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Republic of China
Chronology of China


I. The Primitive Society, Pre-Qin, Qin and Han Dynasties

The earliest form of painting is the rock painting of prehistoric hunting scenes which dates back about 3, 40 thousand years. The contents of rock paintings are closely related to witchcraft rituals and totems, reflecting the human activities at that time. In China, the well-known prehistoric rock art were found at Yinshan Mountain in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Altai Mountain and Tianshan Mountain in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Helan Mountain in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Cangyuan in Yunnan Province, Zuojiang River Basin in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Tibet, Xianzi Lake in Fujian Province, the General Cliff in Jiangsu Province, Wanshan Mountain in Taiwan, etc. In Neolithic Age (it can be roughly dated from about 10000 B.C. to 2000 B.C.), human beings began to rely on agriculture and animal husbandry to live a resident life. The development of hand tools and requirement of fixed settlement get people to start mass production of pottery.

Our ancestors smoothed the earthenware, painted patterns on them with ochre and oxidized manganese minerals, and then fired them to make them hard. After that the potteries appeared simple and harmonious patterns in red, black and white. Representative works of this period include: the Pottery Basin with Human Mask and Fish Pattern unearthed at Banpo Neolithic Village in Xi'an Province, the Dancing Pattern Pottery Basin unearthed at Datong County in Qinghai Province, and the Painted Pottery Jar with Stork, Fish and Axe Patterns unearthed at Yan Village, Linru County in Henan Province. Colorful Pottery Basin with dancing scenes (3100 B.C. - 2700 B.C.)


The Xia Dynasty which is thought to have run from the early 2100 B.C. is recorded in history books as the first slavery dynasty in China. About this dynasty there is no conclusive archaeological evidence so far, while the following dynasties, Shang Dynasty and Zhou Dynasty, did leave us treasures of civilization - bronze ware. Bronze ware could not emerge without a large amount of manpower and material resources invested in mining, refining, smelting, rafting and casting, which proves that in Shang Dynasty, there was sufficient resources and productive forces. By summarizing the predecessors' achievement, the magnificent bronze ware made in Shang Dynasty had formed a series of significance of decorative patterns, such as Tao-tie, thunder pattern, bird pattern, dragon pattern and scale pattern, etc.

During the Spring and Autumn period of the Zhou Dynasty, power of the King of Zhou was weakened, and there was a lot of rivalry and wars; during the Warring States period afterwards, feudal lords fought against each other, and the only law was the law of the jungle. Despite the chaos, from the stories recorded in ancient books, we can still see painting development in this period. The "Confucius" mentioned in the Mingtang (the hall of light, where the sacrifice rite was held and ruler met their feudal lords), there were portraits of ancient sages and tyrants, reminding the later rulers to learn lessons from their successes or failures. When Qu Yuan saw the mural paintings in the temple of deceased king of Chu and ancestral hall of the high-ranking officials, he had real feelings in those "heaven and earth, mountains and rivers, gods and spirits, all the great and unpredictable things, the ancient sages and monsters", thus he wrote his famous poem "Tian Wen" (the heaven's questions). Liu Xiang wrote a story in "Shuo Yuan" (a historical personage story collection): When Qi was building the ninth heavenly platform, painter Jing Jun missed his wife so much that he painted his wife's portrait on the wall to cure his lovesickness.

Silk Painting with Human Figure, Dragon and Phoenix Patterns,  about 300 B.C.

One day, the king of Qi saw the beautiful portrait and was moved by it, and even took the woman from her husband at last. It can be taken as an evidence of painting's appeal at that time. Unearthed from Chu Tomb in Changsha, Hunan Province, paintings "Dragon and Phoenix Human Figure Painting on Silk" and "Driving Dragon Painting" present what the paintings were like during the Warring States Period. As the earliest two paintings found in China so far, these two silk paintings depict the appearance of the buried, and dragon and phoenix which guide his/her soul. The whole image was based on lines, which were smooth and forceful, and the style was solemn and elegant. From the day of birth, Chinese painting has already showed the characteristics of mainly using lines.


In 221 B.C., Emperor Qin Shihuang unified China. Qin became the first united multi-ethnic centralized feudal empire in Chinese history. Emperor Qin Shihuang liked the gorgeous palaces of the other six states, so whenever he destroyed a state, he would order painters to paint the palace, and then build a similar one in Qin's capital Xianyang. After he unified China, he started feverish constructions despite the widespread resentment among the people. He drove more than 700 thousands workers to build the Epang Palace and the mausoleum north of Lishan Mountain. In these large buildings which were to show off the great achievement of unification and the supreme authority of Qin Shihuang, there were many mural paintings. However, when these buildings disappeared gradually, the mural paintings have bitten the dust as well. In 1970s, some mural paintings were discovered in the site of Xianyang's First Palace. As the only surviving mural works of Qin Dynasty so far, these mural paintings possessed very high artistic attainments with a robust style. From the existing architecture site and the Terra Cotta Warriors, we can also figure out the majestic style of the paintings in Qin Dynasty.

The emperor of the Han Dynasty attached great importance to using fine arts to promote the prestige of the Han dynasty. Emperor Wu of Han (Liu Che) set up a large monumental sculpture in front of the tomb of general Huo Qubing, and portrayed the heroes since the founding of Han in the Kirin Court of Weiyang Palace. Emperor Ling of Han (Liu Hong) painted 32 scholars' portraits, including Hongdu Scholar Le Song and Jiang Lan, in order to encourage the other scholars.

The feudal lords also built their palaces, in which the heaven and earth, mountains and rivers, gods and spirits were painted. For example, in the Emmanuel Temple built by the Lord Gong of Lu, a series of kaleidoscopic "all kinds of species, odd stuffs, mountains and rivers, gods and spirits" were depicted vividly. Even the local officials were no exception. The remained paintings of Han Dynasty are mainly tomb murals, stone carvings, brick carvings, silk paintings, board and wooden clip paintings, as well as lacquer paintings. With wide range of subject matters, a variety of forms of expression, and bold artistic techniques, these artworks show us the optimistic and cheerful side of the feudal times when the society was peaceful. Among them the simple but powerful, extensive and vigorous, and highly imaginative brick carving is the representative art form of Han Dynasty. In the meantime, the shaping skill and composition techniques of tomb murals were more complicated than previous dynasties, reflecting the burial custom of "burying one as one is still alive". The tomb murals of Helingeer County in Inner Mongolia Han province can be taken as an example.

Before the Han Dynasty, "moral education" was always the main ethical characteristics of painting. Just like the Ya (Festal Odes) and Song (Sacrificial Songs) in "the Book of Songs", painting needs to undertake the warning and education function.


"T" Shape Banner from the Tomb of Daihou's Wife, about 170 B.C.


原始社会 先秦 秦汉








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