Sunday, September 7, 2008

Chinese ceramics

Chinese ceramics is a form of fine art developed since the . China has always been richly endowed with the raw materials needed for making ceramics. The first types were made about 11,000 years ago, during the era. Chinese Ceramics range from construction materials such as bricks and tiles to hand-built pottery vessels fired in bonfires or kilns to the sophisticated porcelain wares made for the imperial court.



The Chinese term for porcelain covers a wide range of high-fired ceramics, some of which may not be recognized as porcelain by Western definitions. Porcelain is usually ''green-fired'' or ''once-fired'', which means that the body and the are fired together. After the body of a piece is formed and finished it is dried, coated with a glaze, dried again and fired. In the high temperature of the kiln the body and the glaze are fused together to become a unit. Chinese led wares are also produced in this way, except enamels are added after the first high-temperature firing. The pieces are then fired again in a second round via a smaller, lower-temperature kiln.


The Chinese tradition recognises only two primary categories of ceramics, high-fired and low-fired . The define porcelain as "fine, compact pottery" . In the West the property of is often regarded as a defining feature of porcelain, but this is not the case in China, where any thick or piece that rings with a reasonably clear note on being struck would be regarded as porcelain .


Defining ceramics

In the context of Chinese ceramics the term ''porcelain'' lacks a universally accepted definition. This in turn has led to confusion about when the first Chinese porcelain was made. Claims have been made for the late period , the Three Kingdoms period , the Six Dynasties period , and the Tang Dynasty .

Early wares

Fragments of pottery vessels dating from around the year 9000 BC found at the Xianrendong site, Wannian County, in the province of Jiangxi represent some of the earliest known Chinese ceramics. The wares were hand-made by coiling and fired in bonfires. Decorations include impressed cord marks, and features produced by stamping and by piercing.

The Xianrendong site was occupied from about 9000 BC to about 4000 BC. During this period two types of pottery were made. The first consisted of coarse-bodied wares possibly intended for everyday use. The second being finer, thinner-bodied wares possibly intended for ritual use or special occasions. There is archaeological evidence suggesting that both types of wares were produced at the same time at some point.

Han dynasty

Some experts believe the first true porcelain was made in the of Zhejiang during the Eastern Han period. Chinese experts emphasize the presence of a significant proportion of porcelain-building minerals as an important factor in defining ''porcelain''. recovered from archaeological Eastern Han kiln sites estimated firing temperature ranged from 1260 to 1300. As far back as 1000 BC, the so-called ''"Porcelaneous wares"'' or ''"proto-porcelain wares"'' were made using at least some kaolin fired at high temperatures. The dividing the line between the two and ''true porcelain wares'' is not a clear one.

Sui and Tang dynasty

During the and periods a wide range of ceramics, low-fired and high-fired, were produced. These included the well-known Tang lead-glazed ''sancai'' wares, the high-firing, lime-glazed ''Yue'' celadon wares and low-fired wares from ''Changsha''. In northern China, high-fired, translucent porcelains were made at kilns in the provinces of Henan and Hebei.

One of the first mentions of porcelain by a foreigner was made by an Arabian traveler during the Tang Dynasty who recorded that:


The Arabs were aware of the materials necessary to create glass ware, and he was certain it was not the usual glass material.

Song and Yuan dynasty

The city of Jingdezhen has been a central place of production since the early Han Dynasty. In 1004 established the city as the main production hub for Imperial porcelain. During the and dynasties, porcelain made in the city and other southern China kiln sites used crushed and refined porcelain stones alone.

Qing dynasty

Two letters written by , a Jesuit missionary and industrial spy who lived and worked in Jingdezhen in the early eighteenth century, described in detail manufacturing of porcelain in the city, see: . In his first letter dating 1712, d'Entrecolles described the way in which porcelain stones were crushed, refined and formed into little white bricks, known in Chinese as ''petuntse''. He then went on to describe the refining of china clay ''kaolin'' along with the developmental stages of glazing and firing. He explained his motives:


In 1743, during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, Tang Ying, the imperial supervisor in the city produced a memoir entitled ''"Twenty illustrations of the manufacture of porcelain."'' Unfortunately, the original illustrations have been lost, but the text of the memoir is still accessible.

Jingdezhen became the main production centre for large-scale starting with the reign of the Wanli emperor from 1572 to 1620.

By this time china clay and porcelain stone were mixed in about equal proportions. China clay produced wares of great strength when added to the body layer. Whiteness became a much sought after property, especially when combined to form blue-and-white wares. Porcelain stone was used with lower temperature of 1250 in the region. Compared to those mixed with china clay, which required 1350°C. The large southern egg-shaped kiln varied greatly in temperature. Near the firebox it was hot. Near the chimney, at the opposite end of the kiln, it was cooler.

