Bird’s eye View of the Forbidden city
Art,  English

A complete panorama of historical Chinese arts and civilization

The text below is the excerpt of the book Chinese Art (ASIN: B016XN12ZO), written by Stephen W. Bushell, published by Parkstone International.


Hǎo shū rú zhìyǒu

A good book is a good friend.

Read the first part of Chinese Art here

The study of any branch of art requires some acquaintance with the history of the people among whom the art was practised. This applies with additional force to China and to Chinese art, a still more distant and less familiar field of study. The native story of the development of Chinese culture makes it nearly as old as the civilisations of Egypt, Chaldea, and Susiana. These empires have long since culminated and disappeared below the horizon, while China has continued to exist, to work out its own ideas of art and ethics, and to elaborate the peculiar script which it retains today. The characters of the ancient Chinese script appear to have originated and developed in the valley of the Yellow River, and no connection has hitherto been satisfactorily traced with any other system of picture writing.

Map of China, Chinese Art
Map of China

The division of the country into hereditary fiefs, conferred upon scions of the royal house and representatives of the former dynasties, led to ultimate disaster. As the power of the surrounding feudatories increased, that of the central kingdom waned, until it was unable to withstand the assaults of the barbarous tribes on the south and west. King Hsüan, a vigorous ruler, resisted the invaders with success; but little more than ten years after his death, the capital was taken by the barbarian tribes, and in the year 771 B.C., his son and successor, King Yu, was slain. The reign of King Yu is memorable for the record in the canonical Book of Odes of an eclipse of the sun on the 29th of August 776 B.C, the first of a long line of eclipses, which give points of chronological certainty to subsequent Chinese history.

His son and successor reigned at the new capital, Lo Yang, and the dynasty, known henceforward as the Eastern Chou, remained there, although its authority gradually dwindled to a shadow, in spite of all the efforts of Confucius and Mencius to reassert its rightful claims. The barbarian invaders were meanwhile driven out by a combination of the two feudal States of Chin (Tsin) and Ch’in, and the old capital was ceded to the latter, which was destined in time to supplant the Chou.

The Qianlong Emperor hunting hare, 1755, Chinese Art
Guiseppe Castiglione (Lang Shining) (1688-1766), The Qianlong Emperor hunting hare, 1755. Hanging scroll, colour on silk, 115.5 x 181.4 cm. Palace Museum, Peking.

During the seventh century B.C., the power of the empire was swayed by confederacies of feudal princes, and the period (685-591 B.C.) is known in history as that of the Wu Pa, or “Five Leaders,” who figured in succession as maintainers of the Government of the Son of Heaven.

This system of presiding chiefs, or rather of leading States, checked for a time the prevailing disorder; but it was succeeded by the period of the contending States, when the country was again devastated by civil wars, which continued for more than two centuries, until King Nan, in 256, surrendered finally to the Prince of Ch’in and brought the Chou Dynasty to an end.

King Cheng succeeded to the throne of Ch’in in 246 B.C., and in 221 B.C., after he had conquered and annexed all the other States, he founded a new and homogeneous empire on the ruins of the feudal system. He extended the empire widely towards the south, drove back the Hiung-nu Turks from the north, and built the Great Wall as a rampart of defense against these horse-riding nomads. He tried to burn all historical books, declared himself the First Divus Augustus and decreed that his successor should be known as the Second, the Third, and so forth, even down to the ten-thousandth generation. But his ambitious projects came to nothing, as his son, who succeeded as Erh Shih Huang Ti, or Emperor of the second generation, in 209 B.C., was murdered by the eunuch Chao Kao two years later, and in 206 his grandson, a mere child, gave himself up to the founder of the House of Han, Liu Pang, bringing with him the jade seals of State, and was assassinated a few years later.

Mufu (Mu family mansion), Chinese Art
Mufu (Mu family mansion), 13th-14 th c. Lijiang old town. Lijiang.

The civilization of China during the three ancient dynasties would appear to have been, so far as we know, mainly, if not entirely, an indigenous growth. Towards the close of this period, in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., the Ch’in State (Shensi Province) extended its boundaries towards the south and west, and from its name was undoubtedly derived that of China, by which the country generally became known to the Hindus, Persians, Armenians, Arabs and Ancient Romans. About the same time or somewhat earlier, signs of an overland traffic with India, by way of Burma and Assam, appeared in the south-west, started by traders of the Shu State (Szechuan Province), by which route Hindu ideas of forest seclusion and asceticism penetrated and gave a marked colour to the early Taoist cult which sprang up in these parts.

Hsia2207-1765 B.C.
Shang1765-1122 B.C.
Chou1122-256 B.C.
Qin221-207 B.C.
Han206 B.C. – 220 A.D.
Three Kingdoms220-265
Southern-Northern Dynasties420-589
Five Dynasties907-960
Republic of China1912
People’s Republic of China1949
The Great Wall at Badaling
The Great Wall at Badaling, 16th c. North of Peking.

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Parkstone International is an international publishing house specializing in art books. Our books are published in 23 languages and distributed worldwide. In addition to printed material, Parkstone has started distributing its titles in digital format through e-book platforms all over the world as well as through applications for iOS and Android. Our titles include a large range of subjects such as: Religion in Art, Architecture, Asian Art, Fine Arts, Erotic Art, Famous Artists, Fashion, Photography, Art Movements, Art for Children.

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