THE ART OF
EARLY CHINA AND KOREA

Up to the Yuan Dynasty
ART HISTORY SURVEY I
Image of the Chinese yin and yang, opposites.
The "Yin and Yang," symbol of China, is derived from the teachings of Lao-Tzu, the legendary philosopher of the 5th Century bce, who taught the "Dao," the way, the religion that became known as "Daoism."  The "Yin and Yang" symbolize the coming together of opposites to form a whole.
Chinese culture and civilization reach back beyond the neolithic era, with early city development along the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers.  Pottery with geometric designs, carved jade, and bronze grave goods are among the earlier art forms discovered.
Bronze ritual vessel from the Shang Dynasty.
Bronze ritual food vessel from the Zhou Dynasty.
Bronze tiger from the Late Zhou Dynasty, c.9th Century bce, 29" in length.
Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.
Bronze ritual vessel from the Shang Dynasty, bear (or tiger?) with man.  13" high.
Bronze ritual food vessel, a "guei," from the East Zhou Dynasty, 6th Century bce.
Carved jade 'cong' from Liangshu. To the left is a carved jade cong from Liangshu.
 
A "cong" is a tube with a cylindrical bore and squared sides.  This one measures 2 1/2" and shows a symmetrical design which appears to be
a face.
 
The purpose of these items is not known.
The placing of "substitute" eternal attendants in tombs rather than the real person, like the painted figure below, stories of the soul's journey, and model houses were among items typically found in tombs of the early Zhou, Shang, Qin and Han Dynasties.
Painted wooden figure from the Hunan Province.
Painting on silk from Changsa.
Ceramic model of a house from the Han Dynasty.
Painted wooden figure from Hunan Province, c.4th-5th Century bce.
Painting on silk from the grave of Lady Dai, c.186 bce, from Changsa in the Hunan Province, illustrates the "journey of the woman's soul."  6 3/4" in length.
Ceramic model of a multi-storied house from a Han Dynasty tomb.
Among the best known ceramic objects are those found in the massive tomb of the Emperor Shi-huang, who had been long rumored to be a myth until his tomb was found in the l970's.  Nearly 12,000 life-size ceramic soldiers, attendants, horses, and chariots have been discovered, and the tomb of the Emperor himself has not yet been opened.
Terra cotta warrior from the tomb of Shihuang-di.
Terra cotta warriors in situ.
Ceramic warrior showing traces of paint.
Terracotta warriors from the tomb of Shi-huang di.  Each figure has different features, clothing, and accessories (which were real weapons and shields).
The terracotta army is still standing, ready to defend the Emperor.  The figures are hollow ceramic molded with distinctive features added.
See image in the Gardner text, page 186*.
The ceramic warriors were fully painted, although few traces of paint remains.
The philosophy of Kung-fu tze, known as Confucius in the west, is concerned with social morals and public behavior, while the teachings of Lao-tze are centered on private and aescetic matters.  They form the "yin and yang" of China, and pull together the indigenous religious beliefs and practices of ancient China which are focused on the ancestors.  Tang Dynasty ceramic figures, like those below, are characterized by their brown and green glazes, unglazed faces and hands, and glaze dripping at the base of the piece.  Examine the wonderful Tang Dynasty art at the McClung Museum in Knoxville, Tennesses.
Figure of a woman on a horse, Tang Dynasty.
Ceramic camel with musicians, Tang Dynasty.
Tang Dynasty guardian figure.
Figure of a woman on a horse from a Tang Dynasty tomb, c.581-907 ce.
Ceramic camel with musicians, from a tomb in Xi'an, c.723 ce.
Guardian figure from a Tang Dynasty tomb.
Buddhism was brought to China during the 5th Century ce by missionaries from India and became widespread during the short-lived Sui Dynasty, just prior to the great Tang Dynasty.  Buddhist art in China shows none of the sensuality of the art of India and develops an even calmer countenance in the face and pose of the Buddha.
The Buddha Amitaba,  Buddhist shrine.
To the left, the "Buddha Amitabha," seated on a lotus throne, c.593 ce, is a bronze altar piece.  Boston Museum of Fine Art

To the right is the Colossal Buddha at Yungang, c.490 ce; at 45' high, it is the most massive of the 51,000 Buddhist images carved into the cliffs at Yungang.

Colossal Buddha at Yunguang.
Buddhism arrived after the collapse of the Han Dynasty in the 5th Century ce.  The standing Buddha below still resembles the Indian figures of the Gupta period.  On the right below, a leaf-shaped "mandorla," a circle of light that surrounds the entire body, encircles the Buddha.
Standing Buddha from the Northern Wei Dynasty.
Altar shrine for the Maitreya Buddha.
Standing Buddha from the Northern Wei Dynasty, is gilt bronze and 55 1/2" high.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Altar Shrine with Maitreya Buddha, from Northern Wei Dynasty, c.524 ce.  Gilt bronze, 30 1/4" high.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
*All page numbers refer to the Gardner 13th edition.
Page Updated 8/05/09
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Copyright M.Hoover and San Antonio College, August, 2001.  All rights reserved.