Arts and Crafts during the Qin and Han Dynasty
The period of the Qing Dynasty and the Han Dynasty was a period to establish and consolidated a centralized feudal monarch with multi nationalities united in China. The political system of centralization of the state power required the technologic production under a single command and a grand scale. A segment of a whole can be seen from the world-famous architectures and statues of the Qing Dynasty such as the Great Wall, the tomb of the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty and his terracotta warriors and horses.
There were two kinds of operation for the arts and crafts in the period of the Qin Dynasty and the Han Dynasty: run by the government and by self-employed artisans. The former was mainly to meet the demands of imperial household and the nobility, the yamen (government office in feudal China) at all levels and the army. So the scale was grand, the trades were numerous, the division of labor was elaborate, the management was perfect, and the funds were abundant. As for the latter, the natural economy of the self-supporting and self-sufficient agricultural society was its important content, i.e. men tilling the farm and women weaving.
The government-run handicrafts of the Qin Dynasty included mining, smelting and casting, arms and weapons, carriages and chariots, tools and implements, lacquer ware and earthenware. The government, from the central to the local, set up large-scale handicraft administrations. During the Qin and Han period, iron-smelting industry had a great development. With the emergence of the technology of well-tempered steel forged for several times, the quality of ironware like weapons and farm tools was improved and social production promoted. In the early stage of the Qin Dynasty, ministerial government was honest and upright, the people were simple and honest, and arts and crafts laid stress on practical use with simple and unadorned shapes. As the rule of the Qin Dynasty lasted for only fifteen years, not too many handicraft articles have been handed down and what was left is mainly bronze ware, lacquer work and earthenware.
In the Han Dynasty, the varieties of handicraft articles grew in number and new creations were made in the aspects of art, technology and materials, so that the unity of practical purpose and aesthetic consciousness was achieved, and one object for multiple uses was invented. For instance, copper lamp is not only convenient for use but can also be used for adornment; and the lacquer case is so cleverly designed that its space can be made full use of. Spinning and weaving was an important handicraft department at that time and thousands of people worked in the government-run workshop. The textiles of the Western Han unearthed at Mawangdui in Changsha, Hunan, have manydiffernt varieties and the workmanship is of great exquisiteness, representing the high standard of the textile technology of that time. Lizi of Shangdong, Chenliu of Henan and Xiangyi of Hubei were all the famous place of textile production at that time.
The arts and crafts of the Han Dynasty often took the real life and production for themes of decoration, such as feasting, dancing, hunting, assaulting, ploughing and sowing, harvesting, smelting, etc. Due to the trend of turning Confucianism into a religion in the Han Dynasty, the rise of divination combined with mystical Confucianist belief as well as the prevalence of elaborate funeral, the content of ascending to heaven and becoming immortals, auspicious sign and superstition, and the gods in the four direction prevailed in the ornamental themes. The technique of expression adopted for the ornament was plane silhouette, which was skillful in grasping dynamic and typical characteristics and had the features of simplicity and flexibility as well as vivaciousness and variousness. The composition was full but not in a mss and large in number but not scattered in layout.
During this period, the exchanges and integration between various parts of the country and various nationalities were very lively, forming a unified commercial market at home. As a result, the characteristics of combining craftsmen and merchants and the operation of producing and marking one’s own products all by oneself were formed.
Zhang Qian of the Han Dynasty, an envoy abroad to the Western Regions for two times, opened the silk Road on the land from Chang’an directly to the Central Asia, the Western Asia and the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, the Han Dynasty also opened a land-borne pass to India and the water route on the sea along the coast of China began to export silk fabrics, lacquer ware, ironware and handicraft articles throughout the world.