From the earliest awakenings of Chinese civilization, the Chinese have sought out what they believe to be spiritual perfection. This numinous sense of flawlessness existed within the people themselves, in nature, and between the two as well. Art has always been a common means for the Chinese to achieve such inner tranquility and peace. In their art, they stressed the dignified qualities of serenity, grace, and balance. They avoided confusion, conflict, and all violent emotions no matter what the price. Unsettling or revolutionary forms of experimental art were not welcome even to this day. On the other hand, expressing nobility and inner-worth was considered a necessity. It has been rightfully stated that Chinese art is not just a hobby. It is ultimately a way of being . To appreciate the significance of art fully, we must keep in mind a commandment of Confucius: Raise yourself to the beautiful.
The Ch ing period, also referred to as the Manchu period was an extremely active one for the arts. It was an age of research, preservation of ancient texts, and the collecting of bronzes and paintings. There was no great change in the manner of painting after the fall of the Ming. A variety of styles for painters to follow already existed. Many painters varied their own personal style by combining those styles which preceded them. However, the most renowned Ch ing painters relied on their own ingenuity to create styles that even the weight of tradition could not suffocate.
During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, most artists followed the examples of Tung Ch i-ch ang. He believed in not just reproducing nature s outer appearance, but expressing his own inner feelings on the subject at hand. The Ch ing painters studied the old masters, as Tung Ch i-ch ang suggested to them, in order to discover their technical secrets. Later they learned to use these outward techniques to perfect their ability to express their inner emotion. Many achieved this and passed Tung s ideas onto younger artists. Other painters refused to be bound to the past and struck out in their own directions. New, more effective styles came into play, but the traditional methods of painting were still used by some.
The last great age of Chinese porcelain came during the early Ch ing dynasty, during the reigns of K ang-hsi, Yung-chen, and Ch ien-lung . These emperors supported the imperial factory and their officials were the managing directors. Technically and esthetically Ch ing ceramics are supreme throughout the world. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there was an enormous demand for such items in Europe and America. Unlike paintings of the time, the range of techniques for pottery was widely varied.
Porcelains with overglazes of enamel have come to be known by the names given to them by French historian, Jacquemart: famille verte, famille noire, and famille rose . These respectively mean the Green, Black, and Rose families. In the first, green was the dominating color. Porcelain from the green family was usually lavishly painted with scenes from every day life. Famille Noire porcelain had a green overglaze, but the dominant background color was black. Famille Noire items were usually painted with traditional scenes of mystical beings such as dragons. Famille Rose was created entirely for the purpose of exporting. It s dominant characteristic is a rose-pink shade.
Another type of porcelain popular during the Ch ing period was known as Blanc de Chine , or white of china . This was greatly favorable to foreign collectors. The fine white porcelain was first made in the late Ming period, and its production went on into the twentieth century. This type of white porcelain was often used to portray a spiritual or religious Icon.
In addition to its esthetic value, Chinese sculpture served multiple functions. An example of one such sculpture is the Dog of Fo, a mythical animal which was sculpted in pairs as guardians for use either at the gate of a Buddhist temple, or on each side of a statue of Buddha. The Dog of Fo was part of the famille verte and very popular among traders. However its traditional meaning became lost when traded with Europeans and Americans.
Lacquered wood, becoming popular in the Ming period, continued to flourish throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sometimes wooden cabinets were inlaid with pearl, jade, stones, or even bronze. Perhaps no type of art exhibits the absolute peak of Chinese craftsmanship like lacquer carvings.
All types of late Chinese art have influenced and shaped many of the cultures of the east. The position of China in relation to the Korean peninsula made it nearly inevitable for the way of life in China to spread into Korea, and parts of Japan. Through the battle with Japan for Korea, many techniques have been passed on to surrounding countries. Even the U.S. has been affected by the late Ch ing dynasty.
Chinese art spans the greatest length of time of all the world s cultures. Throughout their history, the Chinese have adhered to one tradition. They remained faithful to values of their ancestors. They have kept the age-old affection to art alive by involving love of nature, purity of feeling, calmness, and serenity. They have even retained the same motifs and techniques introduced centuries ago, and within this tradition they perfected the arts of their ancestors, which are among the greatest in the world.