Early forms of art in China are found in the Neolithic Yangshao culture which dates back to the 6th millennium BC. Archeological findings such as those at the Banpo have revealed that the Yangshao made pottery; early ceramics were unpainted and most often cord-marked. The first decorations were fish and human faces, but these eventually evolved into symmetrical-geometric abstract designs, some painted.
The most distinctive feature of Yangshao culture was the extensive use of painted pottery, especially human facial, animal, and geometric designs. Unlike the later Longshan culture, the Yangshao culture did not use pottery wheels in pottery making. According to archaeologists, Yangshao society was based around matriarchal clans. Excavations have found that children were buried in painted pottery jars.
The Liangzhu culture was the last Neolithic Jade culture in the Yangtze River delta and was spaced over a period of about 1,300 years. The Jade from this culture is characterized by finely worked, large ritual jades such as Cong cylinders, Bi discs, Yue axes and also pendants and decorations in the form of chiseled open-work plaques, plates and representations of small birds, turtles and fish. The Liangzhu Jade has a white, milky bone-like aspect due to its Tremolite rock origin and influence of water-based fluids at the burial sites. Jade is a green stone that cannot be carved so it has to be grinded.
It is typical of the developed Shang style that all available space is decorated, most often with stylized forms of real and imaginary animals. The most common motif is the taotie, which shows a mythological being presented frontally as though squashed onto a horizontal plane to form a symmetrical design. The early significance of taotie is not clear, but myths about it existed around the late Zhou Dynasty. It was considered to be variously a covetous man banished to guard a corner of heaven against evil monsters; or a monster equipped with only a head which tries to devour men but hurts only itself.
The function and appearance of bronzes changed gradually from the Shang to the Zhou. They shifted from been used in religious rites to more practical purposes. By the Warring States Period, bronze vessels had become objects of aesthetic enjoyment. Some were decorated with social scenes, such as from a banquet or hunt; whilst others displayed abstract patterns inlaid with gold, silver, or precious and semiprecious stones.
Shang bronzes became appreciated as works of art from the Song Dynasty, when they were collected and prized not only for their shape and design but also for the various green, blue green, and even reddish patinas created by chemical action as they lay buried in the ground. The study of early Chinese bronze casting is a specialized field of art history.
Early Chinese music was based on percussion instruments such as the bronze bell. Chinese bells were sounded by being struck from the outside, usually with a piece of wood. Sets of bells were suspended on wooden racks. Inside excavated bells are groves and marks of scraping and scratching made as they were tuned to the right pitch. Percussion instruments gradually gave way to string and reed instruments toward the Warring States period.
Significantly, the character for writing the word music (yue) was the same as that for joy (le). For Confucius and his disciples, music was important because it had the power to make people harmonious and well balanced, or, conversely, caused them to be quarrelsome and depraved. According to Xun Zi, music was as important as the li ("rites"; "etiquette") stressed in Confucianism. Mozi, philosophically opposed to Confucianism, disagreed. He dismissed music as having only aesthetic uses, and thus useless and wasteful.
In addition to the Book of Songs (Shi Jing), a second early and influential poetic anthology was the Songs of Chu made up primarily of poems ascribed to the semilegendary Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BC) and his follower Song Yu (fourth century BC). The songs in this collection are more lyrical and romantic and represent a different tradition from the earlier Classic of Poetry (Shi Jing).
An anthology of Chu poetry has also survived in the form of the Chu Ci, which has been translated into English by David Hawkes. Many of the works in the text are associated with Shamanism. There are also descriptions of fantastic landscapes, examples of China's first nature poetry. The longest poem, "Encountering Sorrow," is reputed to have been written by the tragic Qu Yuan as a political allegory.
The Terracotta Army, inside the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, consists of more than 7,000 life-size tomb terra-cotta figures of warriors and horses buried with the self-proclaimed first Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huang) in 210–209 BC.
The figures were painted before being placed into the vault. The original colors were visible when the pieces were first unearthed. However, exposure to air caused the pigments to fade, so today the unearthed figures appear terra-cotta in color.
