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Chinese Culture & Arts-II

2003-11-18 16:17

The roots of Chinese painting can be traced back to the painted pottery of the Neolithic Age, some 6,000 years ago. Two paintings done in the state of Chu during the Warring States Period, the "Dragon and hoenix" and "Taming a Dragon" unearthed from a tomb near modern-day Changsha are the earliest paintings yet found in China. The Sui, Tang, Five Dynasties and Song were a flourishing period for traditional Chinese painting. Travelling in Spring by Zhan Ziqian of the Sui Dynasty is sometimes considered a gem of Chinese landscape painting. The Tang Dynasty Wu Daozi, known as the "Sage Painter," produced works that were treasured by collectors through the ages. A 24.8 cm. wide 258 cm. long silk scroll painted by Zhang Zeduan during the Song Dynasty, entitled Riverside Scenes at the Qingming Festival, vividly depicts the bustling everyday life in the Northern Song capital Bianliang (present-day Kaifeng) in extensive detail. The beauty and wealth of information contained in the picture still dazzles the eye today. Great progress was made in the use of ink-wash during the Yuan Dynasty. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, many outstanding painters emerged, such as Shen Zhou, Wen Zhengming, Tang Yin(Bohu) and Qiu Ying of the Ming, and Zhu Da (Badashanren), Shi Tao, Zheng Xie (Banqiao) and Li Shan of the Qing.
Traditional Chinese paintings, known as "guohua" in China, are painted with ink and/or colors on paper or silk. Chinese paintings are generally classified into two styles: Xieyi (freehand strokes) and gongbi ("skilled brush"). Xieyi is characterized by careful control of ink tone, unrestrained brushwork, and no unessential brush strokes. The essence of landscapes, figures and other subjects are rendered with a minimum of expressive ink. In contrast, the brushwork in gongbi paintings is fine and visually complex. Precision is produced through close attention to detail; the hair on the head or the feathers on a bird's wing are neatly and carefully executed. The contemporary painter Zhang Daqian is famous for his skill in xieyi. Qi Baishi, another famous painter, sometimes combined the two contrasting techniques of xieyi and gongbi in one painting, creating, some would say, a new style. Other well-known painters of the modern era include Xu Beihong, Pan Tianshou, Huang Binhong, Li Kuchan, Li Keran, Fu Baoshi, Liu Haisu, Ye Qianyu and Guan Shanyue.
China has also made great progress in Western styles of paintings, such as oil painting, graphic art and water colors. Some fine arts colleges and schools have courses in Western painting styles. Many Chinese painters have created art works that combine traditional Chinese painting techniques with those of the West, thus bringing new brilliance to the world of Chinese art.


As an ancient performing art in China, quyi is a general term that covers several different types of performances in which speech, singing or both are used. As an independent art, it was formed in the middle Tang Dynasty and flourished in the Song Dynasty. Now more than 300 forms of quyi are popular among all ethnic groups throughout the country. The most influential and widespread forms are jingyun dagu, meihua dugu, shulaibao, danxian, xiangsheng, pingshu, kuaiban, Tianjin shidiao, xihe dagu, Dongbei dagu, er'-renzhuan, Suzhou pinghua, Yangzhou pinghua, pingtan, Fengyang huagu, Shandong ginshu, Shandong kuaishu, Henan Zhuizi, Sichuan gingyin, Hubei daoqing, yuequ, Shanbei shuoshu and Mongolian haolaibao.
Performances consist usually of only one, two or three people, with simple props and no stage scenery. Major singing forms, such as danxian, jingyun dagu and meihua dagu, normally tell short stories and the songs are short. Some combine singing with speech, such as Suzhou pingtan and Xihe dagu, and these are often long pieces. Some are half sung and half spoken, such as kuaiban and Shandong Kuaishu. Talking forms include pingshu and pinghua, which are used to tell long stories which continue over several months, in addition to xiangsheng, which involves short pieces that can be finished in a few minutes or even in a few lines. The performers sit as they sing in some forms, such as tanci, qinshu and pingshu, but walk up and down when singing in the er'renzhuan mode of Northeast China and the Fengyang huagu mode of Anhui Province. In other forms the performers stand, including dagu, uaiban, zhuizi, and qingyin. Singing is accompanied by musical instruments, clappers or drums. Instruments include sanxiafl, sihu and yangqin.
Quyi has a wide mass basis and a strongly Chinese flavor. Many excellent quyi items reflect the Chinese people's thought, ideals and moral aspirations; many works sing the praises of national heroes, honest officials, and faithful lovers. Currently, there are specialized quyi performing troupes and teams at central and local levels, such as the Central Broadcasting Recitation and Singing Troupe, Tianjin quyi Troupe, Shanghai Pingtan Troupe, Suzhou Pingtan Troupe, Shenyang Quyi Troupe and Sichuan Quyi Troupe. In addition, there are many amateur quyi troupes.

