Arts & Crafts - Chinese Culture Introduction

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Arts & Crafts




The traditional arts and crafts of China have won unique good reputations in the history of the material culture of the nationalities in the world. Since Zhang Qian (?-c.114 B.C.) of the Han Dynasty served as an envoy abroad to the Western Regions (a Han Dynasty term for the area west of Yumenguan, including what is now Xinjiang and parts of Central Asia) and the gradual formation of the Silk Route,the traditional arts and crafts of China have been introduced in an unfailing way to the Middle East first via the Central Asia and the Western Asia and then to Europe and the five continents and four oceans. At the time when other nationalities intruded or disorders caused by continuous military operations, Chinese craftsmen in the successive dynasties of past ages could often survive by virtue of one single skill and became emissaries for diffusing the culture of different nationalities. In the traditional Chinese philosophy, Chinese ancient thinkers started, as early as in the first century, to use handicraft skills to compare to and interpret various kinds of considerations in the ways of running a state or looking at life. All this is related to the unique geographic location of China and its farming culture that was formed continuously for a very long time.




The mainland of China possesses a long coastline but its source of civilization, the Central Plains (comprising themiddle and lower reaches of the Yellow River), goes deep into the inland. The three earliest systems of state power in China, the Xia Dynasty, the Shang Dynasty and the Western Zhou Dynasty, all emerged in the inland. For the nationalities that grew up on plains and in mountain areas, cultivation and irrigation of land were the most important ways of existence. As a result, the astronomical calendar, the fabrication of farming tools, and the ethical concept of how to get along well with others all developed on such a premise.It was this kind of life and the style of art in the agricultural farming society that decided the special features of the traditional arts and crafts of China. Its workmanship surrounded the practice of tilling the farm by men and spinning and weaving by women as well as the way of starting to work at sunrise and to rest at sunset. The initial state of all articles and utensils was closely related to the purpose of different uses. They should be convenient and simple for use, having the wisdom of fitting in with agricultural civilization. Even at its top-level, i.e. the  arts and crafts for court use and those for scholars, the vestiges of practical use and tradition of simplicity were still maintained. Its decorative style was natural. Within the vision of natural economy, hills and waters, animals and plants were the main patterns and ornaments. Absurd or ferocious decorations were scarcely seen. Instead they were full of optimistic spirit and progress making.

 The Chinese traditional ethics has an argument "Riding a hobby saps one's will to make progress," which was used to oppose "diabolic tricks and wicked craft" so as to hold in check excessive development of skills that had no practical value. The influence of this idea has made the arts and crafts of China develop along the orientation of functionalism for thousands of years without having made waste to the society but having made workmanship develop to the extreme in the farming society instead. Nevertheless, it has also brought about certain conservation as when skills reach certain level, they will cause certain check and hesitation to the advance of social and scientific progress.
On the whole, the tradition of Chinese arts and crafts, however, is worth praising. It has left us abundant cultural heritage, including a lot of man-made articles and wisdom of life.


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