Man Riding on a Dragon
3rd C BCE
painting on silk
outline and color method
Man Riding on a DragonQin, Chariot 221-207BCE
3rd C BCE
painting on silk
from the tomb of Qin Shihuangdi
(The First Emperor of Qin)
|Umbrella is a luxury item probably denoting his class.The Umbrella is a symbol of spiritual authority and charity.|
Shang and Zhou Dynasties
|5,000-2,000 BCE||Neolithic||Beginning of agriculture: painted pottery|
Yangshao (Painted Pottery) Culture 5000-4000
Longshan (Black Pottery)
Lyre of Puabi
Pyramids in Egypt
Pictographs and invention of Cuneiform
Sargon of Akkad
Stele of Naram-Sin
|c1700-221 BCE||Bronze Age|
Warring States Period
Chou (Zhou) dynasty
|Shang 1700-1100 BCE|
Zhou 1100-221 BCE dynasties;
|Code of Hammurabi|
Olmec in America
Golden Age of Perikles
|c221- 206 BCE||Qin (Chin) dynasty||Rome Begins|
|206 BCE-220CE||Han dynasty||Pantheon|
Rise of Christianity
|220 - 579 CE||Six Dynasties|
North, East and West Wei,
Rock Cut Caves
|Birth of Mohammed|
Edict of Milan
Separation of Churches
|568 - 617 CE||Sui||Reunification of China|
|618-907||Tang dynasty||Repression of Buddhism|
|960-1279 CE||Song (Sung) dynasty||Neo Confucianism|
Landscape Painting Develops
|Shang Dynasty 1700 BCE - 1100 BCE|
Zhou Dynasty 1100 BCE - 221 BCE
Writing represents spoken language. Spoken language consists of sounds, while writing is a string of symbols representing those sounds. In Chinese, each symbol stands for an entire word, unlike in alphabetic scripts where a sequence of individual letters signifies the word. This means that, more or less, every word in the Chinese language is written with a different symbol.
The earliest symbols in the development of Chinese writing were pictographic, that is they graphically depicted certain objects. The symbol for the word "dog" was a picture of a dog, the symbol for the word "tiger" was a picture of a tiger, etc. It is important to emphasize, however, that despite their graphic resemblance, these symbols were secondary to the sound value of words in spoken language. Later on, additional symbols were developed mainly on the basis of phonetic similarities between words.
As a curiosity, below are some characters from around VII-III centuries BCE written in a calligraphic style that emphasizes their origin. Below each symbol there is the modern form of the character which evolved from the original pictographic version.
(Left to right)
- Ji - chicken.
- Yang - sheep. A symbolic representation of a sheep head with horns.
- Fu - bat.
- Gui - turtoise.
- Yu - fish.
(Left to right)
- Zhi - to stop. A picture of two feet, one behind the other. The second foot is placed at a right angle indicating that the person has stopped. Compare with the next symbol showing a walking person.
- Bu - to walk. Two feet in succession indicating a person walking forward.
- Xiang - elephant.
- Hu - tiger.
- Shi - house. A house with a pointed roof and foundation.
(Left to right)
- Xi - rhino.
- Lu - deer.
- Ma - horse.
- Quan - dog.
- Qi - banner. A pole with strips in the wind.
The preceding was quoted from http://www.logoi.com/notes/symbols.html
Fu Hao's tomb
|Context: Vessels such as this one were found buried in tombs such as the Tomb of Fu Hao from the Shang Dynasty. The use and creation of these vessels continued on into the Zhou Dynasty however, they were not always used in burials. The function for both vessels would have been to hold or cook food for a sacrifice. The smoke rising off of the vessel would have been for the spirit of the diseased and then the cooked food would have been eaten by the living.|
The creation of such vessels shows a complexity of design as well as technology in terms of bronze casting.
Process: The artist would make a model of what he wanted the bronze to look like out of clay. He would then let it dry until it was very hard. Next, moist clay was placed over the dried model and allowed to harden. This layer, when dry, was cut away into easily reassemble pieces, and fired. The model, the first piece made, was then shaved down to serve as the core for the fired mold. Then everything was reassembled, with bronze spacers holding up the core. Then the entire thing was covered in clay and a hole was cut, into which the artist could pour the hot, liquid bronze. Next, the bronze was poured and when it was cooled the cast was broken, revealing the bronze sculpture.