The figures are in several poses including standing infantry and kneeling archers, as well as charioteers with horses. Each figure's head appears to be unique, showing a variety of facial features and expressions as well as hair styles.
Jingdezhen, under a variety of names, has been central to porcelain production in China since at least the early Han Dynasty.
The most noticeable difference between porcelain and the other pottery clays is that it "wets" very quickly (that is, added water has a noticeably greater effect on the plasticity for porcelain than other clays), and that it tends to continue to "move" longer than other clays, requiring experience in handling to attain optimum results.
During medieval times in Europe, porcelain was very expensive and in high demand for its beauty.
TLV mirrors also date from the Han dynasty.
In the fifth to sixth century the Northern Dynasties, rather removed from the original sources of inspiration, tended to develop rather symbolic and abstract modes of representation, with schematic lines. Their style is also said to be solemn and majestic. The lack of corporeality of this art, and its distance from the original Buddhist objective of expressing the pure ideal of enlightenment in an accessible, realistic manner, progressively led to a research towards more naturalism and realism, leading to the expression of Tang Buddhist art.
Cao Pi is known for writing the first Chinese poem using seven syllables per line (七言詩), the poem 燕歌行.
Cao Zhi demonstrated his spontaneous wit at an early age and was a front-running candidate for the throne; however, such ability was devoted to Chinese literature and poetry, which was encouraged by his father's subordinate officials. Later he surrounded himself with a group of poets and officials with literary interests, including some who continually showed off their smartness at the expense of Cao Cao and Cao Pi's subordinates and even Cao Cao himself.
In ancient China, painting and calligraphy were the most highly appreciated arts in court circles and were produced almost exclusively by amateurs, aristocrats and scholar-officials who alone had the leisure to perfect the technique and sensibility necessary for great brushwork. Calligraphy was thought to be the highest and purest form of painting. The implements were the brush pen, made of animal hair, and black inks, made from pine soot and animal glue. Writing as well as painting was done on silk. But after the invention of paper in the 1st century, silk was gradually replaced by the new and cheaper material. Original writings by famous calligraphers have been greatly valued throughout China's history and are mounted on scrolls and hung on walls in the same way that paintings are.
Wang Xizhi was a famous Chinese calligrapher who lived in the 4th century AD. His most famous work is the Lanting Xu, the preface of a collection of poems written by a number of poets when gathering at Lan Ting near the town of Shaoxing in Zhejiang province and engaging in a game called "qu shui liu shang".
Wei Shuo was a well-known calligrapher of Eastern Jin Dynasty who established consequential rules about the Regular Script. Her well-known works include Famous Concubine Inscription (名姬帖 Ming Ji Tie) and The Inscription of Wei-shi He'nan (衛氏和南帖 Wei-shi He'nan Tie).
Three of Gu's paintings still survive today. They are "Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies", "Nymph of the Luo River" (洛神赋), and "Wise and Benevolent Women".
There are other examples of Jin Dynasty painting from tombs. This includes the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, painted on a brick wall of a tomb located near modern Nanjing and now found in the Shaanxi Provincial Museum. Each of the figures are labeled and shown either drinking, writing, or playing a musical intstrument. Other tomb paintings also depict scenes of daily life, such as men plowing fields with teams of oxen.
However, foreign influences came to be negatively perceived towards the end of the Tang dynasty. In the year 845, the Tang emperor Wu-Tsung outlawed all "foreign" religions (including Christian Nestorianism, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism) in order to support the indigenous Taoism. He confiscated Buddhist possessions and forced the faith to go underground, therefore affecting the ulterior development of the religion and its arts in China.
Most wooden Tang sculptures have not survived, though representations of the Tang international style can still be seen in Nara, Japan. The longevity of stone sculpture has proved much greater. Some of the finest examples can be seen at Longmen, near Luoyang, Yungang near Datong, and Bingling Temple, in Gansu.
