Literature and Art

It is generally agreed that there are six types of classical arts: poetry, dance, music, painting, architecture and sculpture; poetry further gives birth to literary essays, fiction and drama.
China has a long history, so all six classical arts flowered in ancient China.


As early as 7,000 or 8,000 years ago, Chinese ancestors had already started to dancing, and use it as part of their community activity. In the Shang period, dance became a main component of ceremonies involving prayer and worship. Court dance started during that period. Court dance reached its peak in the Tang Dynasty. The influence of Tang Dynasty dance spread as far as Korea, Japan and Persia; one can find even today the charm of Tang Dynasty dance in the dances of those countries.

Chinese dancing includes both martial and civil dances, dancing with empty hands and dancing with weapons. In the more simple folk art, dancers would wield various instruments while dancing, including sickles, axes, umbrellas, straw hats and scarves. The use of sleeves and their extensions, long scarves, also contributed to unique forms of dancing.

Folk dancing was sometimes specific to a region: the lion dance in Hebei and Guandong Provinces , the tea-picking dance in Yunnan Province, the great yangge in the northeast, and so on . All these have different characteristics.

The "Six Classical Arts" at which Confucius was adept included music. He put learning music as one of the important components of education.

The chime bells of the Warring States Period prove that the twelve-note octave, including half-tones, was already known and employed by the Chinese some 2,000 years ago. In the Han Dynasty, not only had Han instruments, like the zhong (chime bells), di (flute) , sheng, zheng, qin and se become very popular, but ethnic instruments like the konghou, pipa, tongbo, yunluo and huqin were also introduced. All employed in orchestras, these came to become China's folk instruments.

After the Song and Yuan Dynasties, instrumental music and singing converged in a single production along with dramatic speaking. Music in the Yuan Dynasty was divided into the music of the south, and the north. The Kunqu Opera originated in the Ming Dynasty, and the Qing Dynasty had its Beijing Opera.

Ballads from different places, like the "Hua'er" of the Qinghai and Gansu Provinces, folk songs from Sichuan Province and "Xin Tian You" of the northwest, all have their own characteristics.

he country already had highly-developed painting techniques by the Neolithic age at the latest.

The discoveries of ancient rock drawings of the Red Mountain Culture all prove that early Chinese had already started using pictures to express their imaginative thoughts. Paintings of the Han Dynasty are of precise, simple lines, expressing imaginative themes, exerting a profound influence upon painters of later ages. Paintings in the Wei and Jin Dynasties mostly concern Buddhist themes. Paintings of the Tang Dynasty, whether depicting human shapes and faces or scenery, had reached an even higher state. In the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, paintings made by the literati were popular.

Chinese painting pays great attention to the precision of ink lines, and strives for vividness and contrast. The integration of painting, poetry, calligraphy and seals is unique in the world of art.
he country already had highly-developed painting techniques by the Neolithic age at the latest.

The discoveries of ancient rock drawings of the Red Mountain Culture all prove that early Chinese had already started using pictures to express their imaginative thoughts. Paintings of the Han Dynasty are of precise, simple lines, expressing imaginative themes, exerting a profound influence upon painters of later ages. Paintings in the Wei and Jin Dynasties mostly concern Buddhist themes. Paintings of the Tang Dynasty, whether depicting human shapes and faces or scenery, had reached an even higher state. In the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, paintings made by the literati were popular.

Chinese painting pays great attention to the precision of ink lines, and strives for vividness and contrast. The integration of painting, poetry, calligraphy and seals is unique in the world of art.
One can see that many utensils unearthed from the Shang and Zhou Dynasties are really sculptures, and the beautiful patterns on ancient cooking vessels are also works of sculpture. Examples from the Qin, Han, Wei, Jin, Tang and Song Dynasties portray the beauty of the sculptors' skills even more dramatically. The Terracotta Army, excavated from the mausoleum of the first emperor of Qin, is called the Eighth Wonder of the World. Huge statues of Buddhas, arhats, Bodhisattvas, deities and demons are legion.