Arts and Crafts

China is home to a wide variety of arts and crafts, such as sculpture, metal work, eaving and embroidery, folk paintings, ceramics, and lacquerware in addition to traditional folk arts such as papercuts, lanterns, kites and toys. Jadeware, ivory carving, cloisonn, embroidery and porcelain produced in China are famed the world over.
China's major jade-carving centers are in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Liaoning, Jiangsu and Xinjiang. Large pieces of jade carving often come in the form of censers, vases, figures, birds, animals and flowers. Smaller jade items include brooches, rings, cigarette holders and seals. Major ivory carving centers are in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, with each city claiming its own style. Beijing is famed for lifelike ivory carvings of human figures rendered in the round and other delicately colored articles. Guangzhou creates exquisitely hollowed-out concentric ivory balls, boats, and floral towers. Shanghai is famous for its uniquely delicate ivory portrayal of freshwater mussels and fish. The art of miniature ivory carving also thrives in Beijing and Shanghai; artisans carve landscapes or lengthy texts on tiny slips of ivory the size of a grain of rice. Their work truly seems miraculous.
Cloisonn is a kind of decorative enamelware created by artisans who mount a delicate pattern of copper strips on the surface of a metal roughcast. The areas within the strips are then filled with enamel pastes of different colors and the copper strips are soldered. Thus prepared, the cloisonn to be is fired then polished and gilded, producing a resplendent interweaving of metal and enamel. Decorative cloisonn works include plates, vases, censers and jars; functional items include table lamps, fruit dishes, candy jars, and stationery or smoking sets. Beijing is a major producer of cloisonn. Many of its products have been selected as valuable gifts to be presented to distinguished foreign guests.
Artisans produce embroidery by hand employing several dozen types of stitches to create the desired texture, color, gradation and spatial effects. China's four famous styles of embroidery are those of Suzhou, Hunan, Sichuan and Guangdong. Suzhou embroidery is famous for its cats and goldfish, Hunan embroidery for its lions and tigers, Sichuan embroidery for its carp, roosters and cockscombs and Guangdong embroidery for its warmly decorative One Hundred Birds Worshiping the Phoenix set against a panoramic backdrop of the sun, green pines, green bamboo, peonies and red plum blossoms.
Ceramics were produced in China in very ancient times. Main producers of porcelain today include Jingdezhen in Jiangxi, Liling in Hunan, Dehua in Fujian, Tangshan and Handan in Hebei, Linru and Yuxian in Henan, Longquan in Zhejiang and Zibo in Shandong. Porcelain from China's famous porcelain capital Jingdezhen is well-known both at home and abroad. It is, to quote a popular saying, "as white as jade, as bright as a mirror, as thin as paper, and as sonorous as a chime of bells." The city's eggshell, blue-and-white, famille rose and colorful-glazed porcelains are famous all over the world. Yixing in Jiangsu is known as China's pottery capital for its much-admired purplish-brown teapots made from local clay of the same color. Simple and unsophisticated in form, the fine-grained teapots have a distinctively Chinese style. Tea made in an Yixing teapot keeps its fragrance and flavor for a long time thanks to the special qualities of this purplish-brown clay; similarly, food cooked in an Yixing earthernware pot is especially delicious.