The lines are of uneven length, though five characters is the most common. Each poem follows one of a series of patterns defined by the song title. The term covers original folk songs, court imitations and versions by known poets.
From the 2nd century AD, the yue fu began to develop into shi—the form which was to dominate Chinese poetry until the modern era. The writers of these poems took the five-character line of the yue fu and used it to express more complex ideas. The shi poem was generally an expression of the poet's own persona rather than the adopted characters of the yue fu; many were romantic nature poems heavily influenced by Taoism.
The term gushi ("old poems") can refer either to the first, mostly anonymous shi poems, or more generally to the poems written in the same form by later poets. Gushi in this latter sense are defined essentially by what they are not; that is, they are not jintishi (regulated verse). The writer of gushi was under no formal constraints other than line length and rhyme (in every second line).
Jintishi, or regulated verse, developed from the 5th century onwards. By the Tang dynasty, a series of set tonal patterns had been developed, which were intended to ensure a balance between the four tones of classical Chinese in each couplet: the level tone, and the three deflected tones (rising, falling and entering). The Tang dynasty was the high point of the jintishi.
Over a thousand poems are attributed to Li Po, but the authenticity of many of these is uncertain. He is best known for his yue fu poems, which are intense and often fantastic. He is often associated with Taoism: there is a strong element of this in his works, both in the sentiments they express and in their spontaneous tone. Nevertheless, his gufeng ("ancient airs") often adopt the perspective of the Confucian moralist, and many of his occasional verses are fairly conventional.
Much like Mozart, many legends exist on how Li Po effortlessly composed his poetry, even (or some say, especially) when drunk; his favorite form is the jueju (five- or seven-character quatrain), of which he composed some 160 pieces. Using striking, unconventional imagery, Li Po is able to create exquisite pieces to utilize fully the elements of the language. His use of language is not as erudite as Du Fu's but equally effective, impressing through an extravagance of imagination and a direct connection of a free-spirited persona with the reader. Li Po's interactions with nature, friendship, and his acute observations of life inform his best poems. Some of the rest, like Changgan xing (translated by Ezra Pound as A River Merchant's Wife: A Letter), records the hardships or emotions of common people. Like the best Chinese poets, Li Po often evades translation.
Since the Song dynasty, critics have called Du Fu the "poet historian". The most directly historical of his poems are those commenting on military tactics or the successes and failures of the government, or the poems of advice which he wrote to the emperor.
One of the Du Fu's earliest surviving works, The Song of the Wagons (c. 750), gives voice to the sufferings of a conscript soldier in the imperial army, even before the beginning of the rebellion; this poem brings out the tension between the need of acceptance and fulfillment of one's duties, and a clear-sighted consciousness of the suffering which this can involve.
Du Fu's work is notable above all for its range. He mastered all the forms of Chinese poetry: Chou says that in every form he "either made outstanding advances or contributed outstanding examples" (p. 56). Furthermore, his poems use a wide range of registers, from the direct and colloquial to the allusive and self-consciously literary. The tenor of his work changed as he developed his style and adapted to his surroundings ("chameleonlike" according to Watson): his earliest works are in a relatively derivative, courtly style, but he came into his own in the years of the rebellion. Owen comments on the "grim simplicity" of the Qinzhou poems, which mirrors the desert landscape (p. 425); the works from his Chengdu period are "light, often finely observed" (p. 427); while the poems from the late Kuizhou period have a "density and power of vision" (p. 433).
Li Yu was a Chinese poet and the last ruler of the Southern Tang Kingdom. His best-known poems were composed during the years after the Song formally ended his reign in 975 and brought him back as a captive to the Song capital, Bianjing (now Kaifeng). Li's works from this period dwell on his regret for the lost kingdom and the pleasures it had brought him. He was finally poisoned by the Song emperor in 978.
Li Yu developed the ci by broadening its scope from love to history and philosophy, particularly in his later works. He also introduced the two-stanza form, and made great use of contrasts between longer lines of nine characters and shorter ones of three and five.