Chinese porcelain wares

Tang ''Sancai'' burial wares

''Sancai'' means ''three-colours''. However, the colours of the glazes used to decorate the wares of the Tang dynasty were not limited to three in number. In the West, Tang sancai wares were sometimes referred to as ''egg-and-spinach'' by dealers for the use of green, yellow and white. Though the latter of the two colours might be more properly described as ''amber'' and ''off-white'' / ''cream''.

Sancai wares were northern wares made using white and buff-firing secondary kaolins and fire clays . At kiln sites located at , Neiqui county in Hebei and Gongxian in Henan ) were made at Jingdezhen and at many other southern kilns from the time of the Northern Song Dynasty until they were eclipsed in the 14th century by underglaze-decorated blue and white wares. Qingbai in literally means "clear blue-white". The qingbai glaze is a ''porcelain glaze'', so-called because it was made using porcelain stone. The qingbai glaze is clear, but contains iron in small amounts. When applied over a white porcelain body the glaze produces a greenish-blue colour that gives the glaze its name. Some have incised or moulded decorations.

The Song dynasty qingbai bowl illustrated was likely made at the Jingdezhen village of Hutian, which was also the site of the Imperial kilns established in the year 1004. The bowl has incised decoration, possibly representing clouds or the reflection of clouds in the water. The body is white, translucent and has the texture of very-fine sugar, indicating that it was made using crushed and refined porcelain stone instead of porcelain stone and china clay. The glaze and the body of the bowl would have been fired together, in a , possibly in a large wood-burning dragon-kiln or , typical of southern kilns in the period.

Though many Song and Yuan qingbai bowls were fired upside down in special segmented saggars, a technique first developed at the kilns in Hebei province. The rims of such wares were left unglazed but were often bound with bands of silver, copper or lead.

One remarkable example of ''qingbai'' porcelain is the so-called ''Fonthill Vase'', described in a guide for Fonthill Abbey published in 1823


The vase was made at Jingdezhen, probably around the year 1300 and was sent as a present to Pope Benedict XII by one of the last of China, in 1338. The mounts referred to in the 1823 description were of enamelled silver-gilt and were added to the vase in Europe in 1381. An 18th century water colour of the vase complete with its mounts exists, but the mounts themselves were removed and lost in the 19th century. The vase is now in the National Museum of Ireland. It is often held that ''qingbai'' wares were not subject to the higher standards and regulations of the other porcelain wares, since they were made for everyday use. They were mass-produced, and received little attention from scholars and antiquarians. The Fonthill Vase, given by a Chinese emperor to a pope, might appear to cast at least some doubt on this view.

Blue and white wares

Blanc de Chine

''Blanc de Chine'' is a type of white porcelain made at Dehua in the Fujian province. It has been produced from the Ming Dynasty to the present day. Large quantities arrived in Europe as Chinese Export Porcelain in the early 18th century and it was copied at Meissen and elsewhere.

The area along the Fujian coast was traditionally one of the main ceramic exporting centers. Over one-hundred and eighty kiln sites have been identified extending in historical range from the Song period to present.

From the Ming period porcelain objects were manufactured that achieved a fusion of glaze and body traditionally referred to as "ivory white" and "milk white." The special characteristic of Dehua porcelain is the very small amount of iron oxide in it, allowing it to be fired in an oxidising atmosphere to a warm white or pale ivory color.

The porcelain body is not very plastic but vessel forms have been made from it. Donnelly, lists the following types of product: figures, boxes, vases and jars, cups and bowls, fishes, lamps, cup-stands, censers and flowerpots, animals, brush holders, wine and teapots, Buddhist and Taoist figures, secular figures and puppets. There was a large output of figures, especially religious figures, e.g. Guanyin, Maitreya, and Ta-mo figures.

The numerous Dehua porcelain factories today make figures and tableware in modern styles. During the Cultural Revolution “Dehua artisans applied their very best skills to produce immaculate statuettes of the Great Leader and the heroes of the revolution. Portraits of the stars of the new proletarian opera in their most famous roles were produced on a truly massive scale.” Mao figures later fell out of favor but have been revived for foreign collectors.

Notable artists in ''blanc de Chine'', such as the late Ming period He Chaozong, signed their creations with their seals. Wares include crisply modeled figures, , bowls and joss stick-holders.

Many of the best examples of ''blanc de Chine'' are found in Japan where the white variety was termed ''hakugorai'' or "Korean white", a term often found in tea ceremony circles. The British Museum in London has a large number of ''blanc de Chine'' pieces, having received as a gift in 1980 the entire collection of P.J.Donnelly.

Fakes and reproductions

Chinese potters have a long tradition of borrowing design and decorative features from earlier wares. Whilst ceramics with features thus borrowed might sometimes pose problems of provenance, they would not generally be regarded as either reproductions or fakes. However, fakes and reproductions have also been made at many times during the long history of Chinese ceramics and continue to be made today in ever-increasing numbers.

