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Chinese art (Chinese: 中國藝術/中国艺术) has varied throughout its ancient history, divided into periods by the ruling dynasties of China and changing technology. Different forms of art have been influenced by great philosophers, teachers, religious figures and even political leaders. Chinese art encompasses fine arts, folk arts and performance arts.

History of the Art

Green Hills and White Clouds, by Gao Kogong, 1270-1310 AD.
"Children Playing in an Autumn Courtyard" (秋庭婴戏图), close-up detail of a larger vertical-scroll painting on silk by Su Hanchen (苏汉臣, active 1130-1160s AD)

Early forms of art in China were made from pottery and jade in the Neolithic period, to which was added bronze in the Shang Dynasty. The Shang are most remembered for their blue casting, noted for its clarity of detail. Early Chinese music and poetry was influenced by the Book of Song, Confucius and the Chinese poet and statesman Qu Yuan.

In early imperial China, porcelain was introduced and was refined to the point that in English the word china has become synonymous with high-quality porcelain. Around the 1st century AD, Buddhism arrived in China, though it did not become popular until the 4th century. At this point, Chinese Buddhist art began to flourish, a process which continued through the 20th century. It was during the period of Imperial China that calligraphy and painting became highly appreciated arts in court circles, with a great deal of work done on silk until well after the invention of paper.

Buddhist architecture and sculpture thrived in the Sui and Tang dynasty. Of which, the Tang Dynasty was particularly open to foreign influence. Buddhist sculpture returned to a classical form, inspired by Indian art of the Gupta period. Towards the late Tang dynasty, all foreign religions were outlawed to support Taoism.

In the Song Dynasty, poetry was marked by a lyric poetry known as Ci (詞) which expressed feelings of desire, often in an adopted persona. Also in the Song dynasty, paintings of more subtle expression of landscapes appeared, with blurred outlines and mountain contours which conveyed distance through an impressionistic treatment of natural phenomena. It was during this period that in painting, emphasis was placed on spiritual rather than emotional elements, as in the previous period. Kunqu, one of the oldest extant forms of Chinese opera developed during the Song Dynasty in Kunshanmarker, near present-day Shanghai. In the Yuan dynastymarker, painting by the Chinese painter Zhao Mengfu (趙孟頫) greatly influenced later Chinese landscape painting, and the Yuan dynasty opera became a variant of Chinese opera which continues today in examples such as Cantonese opera.

Late imperial China was marked by two specific dynasties: Ming and Qing. Of Ming Dynastymarker poetry, Gao Qi was acknowledged as the most popular poet of the era. Artwork in the Ming dynasty perfected color painting and color printing, with a wider color range and busier compositions than Song paintings. In the Qing dynastymarker, Beijing opera was introduced; it is considered the one of the best-known forms of Chinese opera. Qing poetry was marked by a poet named Yuan Mei whose poetry has been described as having "unusually clear and elegant language" and who stressed the importance of personal feeling and technical perfection. Under efforts of masters from the Shanghai School during the late Qing Dynasty, traditional Chinese art reached another climax and continued to the present in forms of the "Chinese painting" (guohua, 國畫). The Shanghai School challenged and broke the literati tradition of Chinese art, while also paying technical homage to the ancient masters and improving on existing traditional techniques.


New forms of Chinese art were heavily influenced by the New Culture Movement, which adopted Western techniques and employed socialist realism. The Cultural Revolution would shape Chinese art in the 20th century like no other event in history with the Four Olds destruction campaign. Contemporary Chinese artists continue to produce a wide range of experimental works, multimedia installations, and performance "happenings" which have become very popular in the international art market.