Beginning in the Tang dynasty (618–907), the primary subject matter of painting was the landscape, known as shanshui (mountain water) painting. In these landscapes, usually monochromatic and sparse, the purpose was not to reproduce exactly the appearance of nature but rather to grasp an emotion or atmosphere so as to catch the "rhythm" of nature.
Painting in the traditional style involved essentially the same techniques as calligraphy and is done with a brush dipped in black or colored ink; oils were not used. As with calligraphy, the most popular materials on which paintings are made are paper and silk. The finished work is then mounted on scrolls, which can be hung or rolled up. Traditional painting also is done in albums and on walls, lacquerwork, and other media.
Dong Yuan was an active painter in the Southern Tang Kingdom. He was known for both figure and landscape paintings, and exemplified the elegant style which would become the standard for brush painting in China over the next 900 years. As with many artists in China, his profession was as an official where he studied the existing styles of Li Sixun and Wang Wei. However, he added to the number of techniques, including more sophisticated perspective, use of pointillism and crosshatching to build up vivid effect.
Zhan Ziqian was a painter during the Sui Dynasty. His only painting in existence is Strolling About In Spring arranged mountains perspectively. Because the first pure scenery paintings of Europe emerged after the 17th century, Strolling About In Spring may well be the first scenery painting of the world..
Ci is a kind of lyric Chinese poetry. Beginning in the Liang Dynasty, the ci followed the tradition of the Shi Jing and the yue fu: they were lyrics which developed from anonymous popular songs (some of Central Asian origin) into a sophisticated literary genre. The form was further developed in the Tang Dynasty, and was most popular in the Song Dynasty.
Liang Kai was a Chinese painter who lived in the 13th century (Song Dynasty). He called himself "Madman Liang," and he spent his life drinking and painting. Eventually, he retired and became a Zen monk. Liang is credited with inventing the Zen school of Chinese art.
Wen Tong was a painter who lived in the 11th century. He was famous for ink paintings of bamboo. He could hold two brushes in one hand and paint two different distanced bamboos simultaneously. He did not need to see the bamboo while he painted them because he had seen a lot of them.
Zhang Zeduan was a notable painter for his horizontal Along the River During Qingming Festival landscape and cityscape painting. It has been quoted as "China's Mona Lisa" and has had many well-known remakes throughout Chinese history. Other famous paintings include The Night Revels of Han Xizai, originally painted by the Southern Tang artist Gu Hongzhong in the 10th century, while the well-known version of his painting is a 12th century remake of the Song Dynasty. This is a large horizontal handscroll of a domestic scene showing men of the gentry class being entertained by musicians and dancers while enjoying food, beverage, and wash basins provided by maidservants. In 2000, the modern artist Wang Qingsong created a parody of this painting with a long, horizontal photograph of people in modern clothing making similar facial expressions, poses, and hand gestures as the original painting.
Yuan dynasty opera continues today as Cantonese opera. It is universally accepted that Cantonese opera was imported from the northern part of China and slowly migrated to the southern province of Guangdong in late 13th century, during the late Southern Song Dynasty. In the 12th century, there was a theatrical form called Narm hei (南戲), or the Nanxi (Southern opera), which was performed in public theaters of Hangzhou, then capital of the Southern Song Dynasty. With the invasion of the Mongol army, Emperor Gong (Gong Di (恭帝 Gōngdì)), Zhao Xian (趙顯 Zhào Xiǎn) fled with hundreds of thousands of Song people into the province of Guangdong in 1276. Among these people were some Narm hei artists from the north. Thus narm hei was brought into Guangdong by these artists and developed into the earliest kind of Cantonese opera.
Many well-known operas performed today, such as The Purple Hairpin and Rejuvenation of the Red Plum Flower, originated in the Yuan Dynasty, with the lyrics and scripts in Cantonese. Until the 20th century all the female roles were performed by males.