* Reproductions of Song dynasty Longquan celadon wares were made at Jingdezhen in the early 18th century, but outright fakes were also made using special clay that were artificially aged by boiling in meat broth, refiring and storage in sewers. Père d'Entrecolles records that by this means the wares could be passed off as being hundreds of years old.

* At Jingdezhen the two remaining wood fired, egg-shaped kilns produce convincing reproductions of earlier wares. At Zhejiang province good reproductions of Song Longquan celedon wares continue to be made in large, side-stoked dragon kilns.

* Before World War II, the English potter Bernard Leach found what he took to be genuine Song dynasty ''cizhou'' rice-bowls being sold for very little money on the dock of a Chinese port and was surprised to learn that they were in fact newly made.

* In modern times the market for Song dynasty ''Jian'' tea-bowls has been severely depressed by the appearance in large numbers of modern fakes good enough to deceive even expert collectors. It is reported that some of these fakes show evidence of having had genuine Song dynasty ''iron-foot'' bases grafted onto newly made bodies.

* In the late 19th century fakes of Kangxi period ''famille noire'' wares were made that were convincing enough to deceive the experts of the day. Many such pieces may still be seen in museums today, as may pieces of genuine Kangxi porcelain decorated in the late nineteenth century with ''famille noire'' enamels. A body of modern expert opinion holds that porcelain decorated with ''famille noire'' enamels was not made at all during the Kangxi period, though this view is disputed .

* A fashion for Kangxi period blue and white wares grew to large proportions in Europe during the later years of the 19th century and triggered the production at Jingdezhen of large quantities of porcelain wares that strike a resemblance to ceramics of earlier periods. Such blue and white wares were not fakes or even convincing reproductions, even though some pieces carried four-character Kangxi reign-marks that continue to cause confusion to this day. Kangxi reign-marks in the form shown in the illustration occur only on wares made towards the end of the 19th century or later, without exception.


The most widely-known test is the thermoluminescence test, or TL test, which is used on some types of ceramic to estimate, roughly, the date of last firing. The TL test is carried out on small samples of porcelain drilled or cut from the body of a piece, which can be risky and disfiguring. For this reason, the test is rarely used for dating finely-potted, high-fired ceramics. TL testing cannot be used at all on some types of porcelain items, particularly high-fired porcelain.


Early wares






Republic and People's Republic


*Ayers, J. and Bingling, Y., ''Blanc de Chine: Divine Images in Porcelain'', China Institute, New York
*Ayers, J and Kerr, R., , ''Blanc de Chine Porcelain from Dehua'', Art Media Resources Ltd.
*Donnelly, P.J. , ''Blanc de Chine'', Faber and Faber, London
*Harrison-Hall, J. , ''Ming Ceramics in the British Museum'', British Museum, London
*Kerr, Rose and Wood, Nigel . ''Science and Civilisation in China,'' Volume 5, Part XII: Ceramic Technology. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-83833-9.
* Kotz, Suzanne ''Imperial Taste. Chinese Ceramics from the Percival David Foundation.'' Chronicle Books, San Francisco. ISBN 0-87701-612-7.
*Moujian, S., ''An Encyclopedia of Chinese Art'', p. 292.
*Wood, N. , ''Chinese Glazes: Their Chemistry, Origins and Re-creation'', A & C Black, London, and University of Pennsylvania Press, USA

Chinese embroidery

Chinese embroidery refers to embroidery created by any of the cultures located in the area that makes up modern China. It is some of the oldest extant needlework. The four major regional styles of Chinese embroidery are Suzhou embroidery , Hunan embroidery , Guangdong embroidery and Sichuan embroidery . All of them are nominated as Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage.


Chinese embroidery has a long history since Neolithic age. Because of the quality of silk fibre, most Chinese fine embroideries are made in silk. Some ancient vestiges of silk production have been found in various Neolithic sites dating back 5000~6000 years in China. A piece of silk fabric was found on a 3000 years old mummy in Egypt, which has been testified as old Sichuan embroidery. From the archaeological dicovery at Sanxingdui, we can be sure ancient Shu people had already mastered the silkworm domestication and silk production. Currently the earliest real sample of silk embroidery discovered in China is from a tomb in Mashan in Hubei province identified with the Zhanguo period . After the opening of Silk Route in Han Dynasty, the silk production and trade became flourishing. In 14th century, the Chinese silk embroidery production reached its high peak. Several major silk embroidery styles had been developed, like Song Jin in Suzhou, Yun Jin in Nanjing and Shu Jin in Sichuan.
Today most handwork had been replaced by machinery, but some very sophisticated production are still hand-made. The modern Chinese silk embroidery still prevails in southern China.


Major styles

* Su Xiu — Suzhou embroidery is crafted in areas around Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. It is famous for its beautiful patterns, elegant colors, variety of stitches, and consummate craftsmanship. Its stitching is meticulously skillful, coloration subtle and refined.