Internet Site of Interest: http://www.marymount.k12.ny.us/marynet/TeacherResources/bronzesproject/html/art.htm
Form: Some of these vessels weighed 200 to 300 pounds. The ornamentation on them is fairly complex and stylized and uses compound imagery very similar to that of the art from the Kwakiutl and Tlingit cultures. The relief images on the front are fairly geometricized. They represent two stylized dragon or monster faces (called t'ao-t'ieh also spelled taotie) which are mirror images of each other. Half of the taotie has been outlined in red, the other design motifs, the leiwen thunder design in turquoise and kui dragon in yellow.
The manner in which it is
Iconography: The iconography of the vessel itself is that it represents a form of wealth in the guise of conspicuous consumption. The individual component of the taotie mask is less clear. The kui dragon is often a symbol of good fortune and of royalty and the leiwen thunder design may relate to animist beliefs.
One of my best students ever, Sue Che comments,
Tao-tie in the ancient Chinese mythology is a monster who eats people. For certain reasons, people like to put its face/figure on the Ding, a cooking vessel such as the one we see here. One theory is that the ancient Chinese might think if they cook food inside the Ding with tao-tie's face symbolized that the monster is full of food so it won't eat people anymore. Even today, a person who likes gourmet food is called 'lao-tao'.
". . . .Most of the bronze objects of the Shang and Zhou were ritual vessels used in sacrificial ceremonies to make offerings to one’s ancestors, or were inscribed with records of military exploits and victories. It was also the custom in those days to slaughter prisoners of war for sacrificial purposes, and to kill and even eat one’s enemies. The creed then was: ‘He who is not of my own clan must be an enemy at heart.’ The man-eating taotie was therefore a supremely appropriate symbol of those times.
"According to Lu’s Spring and Autumn Annals: Prophecy, ‘The taotie on Zhou bronzes has a head but no body. When it eats people, it does not swallow them, but harms them.’* It is hard to explain what is implied in this, as so many myths concerning the taotie have been lost, but the indication that it eats people accords fully with its cruel, fearful countenance. To alien clans and tribes, it symbolized fear and force; to its own clan or tribe, it was a symbol of protection. This religious concept, this dual nature, was crystallized in its strange, hideous features. What appears so savage today had a historical, rational quality in its time. It is for precisely this reason that the savage old myths and legends, the tales of barbarism, and the crude, fierce, and terrifying works of art of ancient clans possessed a remarkable aesthetic appeal. As it was with Homer’s epic poems and African masks, so it was with the taotie, in whose hideous features was concentrated a deep-seated historic force. It is because of this irresistible historic force that the mystery and terror of the taotie became the beautiful—the exalted."
*footnote by Li Zehou: "Some scholars consider that the meaning of taotie is not ‘eating people’ but making a mysterious communication between people and Heaven (gods)."
This excerpt is from The Path of Beauty: A Study of Chinese Aesthetics by Li Zehou, translated by Gong Lizeng.New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. pages 30-31. The hard-bound copy has some of the most beautiful reproductions available. The text should be required reading for anyone interested in Chinese culture.
According to the Brittanica,
Pinyin LONG (Chinese: "dragon"), in Chinese mythology, a type of majestic beast that dwells in rivers, lakes, and oceans and roams the skies. Originally a rain divinity, the Chinese dragon, unlike its malevolent European counterpart (see dragon), is associated with heavenly beneficence and fecundity. Rain rituals as early as the 6th century BC involved a dragon image animated by a procession of dancers; similar dances are still practiced in traditional Chinese communities to secure good fortune.
Ancient Chinese cosmogonists defined four types of dragons: the Celestial Dragon (T'ien Lung), who guards the heavenly dwellings of the gods; the Dragon of Hidden Treasure (Fu Tsang Lung); the Earth Dragon (Ti Lung), who controls the waterways; and the Spiritual Dragon (Shen Lung), who controls the rain and winds. In popular belief, only the latter two were significant; they were transformed into the Dragon Kings (Lung Wang), gods who lived in the four oceans, delivered rain, and protected seafarers.
