Arts and Crafts during the Six Dynasties

July 11th, 2013 No comments
Celadon zun (a kind of wine vessel) in lotus shape from the Northern Dynasty with gorgeous pattern and well-rounded shape, a representative work of northern celadon

Celadon zun (a kind of wine vessel) in lotus shape from the Northern Dynasty with gorgeous pattern and well-rounded shape, a representative work of northern celadon

During the period of the Six Dynasties, wars occurred frequently in the north but the south was comparatively stable. The shifting of a large number of population and technical strength to the south promoted the exploitation and development of the south. The situation of taking the north as the center of economy and handicraft production for a long time began to change and a new situation was formed for the whole nation to develop in a balanced way.

The Six Dynasties, inheriting upward from the Western Han Dynasty and the Eastern Han Dynasty and handing down to the Sui Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty, was an important transitional period in the handicraft history of China. The turbulence of the society, the sufferings brought about by the war, and he mental agony gave an opportunity to the rise and dissemination of Buddhism to publicize karma and samsara and the rulers also made use of Buddhism to consolidate their rule. As a result, Buddhism was energetically encouraged. In the north, grottoes in Dunhuang, the Datong Grottoes, and the Luoyang Grottoes are all the pioneering works left from that time. In the south, Buddhism. Many a brass or copper ware, gold vessel, silverware, carved stone, textile, embroidery and lacquer ware all contained the subject of Buddhism. Lotus and honeysuckle, the main ornament at that time, became the symbols of Buddhism. The prevalence of Buddhism also contributed to and expanded international exchanges. The visit of monks from India and craftsmen from the Western Regions introduced the Indian art compromising the Greek and Persian styles to China and impelled the handicraft culture of China to carry out a new synthesis. Therefore, the religious trend and foreign style of the industrial art are the important handicraft features of the Six Dynasties.
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Gourd-shaped porcelain canteen and the Yue’s Troops

July 23rd, 2012 No comments
Artisans of Cizhouyao Kiln presented porcelain canteen to Yue Fei.

Artisans of Cizhouyao Kiln presented porcelain canteen to Yue Fei.

At the end of the Southern Song Dynasty, there was a kiln artisan named Hulu at the Cizhouyao Kiln. He was clever and skillful. Once he made a kind of porcelain canteen, thick at both ends but thin in the center, convenient to carry. As it looked exactly like the gourd used by immortals in the legend, people called it porcelain gourd, also known as the canteen of the Yue’s troops. The legend goes that for recovering the occupied territory in the north, Marshal Yue Fei fought with his army from the Yangtze River all the way to the Mt. Taihang. The kiln artisans of the Cizhouyao Kiln were very excited and tried to present the Yue’s troops with a kind of porcelain canteen in kidney shape for them to carry conveniently on the march. The kiln artisan Hulu thought he should send Marshal Yue and his troops a precious canteen just like that used by Taishang Laojun (the Very High Lord in the legend) to hold elixir vitae as Marshal Yuehad rendered outstanding service to the Song Dynasty.

It was said that the water used to blend the clay for making the treasured canteen of he Very High Lord was taken from nine rivers and eighteen lakes. So he sent someone to take the spring water from nine springs, such as the Black Dragon Spring, the Yellow Dragon Spring, the Dark-green Dragon Spring, the Old Dragon Spring, the Jade Dragon Spring, etc. In the clay to make the canteen, he added costly medicines, such as musk, glossy ganoderma, bezoar, peppermint, etc. Finally, when the canteen was done to hold water or wine, not only could it quench thirst and relieve summer heat but also cure all diseases.

The officers and men of the Yue’s troops went on with the march with the porcelain canteen, sweeping northward from victory to victory. Afterwards due to the collusion between Qin Hui and the Jin troops, the Yue’s troops were besieged on the top of the Mt. Jiushi. Before long all the water bottled in the ordinary porcelain canteen was drunk up but the officers and men found to the surprise that the water and wine in Marshal Yuan’s porcelain canteen would never go empty. They found some big Chinese characters “Porcelain Canteen with Water from Nine Spring” and some small Chinese characters “Cizhouyao Kiln” inscribed at the bottom of the canteen. The officers and men drank freely with great joviality. After drinking the wine to their heart’s content, they rushed down the mountain. Afterwards, the Yue’s troops recovered a large stretch of territory.

Bamboo carving

July 16th, 2012 No comments
Ming Dynasty brush pot, housed in Nanjing Museum.

Ming Dynasty brush pot, housed in Nanjing Museum.

Bamboo carving means to carve various ornamental patterns or characters on bamboo items, or make ornaments from bamboo roots by carving. China is the first country in the world using bamboo articles. The extant bamboo carving item early in age is the painted lacquer bamboo ladle unearthed from the Western Han Tombs No. 1 in Mawangdui of Changsha. Decorated with dragon and braids designs using bas-relief and fretwork techniques, it is a highly finished rarity.
Since the mid-Ming Dynasty, bamboo carving developed into a special art. At the very beginning, there were only a few well-educated artisans working for bamboo carving. As bamboo was easily available, more and more people started to join in this craft, some by learning from others privately, until bamboo carving became a special line with a great quantity of works left over to posterity. Bamboo joint carving is the representative variety in bamboo carving in which bamboo joints are shaped into brush pots, incense tubes, tea caddies, etc. and then its surface pierced out to make relief sculpture to produce an artistic effect.

The techniques of bamboo carving mainly include keeping green-covering, pasting yellow chips, round carving and inlaying.
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Arts and Crafts during the Qin and Han Dynasty

May 10th, 2012 No comments
Terracotta warriors of Qin Dynasty, unearthed from the  tomb of the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty in Lintong, Shaanxi

Terracotta warriors of Qin Dynasty, unearthed from the tomb of the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty in Lintong, Shaanxi

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.
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