* Xiang Xiu — Hunan embroidery comes from areas around Changsha, Hunan Province. It is distinct for its starkly elegant black, white and gray coloration. Its emphasis is on contrasts of light and shade that highlight the pattern texture to give a three-dimensional effect. Xiang embroidery composition combines void and solid imagery, utilizing empty space in the same way as Chinese ink and wash paintings.

* Yue Xiu/Guang Xiu — Guangdong embroidery is crafted in Chaozhou, Guandong Province. It is composed of intricate but symmetrical patterns, vibrant colors, varied stitches and a defined weave. Its use of primary colors, light and shade are reminiscent of western paintings.

* Shu Xiu — Sichuan embroidery comes from areas around Chengdu, Sichuan Province. It is oldest known embroidery style in Chinese embroidery history. Its raw materials are satin and colored silk, its craftsmanship painstaking and refined. The emphasis is on even stitching, delicate coloration, and local flavor. Sichuan embroidery is used to decorate quilt covers, pillowcases, garments, shoes and painted screens.

Other styles

* Gu Xiu — Gu embroidery is rather a family style than a local style originated from Gu Mingshi's family during the Ming Dynasty in Shanghai. Gu embroidery is also named Lu Xiang Yuan embroidery after the place where the Gu family lived. Gu embroidery ss different from other styles as it specialized in painting and calligraphy. The inventor of Gu embroidery was a concubine of Gu Mingshi's first son, Gu Huihai. Later, Han Ximeng, the wife of the second grandson of Gu Mingshi developed the skill and was reputed as "Needle Saint" . Some of her masterpieces are kept in the Forbidden City. Today Gu embroidery has become a special local product in Shanghai.

Ethnic styles

Other Chinese ethnic groups, like Bai, , and people also have their own style embroidery. Their embroidery usually expresses a certain mysterious or religious topic.

Ming Dynasty painting

During the Ming Dynasty, Chinese painting developed greatly from the achievements in painted art during the earlier Song Dynasty and Yuan Dynasty. The painting techniques which were invented and developed before the Ming period became classical during this period. More colours were used in painting during the Ming Dynasty. Seal brown became much more widely used, and even over-used during this period. Many new painting skills/techniques were innovated and developed, calligraphy was much more closely and perfectly combined with the art of painting. Chinese painting reached another climax in the mid-, late- Ming Dynasty. The painting was derived in a broad scale, many new schools were born, and many outstanding masters emerged.


Early Ming period

About 1368~1505, from the Hongwu Era to Hongzhi Era .

The painting schools of the Yuan Dynasty still remained in the early Ming period but quickly declined or changed their styles. The painting styles which were developed and matured during the Yuan period, still heavily impacted on the early Ming painting. But new schools of painting were born and grew. ''Zhejiang School'' and the school which was supported by the royal court were the dominant schools during the early Ming period. The scholar-artist style of painting became more popular. Both these two new schools were heavily influenced by the traditions of both the Southern Song painting academy and the Yuan scholar-artist.

Mid Ming period

About 1465~1566, from the Chenghua Era to Jiajing Era .

Classical Zhejiang School and Yuanti School declined. Wumen School became the most dominant school nationwidely. Suzhou, the activity center for Wumen School painters, became the biggest center for the Chinese painting during this period.

The Wumen painters they mainly inherited the tradition of Yuan scholar-artist style of painting and further developed this style into a peak. Wumen School was a large group of people, including teacher-student relationship and family relationship .

Xu Wei from Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, he developed a lot the enjoyable style of Chinese painting , especially the geart enjoyable style . As an outstanding scholar, his accomplishments are mainly in the field of scholar-artist painting, especially in bird-and-flower painting.

Chen Chun , although he followed the teaching from Wumen School of painting during his early years, he set up his own style in Shan-shuin painting ; he formally indroduced the enjoyable style into the Chinese landscape painting, and had his own innovation in ink and wash painting, especially in his long suit -- the landscape painting.

Late Ming period

About 1567~1644, from the Jiajing Era to Chongzhen Era .

Songjiang School and Huating School were born and developed, they formed rudiment of latterly coming Shanghai School.

Schools & Painters

*''Zhejiang School of Painting''
**Jiangxia School
**Wulin School or Post-Zhejiang School

Dai Jin , Wu Wei , Lan Ying

The core place for this school was Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province. Jiangxia School from Hubei Province was a branch of this school. Dai Jin was the founder of this school, and he also kept a very close relationship with the Yuanti School.

Lan Ying was the last master of this school, along with his family members, they formed a branch of Zhejiang School -- Wulin School, because their family was located in Wulin , a place in Hangzhou near the West Lake.

Most of the painters from this school, they are Zhejiang natives.