Generally depicted as a four-legged animal with a scaled, snakelike body, horns, claws, and large, demonic eyes, the lung was considered the king of animals, and his image was appropriated by Chinese emperors as a sacred symbol of imperial power.
Copyright © 1994-2001 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
Fang Ding from Fu Hao's tomb
1180 BCE - 1168 BCE
Rubbing from the Fang Ding at left
One of my students explained to me that fu means woman and hao means good. Therefore this pictogram and the tomb are the tomb of the "good woman."
|Form: This is a typical bronze vessel from the Shang Dynasty and contains the taotie, leiwen and kui dragon in yellow. Inscribed on the vessel is an inscription that uses pictogram. The pictogram consists of a symmetrical design. At the center of the design is the pictogram for a child. Directly above the child pictograph is a broom and bracketing the child are two pictograms that represent woman.|
Iconography: The pictogram represents the concept of the mother or "good wife." It is interesting to note that the individual icons, a child, a woman and a broom, link the idea of child rearing and cleaning as part of the roles of women in Shang culture.
Context: Beginning in the Shang Dynasty the ritualized vessel began to be inscribed with pictographs that described or dedicated the vessels. By the Zhou Dynasty these inscriptions became quite verbose. The vessel on the left made for Fu Hao, contains the inscription with her name "the good wife", which was symbolized by archaic characters composed of women flanking a child and framed by a broom above).
1766 BCE - 1045 BCE
|Form: This is a zoomorphic piece, mainly in the form of a bear or tiger resting on its feet and tail. There is a deer on its head and the handle is made out of serpents and a boar head. There is a dragon on its side and more snakes on its legs. It is also hugging, eating, or holding a man. It is very highly decorated, wherever there is not an animal there swirls, blocks, and designs in low relief. It was created using the piece and mold technique.|
Iconography: This vessel could be iconographic of man's animal side, the perils of the hunt, our interconnectedness with nature, or the constant changes in life.
Context: This design is unprecedented in neolithic Chinese sculpture. Normally, most of these vessels are an example of schema and correction. But this piece with it's heavy decoration, it's zoomorphic form and it's depiction of a human is very unique.
1300 BCE - 1100 BCE
|Form: This vessel is also zoomorphic. It has eyes of a tiger, horns of a ram, and a bird beak at its back end. Less noticeable are rabbits, elephants, and fish. It was made using the piece and mold technique. It is heavily ornamented and has other smaller designs all over the piece.|
Iconography: It is iconographic of all of the animals it represents and the ritual it was used in.
Context: It was used for a ceremonial purpose. It would have probably held some sort of liquid.
Marquis Yi of Zeng Bells
9' x 25'
|Form: The bells very in size from small to large. The taotie is on front and back of each bell. The bars that the bells are hung off of are decorated as well. The bells were made with the lost wax process. (See the diagram below this section.)|
Iconography: They are iconographic of the preferences of the society and the importance of music to the society. In later Buddhist art the bell is one of the Buddhist symbols
Context: Each of these bells has two tones one found in the middle and the other at the bottom of the bell. It would have taken several musicians moving around the bells to play them. Music rituals and the performance of them were important to the wealthy society.
In 1978, 124 musical instruments were unearthed from the fifth-century tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng in what is now Hubei Province in eastern China. Among them was a set of 65 bronze bells, which are considered to be among the finest relics of the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.). The central bell bears an inscription that indicates it was a gift to Marquis Yi from King Hui of Chu and cast in 433 B.C., the year the Marquis was buried. The bells are believed to have been played in court rituals to ensure the posterity of the imperial reign.
In 1977, excavators in Hubei Province found a remarkably rich and undisturbed tomb. Inscriptions on some of the bronzes indicated that it belonged to Yi, marquis of the State of Zeng (Zenghou Yi in Chinese) and dated to about 433 BC in the Warring States Period. The existence of the State of Zeng was unknown until 1977, and it remains somewhat enigmatic. The tomb is 21 meters from west to east and 16.5 meters from north to south, covering about 220 square meters. About 15,404 articles were unearthed, mainly including bronze ritual vessels, musical instruments, weapons, chariots, jade, lacquer wares, and bamboo articles, etc.