In the themes of ancient Chinese sculpture, apart from religion and works done to accompany dead emperors to the afterlife, there also included some works treating everyday subjects. From many regions, one can see human figurines of different styles, figurines of the performers in operas and other people of various identities. Other popular themes were animals: oxen, horses, dogs, pigs, bears, tigers and lions.

Chinese poems originated very early in the country's history. Work songs, prayers in religious ceremonies and songs of romantic love could all be both sung and recited. Ancient myths and legends, the earliest epics, were a great source of the literature of the country. Classic of Poetry was the first written collection of poems in China. It is said that Classic of Poetry was compiled by Confucius. After Classic of Poetry came Chu Ci (or The Poetry of Chu: The Songs of the South) a compilation of the works of Q Yuan and his followers. Qu Yuan's works significantly influenced Chinese poetry of later ages. Poems in the form of ballads from the Eastern and Western Han Dynasties came after Chu Ci. Poems and ballads of the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties were very popular at that time. In the Tang Dynasty, a more modern style named Lshi (a classical poem of eight lines) developed very quickly. Poems of the Tang Dynasty became the most colorful chapter of Chinese literature, and hold an important position in the whole history of literature. After the poems of the Tang Dynasty, there came the Ci poetry of the Song Dynasty. Poets of this age were skilled in the use of alternating long and short sentences. In the Yuan Dynasty, the style of poetry changed, and San Qu (a type of opera with tonal patterns modeled after tunes drawn from folk music) became quite popular.

Chinese prose before the Qin and Han Dynasties was mostly concerned with history and philosophy. Works describing the various schools of thought of the Pre-Qin Period, and related historical accounts have been generally of high quality. Historical Records, written by Sima Qian, has been called the outstanding representative of prose of the Han Dynasty. Another scholar of the Han Dynasty, Sima Xiangru, was also a famous man of letters. Prose in the Wei and Jin Dynasties use parallelism liberally, and lay special emphasis on the selection of beautiful words and the forming of symmetrical sentences. The eight prose masters of the Tang and Song Dynasties, and later those of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, all made significant contributions, leaving many famous works for posterity.

Chinese novels mostly derive from the scripts of street performers. Legends from the Tang Dynasty and storytellers' scripts in the Song Dynasty had already taken on an embryonic novel form. In the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Chinese classical novels became fully mature. Existing scripts show that Chinese drama during the Southern Song Dynasty had already become mature, and gained even greater development in the Yuan Dynasty. Now, types of dramas from different places of China number over 300, from the "living fossils of the theater" such as the Nuo Opera of Guizhou Province (the Mask drama), the Tibetan Opera, and the Pu Xian Opera in Fujian Province, to the so-called state treasure, the Beijing Opera - the whole spectrum is treasures of the theater.

Chinese Aesthetics

Since traditional Chinese philosophy has as an ideal attaining harmony between human beings and heaven, and as humans are part of nature, it is appropriate for the Chinese people to pay great attention to the harmony between their own creations and nature. Therefore, the main road Chinese art has followed is basically simplicity. So, Chinese aesthetics sees recovering one's original purity and simplicity as the highest state of beauty. Only if, before creating a work of art, the artist gathers imagination and inspiration, understands all the phenomena on earth from the standpoint of simplicity, and tastes the multicoloured nature of purity, can he claim to possess the spirit of beauty. As long as it is simple, plain, sincere, and full of imagination, it will be appreciated by the Chinese people. Recovering and maintaining one's original purity and simplicity, while upholding nature, vividness of presentation, balance and harmony are the essentials of Chinese art.

Chinese works of art, especially literature and drama, pay a great deal of attention to moral evaluation. China's works of art squarely face reality and make life-like portrayals, they are also replete with colorful imagination. The artists always maintain a sense of detachment from their creations, being at once inside the art and also outside the art. This sense of distance is one of the unique aspects of Chinese art. Chinese artwork very much emphasizes stirring the imagination of the audience. The artists try their best to immerse the audience and make them participate in their creations.