*''Yuanti School''

Lin Liang , Lv Ji

This school was organized and supported by the Ming central government, and it served for Ming royal court. The activity center for this school first was in Nanjing and then went to Beijing because of the change of Ming's capital. The

*''Wumen School''
Tang Yin , Wen Zhengming , Shen Zhou , Qiu Ying , Zhou Chen , Wen Jia

The core place for this school was Suzhou, whose literary name was Wumen . Tang Yin, Wen Zhengming, Shenzhou and Qiu Ying, these four painters also were regarded as the "Big Four of the Ming Period" in Ming's painting.

*''Xieyi Huaniao''
Xu Wei

*''Xieyi Shangshui''
Chen chun

*''Songjiang School''
Dong Qichang

The core place for this school was in the southern part of Jiangsu Province at that time, but now part of Shanghai.

*''Huating School''
Zhao Zuo

This school is close to Songjiang School.

*''Susong School''

This school is similar to Songjiang School.


Influence in Japan

The Zen monk painter Sesshū Tōyō travelled to Ming China, and stayed for about 10 years in Ming China learning painting. He was heavily influenced by the ink and wash painting, Zhejiang School of painting and the Yuanti School of painting.

He resided in Tiantong Temple in Mingzhou , and also spent time in Beijing in the royal palace . Before he went to Ming China, he studied Song and Yuan styles of painting in Japan, and wanted to seek for the very origin of the Chinese painting and the real spirit inside of the Chinese art.

After returning Japan, Sesshū Tōyō set up his school and further developed his own style of painting , a style mixed with the Japanese native traditional elements, and became the biggest master of painting in his era in Japan, and healily impacted continuously on the later Japanese history till now.

Influence in Qing Dynasty painting

No doubt, the Ming Dynasty painting provided the basis for the Qing Dynasty painting, from skill to style.

Tang Dynasty painting

During the Tang Dynasty, as Chinese civilization reached its peak, Chinese painting developed dramatically, both in subject matter and technique. During this period, Chinese painting developed to a new stage. Tang Dynasty painting also heavily influenced the art of other countries, especially in East Asia and central Asia.

Early period

During the early Tang period, the painting was mainly inherited from the previous Sui Dynasty. In this period, the "painting of people" developed greatly. Buddhism painting and "court painting" played a major role, including paintings of the Buddha, monks, nobles etc.

Brothers Yan Liben and Yan Lide were two major figures during this period, especially Yan Liben. His works including ''Emperor Tang Taizong Meeting Tibetan Emissaries'' and ''Emperors of Previous Dynasties'' are historically notable. Yan Liben was personal portraitist to the .

Mid & Late period

The landscape painting technique developed quickly in this period and reached its first maturation. Li Sixun and Li Zhaodao were the most famous painters in this domain.

The painting of people also reached a climax. The outstanding master in this field is Wu Daozi , who is referred to as the "Sage of Painting".
Wu's works including ''God Sending a Son'' . Wu created a new technique of drawing named "Drawing of Water Shield" .

The great poet Wang Wei first created the of ''shan-shui'', literally "mountains and waters" . He further combined literature, especially poetry, with painting. The use of line in painting became much more calligraphic than in the early period.

The theory of painting also developed, and Buddhism, Taoism, and traditional literature were absorbed and combined into painting. Paintings on architectural structures, such as murals , ceiling paintings, cave paintings, and tomb paintings, were very popular. An example is the paintings in the Mogao Caves in Xinjiang during this period.


Tang Dynasty painting has had a major influence on East Asian painting and central Asia painting.

Ink and wash painting

Ink and wash painting is an East Asian type of brush painting also known as wash painting or by its Japanese name ''sumi-e'' . Ink and wash painting is also known by its Chinese name ''shui-mo hua'' . Only black ink — the same as used in East Asian calligraphy — is used, in various concentrations.


Wash painting developed in China during the Tang Dynasty . is generally credited as the painter who applied color to existing ink and wash paintings. The art was further developed into a more polished style during the Song Dynasty . It was introduced to Korea shortly after China's discovery of the ink. Then, the Korean missionaries in Japan, in helping the Japanese establish a civilized settlement introduced it to Japan in the mid-14th century.


In wash paintings, as in calligraphy, artists usually grind their own ink using an ink stick and a grinding stone but prepared inks are also available. Most ink sticks are made of densely packed charcoal ash from bamboo or pine soot combined with glue extracted from MulgogiPbur, from Korean for fish bone or ''nikawa'' . An artist puts a few drops of water on an ink stone and grinds the ink stick in a circular motion until a smooth, black ink of the desired concentration is made. Prepared inks are usually of much lower quality. ''Sumi-e'' themselves are sometimes ornately decorated with landscapes or flowers in bas-relief and some are highlighted with gold.

Wash painting brushes are similar to the brushes used for calligraphy and are traditionally made from bamboo with goat, , horse, sheep, rabbit, marten, badger, deer, boar or wolf hair. The brush hairs are tapered to a fine point, a feature vital to the style of wash paintings.