Zhao Mengfu was a Chinese scholar, painter and calligrapher during the Yuan Dynasty. His rejection of the refined, gentle brushwork of his era in favor of the cruder style of the eighth century is considered to have brought about a revolution that created the modern Chinese landscape painting. There was also the vivid and detailed works of art by Qian Xuan (1235-1305), who had served the Song court, and out of patriotism refused to serve the Mongols, instead turning to painting. He was famous for reviving and reproducing a more Tang Dynasty style of painting.
Under the Ming dynasty, Chinese culture bloomed. Narrative painting, with a wider color range and a much busier composition than the Song paintings, was immensely popular during the time. As the techniques of color printing were perfected, illustrated manuals on the art of painting began to be published. Jieziyuan Huazhuan (Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden), a five-volume work first published in 1679, has been in use as a technical textbook for artists and students ever since. Matteo Ricci, Wen Zhengming, Xu Wei
Although it is called Beijing opera, its origins are not in Beijing but in the Chinese provinces of Anhui and Hubei. Beijing opera got its two main melodies, Xipi and Erhuang, from Anhui and Hubei operas. Much dialogue is also carried out in an archaic dialect originating partially from those regions. It also absorbed music and arias from other operas and musical arts such as the historic Qinqiang. It is regarded that Beijing Opera was born when the Four Great Anhui Troupes came to Beijing in 1790. Beijing opera was originally staged for the court and came into the public later. In 1828, some famous Hubei troupes came to Beijing. They often jointly performed in the stage with Anhui troupes. The combination gradually formed Beijing opera's main melodies.
Cao Xueqin is the author of the famous Chinese work Dream of the Red Chamber. Extant handwritten copies of this work—some 80 chapters—had been in circulation in Beijing shortly after Cao's death, before Gao Ê, who claimed to have access to the former's working papers, published a complete 120-chapter version in 1792.
Pu Songling was a famous writer of Liaozhai Zhiyi 《聊齋志異》during the Qing dynasty. He opened a tea house and invited his guests to tell stories, and then he would compile the tales into collections such as Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio.
Xu Zhimo is a romantic poet who loved the poetry of the English Romantics like Keats and Shelley. He was one of the first Chinese writers to successfully naturalize Western romantic forms into modern Chinese poetry.
Contemporary Chinese art (中国当代艺术, Zhongguo Dangdai Yishu) often referred to as Chinese avant-garde art, continued to develop since the 1980s as an outgrowth of modern art developments post-Cultural Revolution. Contemporary Chinese art fully incorporates painting, film, video, photography, and performance. Until recently, art exhibitions deemed controversial have been routinely shut down by police, and performance artists in particular faced the threat of arrest in the early 1990s. More recently there has been greater tolerance by the Chinese government, though many internationally acclaimed artists are still restricted from media exposure at home or have exhibitions ordered closed. Leading contemporary visual artists include Ai Weiwei, Cai Guoqiang, Cai Xin, Fang Lijun, Huang Yan, Huang Yong Ping, Kong Bai Ji, Lu Shengzhong, Ma Liuming, Ma Qingyun, Song Dong, Li Wei, Christine Wang, Wang Guangyi, Wang Qingsong, Wenda Gu, Xu Bing, Yang Zhichao, Zhan Wang, Zhang Dali, Zhang Xiaogang, Zhang Huan, Zhu Yu, Yan Lei, and Zhang Yue.
Other arts produced in China or Hong Kong were sold in places such as Christie's including a Chinese porcelain piece with the mark of Emperor Qianlong sold for HKD $ $151.3 million. A 1964 painting "All the Mountains Blanketed in Red" was sold for HKD $35 million. Auctions were also held at Sotheby's where Xu Beihong's 1939 masterpiece "Put Down Your Whip" sold for HKD $72 million. The industry is not limited to fine arts, as many other types of contemporary pieces were also sold. In 2000 a number of Chinese artists were included in Documenta and the Venice Biennale of 2003. China now has its own major contemporary art showcase with the Venice Biennale. Fuck Off was a notorious art exhibition which ran alongside the Shanghai Biennial Festival in 2000 and was curated by independent curator Feng Boyi and the artist Ai Weiwei.