Museums and the Protection of Cultural Relics

China, home to one of the world's most ancient civilizations, abounds in cultural relics, from ancient tombs and mausoleums, ancient architecture, grottoes and stone carvings to revolutionary sites and memorials to valuable ancient art works, handicrafts, historical documents, and books. During a period lasting more than a hundred years before 1949, a large number of precious cultural relics were stolen and taken out of the country. Much ancient architecture was damaged or even destroyed by the forces of nature and man, and many ancient tombs and mausoleums near Luoyang and Xi'an were looted. After 1949, China promulgated the "Order Prohibiting the Export of Valuable Cultural Relics" and issued a series of directives and measures toward collecting revolutionary cultural relics, protecting ancient architecture and archeological excavations. Departments in charge of the administration and protection of cultural relics were set up at the central and local levels. At the end of 1982, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress published the "Law on the Protection of Cultural Artifacts, Sites and Art Objects." The law contains clear-cut provisions on the designation of historical sites and monuments for protection, on punishments for damage to cultural relics, the export of artifacts and art objects, and archeological excavation.
Important artifacts, sites and art objects are protected at different major administrative levels according to their value, e.g. historical monuments and cultural relics under protection at the state level, those under protection at the provincial or equivalent level, and those under protection at the county (or city) level. Cities of historical or revolutionary importance are designated historic cities by the state. Currently, China has more than 500 historical monuments and cultural relics under state protection, including the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing; Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu; the Badaling section of the Great Wall in Beijing; the Potala Palace in Lhasa; the "Peking Man" archeological site at Zhoukoudian in Beijing; Qufu, the former capital city of the ancient state of Lu in Shandong; the Yellow Emperor's mausoleum at Huangling in Shaanxi; and Emperor Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum in Lintong, Shaanxi. More than 5,000 treasures are protected at the provincial or equivalent level and more than 10,000 historical monuments and cultural relics are protected at the county or equivalent level. In addition 99 cities have been designated historic cities.
China's profusion of historical monuments and cultural relics has stimulated the development of its museums. By the end of 1995, China had increased its museums from 21 in 1949 to 1,194. Some of China's museums are particularly famous. The Palace Museum, located in the heart of Beijing, is the largest and oldest national museum in China. It specializes in the preservation, study and exhibition of the Ming and Qing imperial palace and the palace treasures and other traditional arts and crafts collected therein. The Museum of Chinese History, located in Beijing, on the east side of Tiananmen Square, provides a general survey of Chinese history from ancient to modern times. The museum collects and preserves historical materials, holds exhibitions and engages in research. The Museum of Qin Shi Huang's Buried Legions, on the east side of the Qin emperor's mausoleum in Lintong County, Shaanxi, is the largest display of ancient military arts in China. More than 1,000 lifelike terracotta figurines of warriors and horses, each with its own individualized features and vivid expression, remain today as evidence of the skills of ancient artisans. The Hemudu Archeological Site Museum, located in Hemudu Town, Yuyao County, in Zhejiang offers a vast array of highly prized Neolithic artifacts, including ivory carvings, lacquerware and pottery. The museum building itself is in the shape of a bird with outspread wings, in an echo of the Hemudu culture's worship of an avian totem, a celebration of South China's prehistoric civilization of 7,000 years ago.