Different brushes have different qualities. A small wolf-hair brush that is tapered to a fine point can deliver an even thin line of ink . A large wool brush can hold a large volume of water and ink. When the big cloud brush rains down upon the paper, it delivers a graded swath of ink encompassing myriad shades of gray to black.

Once a stroke is painted, it cannot be changed or erased. This makes ink and wash painting a technically demanding art-form requiring great skill, concentration, and years of training.

See for more information on the tools used in both calligraphy and wash painting.

Noted artists


* Bada Shanren
* Su Shi
* Daqian Jushi
* Qi Baishi
* Xu Beihong
* Mi Youren
* Gao Xingjian


* Josetsu
* Shubun

Shan shui

Shan Shui refers to a style of Chinese painting that involves the painting of scenery or natural s with and ink. Mountains, rivers and often waterfalls are prominent in this art form.


Shan shui painting first arose to wide prominence during the 10th and 11th centuries, in the reign of the Song Dynasty. It was characterized by a group of landscape painters, most of them already famous, who produced large-scale landscape paintings. These landscape paintings usually centered on mountains. Mountains had long been seen as sacred places in China, which were viewed as the homes of immortals and thus, close to the heavens. Philosophical interest in nature, or in mystical connotations of , could also have contributed to the rise of landscape painting. The art of "shan shui", like many other styles of Chinese painting has a strong reference to imagery and motifs, as symbolisms of Taoism strongly influenced "Chinese landscape painting". Some authors have suggested that Daoist stress on how minor the human presence is in the vastness of the cosmos, or Neo-Confucian interest in the patterns or principles that underlie all phenomena, natural and social lead to the highly structuralized nature of shan shui.


Most dictionaries and definitions of shan shui assume that the term includes all ancient Chinese paintings with mountain and water images. Contemporary , however, feel that only paintings with mountain and water images that follow specific conventions of form, style and function should be called “shan shui painting.” When Chinese painters work on shan shui painting, they do not try to present an image of what they have seen in the nature, but what they have thought about nature. No one cares whether the painted colors and shapes look like the real object or not.

According to Ch'eng Hsi:

Shan shui painting is a kind of painting which goes against the common definition of what a painting is. Shan shui painting refutes color, light and shadow and personal brush work. Shan shui painting is not an open window for the viewer's eye, it is an object for the viewer's mind. Shan shui painting is more like a vehicle of philosophy.


Shan shui paintings involve a complicated and rigorous set of almost mystical requirements for balance, composition, and form. All shan shui paintings should have 3 basic components:

''Paths'' - Pathways should never be straight. They should meander like a stream. This helps deepen the landscape by adding layers. The path can be the river, or a path along it, or the tracing of the sun through the sky over the shoulder of the mountain.

''The Threshold'' - The path should lead to a threshold. The threshold is there to embrace you and provide a special welcome. The threshold can be the mountain, or its shadow upon the ground, or its cut into the sky.

''The Heart'' - The heart is the focal point of the painting and all elements should lead to it. The heart defines the meaning of the painting.

Elements and Colors

Shan shui draws upon Chinese elemental theory with representing various parts of the natural world, and thus has specific directions for colorations that should be used in 'directions' of the painting, as to which should dominate.

Positive interactions between the Elements are:

*Wood produces Fire
*Fire produces Earth
*Earth produces Metal
*Metal produces Water
*Water produces Wood.

Elements that react positively should be used together. For example, Water complements both Metal and Wood; therefore, a painter would combine blue and green or blue and white. There is a positive interaction between Earth and Fire, so a painter would mix Yellow and Red.

Negative interactions between the Elements are:

*Wood uproots Earth
*Earth blocks Water
*Water douses Fire
*Fire melts Metal
*Metal chops Wood

Elements that interact negatively should never be used together. For example, Fire will not interact positively with Water or Metal so a painter would not choose to mix red and blue, or red and white.



The art form has been popular to the point where a Chinese Animation entitled ''Feeling from Mountain and Water'' uses the same art style and even uses the term for the film's title.


When combined, the two characters of shan shui form the word "frontier". This is also the name adopted by ''"Shanshui Limited"'' to promote trade, sports, entertainment and culture between the and China.


The term Shan Shui is sometimes extended to include gardening and landscape design, particularly within the context of feng shui.

Oracle bone script

Oracle bone script refers to incised ancient Chinese characters found on oracle bones, which are animal bones or turtle shells used in divination in Bronze Age China. The vast majority record the divinations of the royal house of the late at the capital of Yīn ; dating of the Ānyáng examples of oracle bone script varies from ca. 14th -11th centuries BCE to ca. 1200 to ca. 1050 BCE. Very few oracle bone writings date to the beginning of the subsequent Zhou Dynasty, because pyromancy fell from favor and divining with milfoil became more common. The late Shāng oracle bone writings, along with a few contemporary characters in a different style cast in bronzes, constitute the earliest significant corpus of Chinese writing, which is essential for the study of Chinese etymology, as Shāng writing is directly ancestral to the modern Chinese script. It is also the oldest member and ancestor of the Chinese family of scripts.


