episode #148 crafts of ancient China

Photo by SAM LIM of Chinese mountains
Photo by SAM LIM on Pexels.com

Most scholars now believe that isolated civilisations first arose independently at several locations; initially in Mesopotamia around Tigris and Euphrates rivers and, a little later, in Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean. Other civilisations arose in Asia along the Indus River in modern India and the Yellow River in what is now China.

All these early civilisations had to invent or discover everything for themselves because unlike later civilisations such as the Greeks in the west or the Chinese in the east, they had no one to learn from. Therefore, the Egyptians had to invented mathematics, geometry, surveying, metallurgy, astronomy, accounting, writing, paper, medicine, the ramp, the lever, the plough, mills for grinding grain and all the paraphernalia that goes with large organised societies.

Ancient China covered a vast and ever-changing geopolitical landscape, and the art it produced over three millennia is, unsurprisingly, just as varied. Chinese art would influence tremendously that of its neighbours in East Asia, and the worldwide appreciation of its accomplishments, especially in ceramics, painting, and jade work continue to this day.

Bronze Vessels

Bronze Vessels invented some 5,000 years ago led the ancestors of modern China from the Stone Age into a new era – the Bronze Age. The bronzes produced being delicately decorated with a diverse range of designs and motifs and were widely used in many aspects of life, such as musical instruments, ceremonial offerings and weapons of war being of great significance in the history of China. The Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BCE) is famous for its cast bronze work. Common shapes of bronze vessels are three-legged cauldrons, sometimes with the legs made into animals, birds, or dragons. They can be circular or square, and many have lids and handles. Sharp relief decoration includes repeating patterns, masks, and scroll motifs. The Shang artists also produced vessels in the form of three-dimensional animals such as rams, elephants, and mythological creatures.


The art of calligraphy – and for the ancient Chinese it certainly was an art – aimed to demonstrate superior control and skill using brush and ink. Calligraphy established itself as one of the major Chinese art forms during the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), and for two millennia after, all educated men were expected to be proficient at it. Some women, or at least certain figures at court, did become known as accomplished calligraphers, most notably Lady Wei (272-349 CE), said to have taught the great master Wang Xizhi (303-361 CE).

They referred calligraphy to as the ‘four treasures of study’ (writing brush, ink stick, xuan paper, and ink slab) are regarded as the indispensable tools when writing.


According to archeologists and archeological findings, Chinese first began to know and use jade in the early Neolithic Age. Many jade artefacts, some dating back 4,000 to 6,000 years, have been excavated from a number of places. For thousands of years up to the present day, jade has been a symbol of love and virtue, as well as a symbol of status. Jade symbolises merit, grace and dignity and occupies a special position in people’s consciousness. It is used both to decorate rooms, and as jewellery by people hoping for a blessing. The ancient Chinese considered jade the most precious and most beautiful natural material. It was carved as early as the Neolithic period (c. 3500-2000 BCE) when it was used to make sacrificial and ritual objects, especially in the Hongshan and Liangzhu cultures. However, it was the aesthetic quality of jade and an increasing association with moral ideas of purity and goodness ascribed to it by Confucian thought that ensured the precious stone would continue for centuries as the most desired decorative material. 


Pottery has a history of over 8,000 years and known as the oldest artwork of human beings. The accomplishments in pottery works can be seen from Terra Cotta Warriors, in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, and the Tricolour Glazed pottery of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) and so on. The Chinese were the masters of pottery and ceramics. They produced everything from heavy and functional storage jars in earthenware to exquisitely decorated bowls in the most delicate of porcelain, from vases to garden stools, teapots to pillows. They produced the first glaze wares, the first green celadons and the first underglaze wares painted with cobalt blue. Early developments in techniques and kilns led to both higher firing temperatures and the first glazed pottery during the Han period. Pottery, especially the vessels painted with a grey slip commonly found in Han tombs, very often imitated the shape and decoration of bronze vessels, and this would be a goal of many potters in later periods. Clay was used to produce small unglazed models of ordinary houses which were set in tombs to accompany the dead and, presumably, symbolically meet their need for a new home. As time passed, the technique became more and more consummate. Different kinds of pottery appeared in different times and regions. Yangshao Culture, 5,000 – 7,000 years ago to today, developed a technique for painted ceramic wares. Qujialing Culture and Longshan Culture, dating back about 4,000 years ago, were known for their black ceramic wares.

Chinese Porcelain derived from the Shang Dynasty (16th – 11th century BC). It is charactersed with fine texture, bright colors, and distinctive shapes and styles. Jingdezhen, located in Jiangxi Province is the Porcelain Capital of the world and attracts countless people from near and far to appreciate, and buy the choicest Jingdezhen Porcelain around.

Lacquer Ware first appeared some 7,000 years ago with the primary colours being black and red. It is of various types and has a wide range of uses that makes it favoured by people throughout the entire world.

Chinese Lanterns are to some extent the symbol of the country’s extensive festival culture. With long history and interesting traditions, lanterns now have abundant variations, decorating many festive occasions.
China Music dates back to between 7,000 and 8,000 years ago. Featured with unique melodies within different  dynasties and accompanied with  traditional musical instruments

Chinese Opera is recognised as one of the three oldest dramatic art forms in the world. It is a combination of music, art and literature and is characterised by the unique facial make-up, excellent acrobatics and has many different regional variations.

Chinese Painting is divided into three genres – figures, landscapes, and birds-and-flowers and each type has its distinctive characteristics. In addition, difficult skills are required to the painters.

Paper-Cuttings is diversified patterns cut into red paper with scissors. Different patterns such as monkey, flowers and figures can be cut vividly and perfectly by some female artisans in rural areas. People paste paper-cuttings onto their windows and other places to express their hopes and wishes.

Spoken word

Li Bai: Invitation to Wine


Jazztronik: Mallow Morning Glory

Little Dragon: Constant Surprises

KOOP: Forces… Darling

The’s: Woo Hoo

Pink Floyd: Any Colour You Like

Gorillaz: Empire Ants

And Still They Move

Coming Home

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