Originally sunk to a depth of 13 meters, the tomb was packed with charcoal, and the shaft filled with clay, stone slabs, and earth. The durability of these materials, and the fact that the tomb became waterlogged, left it in a remarkable state of preservation, enabling archaeologists to determine precisely how goods were distributed in the four chambers. These chambers mirrored the arrangement of the marquis' palace during his life.
The eastern chamber, representing his private quarters, contained his own lacquered double coffin, the coffins of eight young women (ages thirteen to twenty-four) who were probably concubines or musicians to entertain Yi in the afterlife, and a dog buried in its own coffin. The chamber also contained weapons, a chariot, and many personal items, including furniture, a zither, silk, and vessels -- though not bronze vessels. The central chamber seems to have corresponded to the ceremonial hall of Yi's palace. Inside, was a large set of bronze bells and other instruments, together with bronze ritual vessels. The northern chamber served as an armory and storeroom, the western chamber, where thirteen more young women were buried, as servants' quarters.
The marquis' tomb illustrates a transition from tomb traditions that replicated the ritual environment of ancestral temples to a new conception of the tomb as a recreation of the deceased's earthly existence.
Zeng Houyi Bells
It is the largest set of bronze bells excavated in the world. It comprises 65 bells in various sizes, with each bell producing two different tones when struck. There are three levels, with the smallest bells suspended on the highest level and the largest ones on the bottom section. The bells cover roughly 5 octaves and the middle 3 octaves produces 12 semitones each. There is an inscription on each bell that records events, musical theories and the sound the particular bell products. From historical records and other materials, it is concluded that there are probably five performers involved in the playing of the bells, with two standing in front of the set playing the larger bells with long poles and three behind playing the smaller bells with smaller sticks.
The bell right in the centre of the lowest level and not suspended at an oblique angle was a gift from king Hui of Chu to Yi, the Marquis of Zeng State, as recorded in the inscription on it. The inscription also states that the bell was cast in the 56th year of the reign of King Hui (433BC), the year of the burial of Marquis Yi. The State of Zeng was a vassal state of Chu and was under the same cultural sphere.
The bells were made with thecire perdue or lost wax process. The process is referred to as lost wax not because we have lost the process, but because the figure is originally sculpted from wax which is lost in the process. The original is encased in clay. Two drainage holes are placed in the clay and when the clay is heated, the wax runs out of the hole leaving a cavity. Bronze is then poured into the cavity and when the bronze cools the clay mold is broken open revealing the bronze sculpture. Since the bronze is a fairly soft metal, details can be etched and molded while the bronze is cool.
For large hollow sculptures the process is different. See this diagram.
500 BCE - 400 BCE
|Form: It features stylized dragons and is made of jade. It is circular and features piecework.|
Iconography: This disk may have been an icon for the circle of heaven. It is an icon of patience, diligence, beauty, and hard work. The dragons are symbols of good fortune and a rulers ability to meditate and thus transcend between heaven and earth.
Context: Jade is a semi-precious stone but if it's worked the labor that goes into it is what makes it precious. Jade was used to make various objects including axes (ceremonial pieces). Rubbing a stone against jade was one way of polishing it. To make this piece involves sawing, grinding, polishing, and drilling. Jade is very hard and it is not possible to simply carve it a one would wood.
(translation means: great thinker and teacher)
A disciple asked Confucius, saying, "Why, sir, does the superior man value jade much more highly than serpentine? Is it because jade is scarce and serpentine abundant?"
"It is not," replied Confucius; "but it is because of the superior men of olden days regarded it as a symbol of the virtues. Its gentle, smooth, glossy appearance suggests charity of the heart; its fine close texture and hardness suggests wisdom; it is firm and yet does not wound, suggesting duty to one's neighbor; it hangs down as though sinking, suggesting ceremony; struck, it gives a clear note, long drawn out, dying gradually away and suggesting music; its flaws do not hide its excellencies, nor do its excellencies hide its flaws, suggesting loyalty; it gains our confidence, suggesting truth; its spirituality is like the bright rainbow, suggesting the heavens above; its energy is manifested in hill and stream, suggesting the earth below; as articles of regalia it suggests the exemplification of that than there is nothing in the world of equal value, and thereby is-TAO itself.
Courses on Udemy: