China’s ancient civilization is one of the few civilizations with independent origins, and the only unbroken civilization in human history. Chinese culture, born alongside the development of the civilization, has been prosperous all the time.
Calligraphy and Painting Chinese characters evolved from pictures and signs, and the Chinese art of calligraphy developed naturally from its unique writing system. The beauty of Chinese calligraphy lies in the fact that the calligrapher is able to create varied, ever-lasting artistic styles by just writing characters on paper with a brush and Chinese ink. Through the ages, great calligraphers developed representative calligraphic styles of their times. The love of calligraphy is deeply ingrained in Chinese scholars, and has been handed down to the present day. The Chinese Calligraphers’ Association and local calligraphers’ associations at all levels frequently hold exhibitions.
Different from Western painting, traditional Chinese painting is characterized by unique forms of expression. The roots of Chinese painting can be traced back to paintings on Neolithic pottery. Since similar tools and lines were used for the earliest painting and writing, painting is said to have the same origin as calligraphy. Thus, Chinese paintings usually bear poetry or calligraphy so that the three are often integrated, giving people a keener aesthetic enjoyment. Many ancient Chinese paintings were executed on walls or decorative screens. Today, murals can be found in the tombs of the Han, Tang and other dynasties. In addition, figure, landscape, and flower-and-bird paintings — important traditional Chinese painting genres — of the dynastic past are still highly valued today.
Contemporary Chinese painting world is very active. The China Art Gallery and other art galleries hold individual or joint art exhibitions year in year out. Also, exhibitions of traditional Chinese paintings have been held in Japan, the Republic of Korea, the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Chinese artists have also made great progress in Western-style painting, such as oil painting, woodcut and watercolor. Many Chinese painters have created works that combine traditional Chinese painting techniques with those of the West, adding splendor to both forms.
Arts and Crafts China boasts a wide variety of arts and crafts renowned for their exquisite workmanship. They can be classified into special and folk types.
Special arts and crafts use precious or special materials, and undergo elaborate designing and processing. They are elegant and expensive. Jade carving takes into consideration the natural lines, lusters and colors of jade. Craftsmen ingeniously integrate the colors with the shapes of the art works, fully displaying the glory of nature. Cloisonné is a kind of handicraft well known at home and abroad. The blue glaze produced during the Jingtai reign period of the Ming Dynasty Emperor Daizong is considered the best. Created by mounting copper strips on and plating the surface of a copper roughcast with gold and silver, it looks resplendent and magnificent. The products include bottles, bowls, and cups used as prizes.
Originated from remote past, Chinese folk arts are marked by strong local flavors and national styles. In technique, Chinese folk arts fall into the categories of cutting, bundling, plaiting, knitting, embroidering, carving, molding and painting.
Peking Opera and Local Operas China boasts more than 300 forms of traditional opera, of which Peking Opera is the most popular. Peking opera was evolved from the Kunqu Opera, an even more ancient art of drama. The latter was listed among the first batch of mankind’s representative works of oral and nonmaterial heritage by the UNESCO in May 2001. Peking Opera as a unique art combining singing, music, chanting, dancing and martial arts into one, took shape in the early 19th century in Beijing. In the over 200 years of performance practice, Peking Opera has developed characteristic types of meter in music and stylized movements of performers, as well as more than 1,000 routines in the repertoire. Succeeding a group of outstanding Peking Opera actors and actresses, including Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqiu, Ma Lianliang, Zhou Xinfang and Du Jinfang, young artists are constantly breathing new life into Peking Opera. The emergence of young actors and actresses with beautiful, elegant stage appearances, such as Wang Rongrong and Yu Kuizhi, since the 1990s has demonstrated that Peking Opera has qualified successors.
Local operas have made continuous reforms on the basis of keeping their basic traditions. Popular local operas include Yueju (Shaoxing Opera from Zhejiang), Huangmeixi (from Anhui), Chuanju (Sichuan Opera), Yuju (Henan Opera), and Yueju (Guangdong Opera). Tibetan Opera has a religious tinge and is imbued with Tibetan ethnic folklore. It is bold and unconstrained, and is becoming more and more popular both at home and abroad.
In addition, modern drama introduced from foreign countries has been developed considerably over the past few decades. Teahouse, created and performed by the Beijing People’s Art Theater, has become the representative work of the Chinese modern drama, arousing wide attention both at home and abroad.