Discovering China

Traditional Arts

  • China's People
  • Language and Script
  • Chinese Literature
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  • The Power of Qi
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  • Traditional Arts
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  • The History of China
  • The earliest Chinese artifacts were found in royal tombs. These include bronzes, ceramics, and jades from the Shang and Zhou period, as well as terracotta warriors from the Qin period. Of the many rich art forms that subsequently developed in China, painting and pottery are perhaps the most important, and have reached the highest aesthetic level. Other significant art forms include sculpture, notably the Buddhist sculpture of Western China. There are also many distinctive and popular forms of Chinese decorative art.

    Tang earthenware tomb figure
    Tang earthenware
    tomb figure


    Since inventing porcelain, China developed a huge range of potting, decorating, and glazing techniques that were imitated from Europe to Japan. Chinese ceramics led the world in aesthetic taste and technique up until the demise of the Qing dynasty.

    Tang earthenware tomb figure representing a fierce warrior, with typical rough sancai (three-color) drip glaze. This was a lead-based glaze, fired at a low temperature.

    Bamboo painting
    Bamboo painting

    Chinese painting

    Considered the highest traditional art form, Chinese painting is executed on silk or paper using a brush and inks or watercolors.

    Landscape painting, associated with the scholar class, reached a highpoint in the Northern Song and Yuan periods. Huang Gongwang, a master of the Yuan, was admired for his simple calligraphic style.

    Bamboo painting was a genre of the scholar class. Bamboo symbolized the scholar-gentleman who would bend but not break in the face of adversity.

    Traditional crafts

    As well as the traditional high art forms of painting and pottery, China has a wealth of beautiful decorative arts. Delicate carvings in lacquer, ivory and jade are popular, as are colorful cloisonné items, decorated inksticks (or cakes), snuff bottles, and fans.


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