China Art History - AP Art History China

Topic 3: China

  • Chinese civilization initially emerged in the along the Yellow River and later maintained a remarkable degree of cultural continuity. The carved jade objects produced in prehistoric China resemble the objects produced in later eras. The ritual bronze vessels produced by the earliest literate Chinese societies employ forms and motifs, such as stylized dragons and other beasts, which would be reproduced throughout Chinese history. Ancient bronzes and burial goods suggest also indicate the early origin of many enduring cultural practices, such as the use of oracles, shamanistic practices, geomancy, and the pursuit of harmony with the cosmos.

  • The mausoleum of the first Qin emperor, with its massive terra cotta army, shows the sophistication of Chinese artistic technologies. The production of fine ceramics would continue to be a Chinese specialty; high-fired porcelain is still known in the West as "china". Silk was also a Chinese invention, and painting on silk became a Chinese specialty. Written language was prized as an art form as well as a means of communication, and in later centuries calligraphy would be prized above painting as the highest art form.

  • Ancient China produced two opposing yet complementary belief systems, Confucianism and Daoism. Confucianism emphasized social relationships and the maintenance of existing social structures, while Daoism encouraged a mystical identification with the spirit of creation itself. During the Tang dynasty, a period of active engagement with other cultures, Buddhism was introduced to China from India; Buddhist monasticism was introduced and the commissioning of Buddhist monuments by the courtly elite became a common practice.

  • While Buddhism later lost ground as a religion of the elite, it informed the revival and renewal of both Confucianism and Daoism during the turbulent and period after the fall of the Tang dynasty. These philosophies informed the arts of poetry, calligraphy, and ink painting, which were closely intertwined; all of these arts were used to celebrate the natural world as both a place of escape from human society and as a model of the cosmic harmony which humans should seek to recreate in their own worlds. The typical practitioner of these arts was a member of the literati, a class of educated scholar-officials whose careers often involved political ups and downs and periods of retreat. The arts of the literati would co-exist alongside the production of luxury arts for both domestic and foreign consumption until the revolutions of the twentieth century.

Related Links:
East Asia: China, Korea, & Japan Quiz
Japan Art History - AP Art History Japan
AP Art History Quizzes
AP Art History Notes