This army of life sized statues, complete with horses and wagons, is known as the Terra Cotta Warriors. It took seven hundred thousand workers thirty years to create. The workers were killed to keep the project secret.
Two thousand of an estimated six thousand figures have been excavated in and archeological site near Xi'an. They stand in rows, shoulder to shoulder like a living army. The rows of soldiers are separated by piles of sandy earth. Each figure is unique and fashioned in exquisite detail.
Some of China's best art is found in its temples. China has three main religions, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Confucianism and Taoism are indigenous to China, while Buddhism was imported from India.
China's ethnic minorities have their own religious beliefs that are a mixture of mainstream religions and older, shamanic practices.
CLIFF HANGING ART
China has several pilgrimage sites that are simply cliff faces with niches carved into them to hold religious statues. These cliff temples were created by monks who devoted their lives to carving the niches and statues, often suspended from ropes alonf the cliff face. Although these cliffs have become tourist attractions, they remain places of worship for the Chinese people.
Maijishan sits in a remote valley surrounded by green, forested mountains in Gansu Province. It is near the legendary Silk Road on the fringe of Central Asia. Work began on Maijishan in then 3rd century A.D. by monks who were bringing Buddhism to China.
Dragon Gate Temple is perched atop steep cliffs overlooking Dianchi Lake outside Kunming in Yunnan Province. The temple is a complex of grottoes, shrines, and halls, containing 500 statues, each in its own painted setting.