Art market

Today, the market of Chinese art is widely reported to be among the hottest and fastest-growing in the world, attracting buyers all over the world. The Voice of America reported in 2006 that Modern Chinese art is raking in record prices both internationally and in domestic markets, some experts even fearing the market might be overheating. The Economist reported that Chinese art has become the latest darling in the world market according to the record sales from Sotheby's and Christie's, the biggest fine-art auction houses. The International Herald Tribune reported that Chinese porcelains were fought over in the art market as "if there was no tomorrow". A 14th century porcelain vase was easily sold by the Christie's with a staggering £15.68 million. In terms of buying-market, China recently overtook France becoming the world's third-largest art market, after the United States and the United Kingdom, due to the growing middle-class in the country. Sotheby's noted that Contemporary Chinese art has rapidly changed the Contemporary Asian art world into one of the most dynamic sectors on the international art market. Recently, because of the global economic crisis, the Contemporary Asian art market and the Contemporary Chinese art market, is experiencing a slow down.


Art type Main art Major category Start era
Chinese folk art Paper cutting Chinese paper cutting Eastern Han Dynasty
Chinese paper folding Eastern Han Dynasty
Puppetry Glove puppetry -
Chinese shadow theatre Han Dynasty
Handicraft Chinese knot Tang Dynasty
Literature Chinese literature Chinese classic texts Spring and Autumn Period
Chinese poetry Spring and Autumn Period
Chinese historiography Spring and Autumn Period
Chinese dictionary Zhou Dynasty
Visual art
Pottery Chinese ceramics Palaeolithic
Embroidery Chinese embroidery Neolithic
Chinese painting Ming Dynasty painting Ming Dynastymarker
Tang Dynasty painting Tang Dynasty
Ink and wash painting Tang Dynasty
Shan Shui painting Song Dynasty
East Asian calligraphy Oracle bone script Shang Dynasty
Cursive script Han Dynasty
Drawing Daoist Talismans Tang Dynasty
Comics Lianhuanhua 1880s
Manhua 1880s, termed in 1920s
Film Cinema of China 1890s
Chinese animation 1920s
Chinese music
Traditional Instrumental Zhou Dynasty
Yayue Western Zhou Dynasty
Modern National music 1910s
C-pop 1920s
Chinese rock 1980s
Performing arts Variety art Chinese variety art Han Dynasty
Chinese opera Beijing opera -
Kunqu -
Cantonese opera -
Theatre Xiangsheng Ming Dynastymarker
Shuochang narrative Quyi Dynastic times, termed in 1940s
Dances Dragon Dance -
Lion Dance -
Architecture Landscape architecture Chinese architecture -
Gardening Chinese Garden Scholar's Gardenmarker Zhou Dynasty
Bonsai Penjing -

See also


  1. Christie's Going, Going to China to Hold Auctions. The New York Times
  2. Booming Chinese Art Market - Report. The New York Times
  3. Chinese Art - Report. The New York Times
  4. Market Red Hot for Modern Chinese Art. Voice of America.
  5. The over-heating art market. The Economist.
  6. Disregarded yesterday; pricey Chinese art today. International Herald Tribune.
  7. Chinese jar sets record for Asian art. International Herald Tribune.
  8. Chinese Jar Sets Record for Asian Art. The New York Times.
  9. Culture and art Beijing style. Emirates Business-24
  10. China way ahead of India in Contemporary art. The Economic Times
  11. Sotheby's - Specialist Department Overview
  12. Chinese art sales weak in Sotheby's HK auction. Reuters
  13. China’s Art Market: Cold or Maybe Hibernating? New York Times

Further reading

  • Lee Yuan-Yuan and Shen, Sinyan. Chinese Musical Instruments (Chinese Music Monograph Series). 1999. Chinese Music Society of North America Press. ISBN 1-880464039
  • Shen, Sinyan. China: A Journey into Its Musical Art (Chinese Music Monograph Series). 2001. Chinese Music Society of North America Press. ISBN 1-880464071
  • Shen, Sinyan. Chinese Music in the 20th Century (Chinese Music Monograph Series). 2001. Chinese Music Society of North America Press. ISBN 1-880464047
  • Watson, W., The Arts of China to AD 1900 (Yale University Press, 1995).

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