Because turtle shells as well as bones were used, the oracle bone script is also sometimes called ''shell and bone script''. As the majority of oracle bones bearing writing date to the late Shāng dynasty, ''oracle bone script'' essentially refers to a Shāng script.


It is certain that Shāng-lineage writing underwent a period of development before the oracle bone script, because of its mature nature ; however, no significant quantity of clearly identifiable writing from before or during the early to middle Shāng cultural period has been discovered. The few which have been found on pottery, jade or bone at a variety of cultural sites in China are very controversial, and there is no ''consensus'' that any of them are directly related to the Shāng oracle bone script.


The oracle bone script of the late Shāng appears archaic and pictographic in flavor, as does its contemporary, the Shāng . The earliest oracle bone script appears even more so than examples from late in the period . Comparing oracle bone script to both Shāng and early period writing on bronzes, oracle bone script is clearly greatly simplified, and rounded forms are often converted to rectilinear ones; this is thought to be due to the difficulty of engraving the hard, bony surfaces, compared with the ease of writing them in the wet clay of the molds from which the bronzes were cast. The more detailed and more pictorial style of the bronze graphs is thus thought to be more representative of typical Shāng writing than the oracle bone script forms, and it is this typical style which continued to evolve into the and then into the seal script of the in the late Zhōu period.

It is known that the Shāng people also wrote with brush and ink, as brush-written graphs have been found on a small number of pottery, shell and bone, and jade and other stone items, and there is evidence that they also wrote on bamboo books just like those which have been found from the late Zhōu to periods, because the graphs for a writing brush (聿 yù and bamboo book are present in the oracle bone script. Since the ease of writing with a brush is even greater than that of writing with a stylus in wet clay, it is assumed that the style and structure of Shāng graphs on bamboo were similar to those on bronzes, and also that the majority of writing occurred with a brush on such books. Additional support for this notion includes the reorientation of some graphs, by turning them 90 degrees as if to better fit on tall, narrow slats; this style must have developed on bamboo or wood slat books and then carried over to the oracle bone script.
Additionally, the writing of characters in vertical columns, from top to bottom, is for the most part carried over from the bamboo books to oracle bone inscriptions. In some instances lines are written horizontally so as to match the text to divinatory cracks, or columns of text rotate 90 degrees in mid stream, but these are exceptions to the normal pattern of writing, and inscriptions were never read bottom to top. The vertical columns of text in Chinese writing are traditionally ordered from right to left; this pattern is found on bronze inscriptions from the Shāng dynasty onward. Oracle bone inscriptions, however, are often arranged so that the columns begin near the centerline of the shell or bone, and move toward the edge, such that the two sides are ordered in mirror-image fashion.

Structure and Function

Despite the archaic and relatively pictorial appearance of the oracle bone script, it is in fact a fully functional and fairly mature writing system, i.e., able to record language in its entirety and not just isolated kinds of meaning. This level of maturity clearly implies an earlier period of development of at least several hundred years. From their presumed origins as pictographs and signs, by the Shāng dynasty, most graphs were already conventionalized in such a simplified fashion that the meanings of many of the pictographs are not immediately apparent. Compare, for instance, the graphs labelled graph A and graph B to the left and right. Without careful research to compare these to later forms, one would probably not know that these represented 豕 shĭ 'swine' and 犬 quǎn 'dog' respectively. As Boltz notes, most of the oracle bone graphs are not depicted realistically enough for those who do not already know the script to recognized what they stand for; although pictographic ''in origin'' they are no longer pictographs ''in function''. Boltz instead calls them ''zodiographs'' , reminding us that functionally they represent ''words'', and only through the words do they represent concepts, while for similar reasons Qiu labels them ''semantographs''.

By the late Shāng oracle bone script, the graphs had already evolved into a variety of mostly non-pictographic functions, including all the now in use. Phonetic loan graphs, semantic-phonetic compounds, and associative compounds were already common. One structural and functional analysis of the oracle bone characters found that they were 23% pictographs, 2% simple indicatives, 32% associative compounds, 11% phonetic loans, 27% phonetic-semantic compounds, and 6% uncertain..

Despite its status as a fully functional and fairly mature writing system, the oracle bone script is not actually 100% mature -- the form of a very few graphs changes depending on context, and on occasion the order of the graphs does not quite match that of the language. By the early Western Zhou period, these traits had vanished, but in both periods, the script was not highly regular or standardized; variant forms of graphs abound , and the size and orientation of graphs is also irregular. A graph when inverted horizontally generally refers to the same word, and additional components are sometimes present without changing the meaning. Not until the standardization carried out in the seal script did these irregularities end.