Libraries in China can be categorized according to their administrative superiors, such as university or college libraries, scientific research institution libraries and those attached to government institutions, trade unions, factories, secondary or primary schools, or other organizations. In 1995, China had 2,615 public libraries housing 330 million volumes. These include national libraries, libraries at the provincial or equivalent level, libraries at the prefectural or equivalent level and those at the county level.
Beijing Library (or the National Library of China) opened to the public in 1912 as the successor to the Metropolitan Library founded late in the Qing Dynasty. Completed at the end of the l980s, the newly constructed National Library of China is located to the north of the Purple Bamboo Park in western Beijing. The huge complex, the second largest library in the world after the Library of Congress in the United States, occupies 142,000 square meters. Acquisitions, for the most part, come from donations by local governments, purchases, individual contributions, state allocations or through international book exchanges. The library's collection consists of more than 19 million books, including ancient books and records in more than 20 national minority languages and hundreds of thousands of rare editions. In addition to Chinese publications it collects foreign publications in 115 languages, principally English, Russian, Japanese, and German.
China's most famous university library is the Beijing University Library with its collection in excess of 4.5 million volumes. The libraries of Zhongshan University, Nanjing University, Chinese People's University and Beijing Teachers University each has upwards of two million copies. Libraries in scientific research institutions are organized in terms of their specialized discipline. The Chinese Academy of Sciences Library in Beijing has a collection of over six million volumes and has become the national center for scientific information. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions Library and trade union libraries of provinces, centrally administered municipalities and autonomous regions have fairly substantial book collections.

Cultural Exchange with Foreign Countries

Cultural exchanges with other countries are an integral part of China's relations with the world. On the eve of the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, a theatrical troupe was sent abroad. Since this modest beginning, the nation's activities in the sphere of cultural exchange have developed rapidly. In 1951 China signed its first agreements with other countries to promote cultural cooperation and plan for specific cultural exchanges. Since the introduction of the policy of reform and opening to the outside world in 1979, cultural exchange has been stepped up enabling China's activities in this sphere to rise to a new height. As of 1995, China had signed agreements with 133 countries affirming cultural cooperation, and had close cultural relations with more than 160 countries and regions. The phrase "cultural exchange" describes communication in a variety of fields including culture, arts, education, sports, science, public health, journalism, publishing, archeology, religion, broadcasting as well as exchanges of books between museums and involving young people. Chinese troupes performing Peking opera; acrobatics, song and dance, traditional music and local operas and exhibitions of artifacts, paintings, sculpture and arts and crafts have been greeted with great enthusiasm by friends all over the world. Peking opera in particular seems to fascinate many audiences with its brilliant blending of singing, dancing, acrobatics and music. China's movies, acrobatics, singing and dance have all won prizes in international competitions. Artists from abroad have likewise frequently performed and exhibited to appreciative audience in China. China's stages have been graced by the works of world-famous composers played by celebrated symphonies from all round the world, as well as classical and modern dance, theater, ballet and folk music. Moreover, the Chinese people can now enjoy many critically acclaimed foreign films. Art exhibitions have also been well received. In 1995 alone, the Chinese government sent 13 cultural delegations and teams of cultural officials to visit over 20 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. Meanwhile, cultural delegations and teams of cultural officials visited China from 20-some countries. Outstanding achievements have been made in multi lateral cultural exchanges. In the same year China sent nearly 200 people in 30 groups to take part in international art competitions, including acrobatics, ballet, singing and music performances. They won six gold, three silver, five bronze and 12 special medals. Non-governmental cultural exchanges are very active; non-governmental cultural exchange items account for 93 percent and 91 percent respectively of Chinese performances and exhibitions abroad, and over 90 percent of visiting art performances and exhibitions.
As China opens wider and wider toward the outside world, cultural exchanges with other countries will certainly increase in number and variety. In recent years, a potpourri of international folk art activities are to be found all over China, attracting thousands of foreigners and artists. These include, to name a few, the first, second and third international folk art festivals in 1990, 1992 and 1994, respectively, and the annual Weifang International Kite Festival, '94 Sichuan International Folk Art Festival, '94 Shenyang International Yangge Festival, Second Shanghai International Film Festival and the Second Chinese Quyi Festival held in 1995. Activities such as these can only help to promote understanding and friendship between the Chinese and the rest of people sharing the earth.

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