6 Most Popular Ancient Chinese Arts

Of all forms of art, the ancient Chinese were obsessed with calligraphy. (Image:  publicdomainpictures  /  CC0 1.0)
Of all forms of art, the ancient Chinese were obsessed with calligraphy. (Image: publicdomainpictures / CC0 1.0)

The Chinese have been dabbling in the arts from as early as 18,000 B.C. when simple pottery was discovered. In China, art was mostly used to depict philosophy, religious ideas, nature, and political figures.

Calligraphy

Of all forms of art, the ancient Chinese were obsessed with calligraphy. Perhaps no other civilization has spent so much effort turning writing into a stylistic art. Special attention was given to the way the brush strokes were depicted on paper, including the way it created an illusion of depth.

“Far more than mere writing, the art used varying thicknesses of brushstroke, their subtle angles, and their fluid connection to each other — all precisely arranged in imaginary spaces on the page — to create an aesthetically pleasing whole. A connoisseurship quickly developed, and calligraphy became one of the six classic and ancient arts…,” according to Ancient History.

Pottery

The first instance of pottery usage in ancient China goes way back to 18,000 B.C. However, it was not until 7500 B.C. that we started seeing pottery become an art form. Ceramic arts were very popular during this period, involving steps like forming, firing, decoration, and refinement. Over time, color ceramic arts were introduced. During the time of the Ming Dynasty, white and blue porcelain vases were highly popular and regularly exported to Europe and the rest of Asia.

During the time of the Ming dynasty, white and blue porcelain vases were highly popular and regularly exported to Europe and the rest of Asia. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

During the time of the Ming Dynasty, white and blue porcelain vases were highly popular and regularly exported to Europe and the rest of Asia. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Cloisonné

Cloisonné was a very popular way of decorating metalwork objects in ancient China, especially those made from bronze or copper. The word derives from the French word cloison, meaning “partition.” Artists used to glue thin copper wires on the metal objects and draw the design over it. The art form was widely practiced in the Yunan Province, an area that produced some of the finest cloisonné metal works. Due to its fragile nature, only a few cloisonné works have survived to the modern age. The earliest recorded piece is from Emperor Xuande’s rule in A.D. 1426.

Painting

Chinese artists started painting on plastered walls from about 1,200 B.C., eventually turning to silk in 300 B.C., paper in A.D. 100, and canvas in about 800 B.C. Portraits and landscapes were the two most common themes of artworks. During the Warring States Period, between the 5th and 3rd centuries B.C., portrait art really took off. Starting from about A.D. 617, the Tang Dynasty came into power, during which landscape painting flourished. Images of water and mountains dominated Chinese landscape paintings during this era. In the Song Dynasty period, between A.D. 960 and A.D. 1279, detailed depictions of flowers, birds, and animals became popular.  

Landscape painting in the Chinese style. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Jade culture

The earliest evidence of jade usage in China is from the Liangzhu culture that existed between 3400 B.C. and 2250 B.C. However, it was during the Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 B.C.) that jade culture in China started becoming well-established. Rather than just a mere stone, the Chinese considered Jade to symbolize immortality, perfection, constancy, and nobility. Jade was perceived to be the essence of earth and heaven. Because of such a high reverence, the Chinese ended up developing all kinds of technologies to fashion Jade into every possible object.

Chinese silk

The art of making fine silk has been one of China’s greatest inventions. Chinese expertise in silk grew to such an extent that it was in much demand all across the world. In fact, the term Silk Road, the ancient trade routes between East and West, came about because of the huge export of silk from China to Europe. Some of the earliest surviving silk art comes from the Mawangdui Han Tomb in Changsha. 

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