Oracle bone script characters may have components which differ in later characters, for instance the character for Autumn 秋 now appears with 禾 as one component and fire 火 as another component. From the oracle bone script, one sees that an ant-like creature is carved instead .

Of the thousands of characters found from all the bone fragments, the majority remain undeciphered. One good example is shown in the fragment shown below, labeled "oracle bone script for Spring". The top left character in this image has no known modern Chinese counterpart. One of the better known characters however is shown directly beneath it looking like an upright isosceles triangle with a line cutting through the upper portion. This is the oracle bone script character for 王 ''wáng'' .


Among the major Chinese scholars making significant contributions to the study of the oracle bone writings, especially early on, were: Wáng Yìróng , who in 1899 recognized the characters as being ancient Chinese writing; Liú È , who collected five thousand oracle bone fragments, published the first volume of examples and rubbings in 1903, and correctly identified thirty-four characters; Sūn Yíràng , the first serious researcher of oracle bones; Luó Zhènyù , who collected over 30,000 oracle bones and published several volumes, identified the names of the Shang kings, and thus positively identified the oracle bones as being artifacts from the Shang reign; Wáng Gúowéi , who demonstrated that the chronology of the Shang kings matched that in Sima Qian’s Records of the Historian; Dǒng Zuòbīn , who identified the diviners and established a chronology for the oracle bones as well as numerous other dating criteria; and Gūo Mòruò .

Zhou Dynasty Oracle Bones

The numbers of oracle bones with inscriptions contemporaneous with the end of Shang and the beginning of Zhou is relatively few in number compared with the entire corpus of Shang inscriptions. Until 1977, only a few inscribed shell and bone artifacts. Zhou related inscriptions have been unearthed since the 1950's, with find fragments having only one or two characters. In August, 1977, a large hoard of several thousand pieces was discovered in an area closely related to the heartland of the ancient Zhou. Of these, only two or three hundred items were inscribed.

The following is an example of a Zhou inscription.

Descendant writing systems

See Chinese family of scripts

Many scripts in East asia were descendants of the Oracle Bone script, such as Seal script, Clerical script, Standard Script, Semi-cursive script, Grass script, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Zhuyin, Kanji, the different Kana, Hanja, Hán t&, Ch&, Khitan script, Jurchen script, and Tangut script. Many of them are obsolete for writing their own languages like Hanja, Hán t&, Ch&, Khitan script, Jurchen script, and Tangut script, which are Korean, Vietnamese, Khitan, Juchen, and Tangut. Others still in use are Kanji, Kana, Zhuyin, Traditional Chinese, and Simplified Chinese. Most of them are logographic, though Kana is syllabic, and Zhuyin a semi-syllabary.


Further reading

*Boltz, William G. . The Origin and Early Development of the Chinese Writing System. American Oriental Series, vol. 78. American Oriental Society, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. ISBN 0-940490-18-8
*Chén Zhāoróng 秦系文字研究 ﹕从漢字史的角度考察 Research on the Qín Lineage of Writing: An Examination from the Perspective of the History of Chinese Writing. 中央研究院歷史語言研究所專刊 Academia Sinica, Institute of History and Philology Monograph. ISBN 957-671-995-X.
*Gao Ming 中国古文字学通论 . 北京大学出版社 Beijing University Press. ISBN 7-301-02285-9
*Keightley, David N. . ''Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China''. University of California Press, Berkeley. Large format hardcover, ISBN 0520029690 ; A 1985 ppbk 2nd edition also printed, ISBN 0-520-05455-5.
*Keightley, David N. . ''The Ancestral Landscape: Time, Space, and Community in Late Shang China ''. China Research Monograph 53, Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California – Berkeley. ISBN 1-55729-070-9, ppbk.
*Liu Xiang et al. 商周古文字读本 Reader of Shang-Zhou Ancient Characters. 语文出版社 Yuwen Publishers. ISBN 7-80006-238-4
*Qiu Xigui ''Chinese Writing'' . Translation of 文字學概要 by Gilbert L. Mattos and Jerry Norman. Early China Special Monograph Series No. 4. Berkeley: The Society for the Study of Early China and the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley. ISBN 1-55729-071-7.
*Thorp, Robert L. "The Date of Tomb 5 at Yinxu, Anyang: A Review Article," Artibus Asiae : 239–246.
*Woon, Wee Lee . ''Chinese Writing: Its Origin and Evolution'' , originally published by the University of East Asia, Macau .
*Zhào Chéng 甲骨文簡明詞典 – 卜辭分類讀本 jiǎgǔwén jiǎnmíng cídiǎn – bǔcí fēnlèi dúbĕn. 中華書局 Zhōnghúa Shūjú, ISBN 7-101-00254-4/H•22