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About China

Arts

Film | Literature | Performing Arts | Arts & Crafts

From very early times, Chinese artisans dazzled the world with technical brilliance and innovation, and today, Chinese arts and crafts are renowned the world over.

Many of China's ancient art treasures were ransacked or razed to the ground During the Qing Dynasty by Western Forces as well as the Cultural Revolution. Precious pottery, calligraphy and embroidery was compelled abroad, defaced or destroyed, and some traditional arts forms are banned for being so called feudal remnant during the Cultural Revolution.

Fortunately, since the early 1970s a great deal of work has been done to restore what was destroyed. The traditional visual and performance arts which help to constitute Chinese culture are revitalized and become a indispensable part of the Chinese social life.

[ Film ]

While most travellers in China manage to get to at least one opera or acrobatics performance, few get around to seeing any Chinese films.

[ Literature ]

China has a rich literary tradition. Much of it is inaccessible to western readers for less of translation. And much of the Chinese literary heritage (particularly its poetry) is untranslatable, though many of the most important Chinese classics are available in translation.

The essential point to bear in mind when discussing Chinese literature is that prior to the 20th century there were two literary traditions: the classical and the vernacular. The classical tradition was the Chinese equivalent of a literary canon, largely Confucian in nature, consisted of a core of texts written in ancient Chinese that had to be mastered thoroughly by all aspirants to the Chinese civil service, and was the backbone of the Chinese education system, it was nearly indecipherable to the masses. The vernacular tradition arose in the Ming Dynasty and consisted largely of prose epics written for entertainment.

For western readers it is the vernacular texts, precursors of the contemporary Chines novel and short story, that are probably of more interest. Most of them are available in translation and provide a fascinating insight into life in China centuries past.

[ Performing Arts ]

Music

Legend assigns the birth of Chinese music to the reign of the semi-mythical Shang emperor Huangdi in 2697BC. Traditional Chinese music uses a 12-tone system that is markedly different from the traditional Western scale. Major traditionall instruments include the zither (guqin), the lute (pipa), the horizontal flute (dizi), the vertical flute (xiao), the ceremonial trumpet (suona), and the two-stringed viola (huqin).

However these days, a visitor to China is more likely to encounter Taiwanese or Hong Kong pop songs than traditional tunes. And Sino-pop has developed into a genre to itself, Cui Jian and Dou Wei are names of distinction among the performers of Chinese pop.

Theater

Traditional Chinese theater is better described as opera, there are more than 300 types of opera in China. The most famous one is Beijing Opera. Since it makes use of instrumental and vocal music, dance, acrobatics, martial arts, poetry, elaborate costumes, and masked actors. All of the various styles of opera tend to share certain common elements, including bare stages, set role types indicated by the type of face paint worn by each actor, complex conventions of symbolism and pantomime, and highly trained performers who must be skilled in operatic movement, singing, and in many cases, dance.

Going to the theater in China is definitely leisure than courtesy, so leave your evening dress and tie at home; normal day clothes are fine.

[ Arts & Crafts ]

With its long history and inward-looking propensities, China has had the patience to develop and refine a resplendent catalogue of fine arts and exquisite crafts.

Up to the Warring States period (403-221BC), arts were generally produced by nameless craftsmen for the current emperors, but during the Han dynasty (206BC-220AD), THE ELITE CLASSES OF China began to develop a passion for spending their leisure time engaged in artistic endeavours. A division arose between the handiwork of professional, but lower class, artisans and that of the amateur, but upper crust, masters.

Thus it was that the educated gentry was driven to excel in many art forms. In particular, the "Four Arts of a Scholar" were especially highly valued and refined by the Chinese literati. Excluding two of these which are not visual arts, the arts of calligraphy and painting have over the years become the most treasured of all art forms in China.

There has been, however, no dearth of other visual art forms cultivated by everyone from anonymous laymen to famous intellectuals throughout history. Architecture, sculpture, pottery and porcelain, jade and ivory carving, metalwork, textiles, lacquerware, and others are also timeworn forms of expression.