Chinese Folk Arts


Embroidery, a folk art with a long tradition, occupies an important position in the history of Chinese arts and crafts. It is, in its long development, inseparable from silk worm ¨Craising and silk-reeling and weaving.

China is the first country in the world that discovered the use of silk. Silkworms were domesticated as early as 5,000 years ago. The production of silk thread and fabrics gave rise to the art of embroidery. According to the classical Shanshu (or Book of History), the ¡°regulations on costumes¡± of 4,000 years ago stipulated among other things ¡°dresses and skirts with designs and embroideries¡±. This is evidence that embroidery had become an established art by that remote time.

In 1958 a piece of silk was found in a tomb of the state of Chu of the Warring State Period (475-221 BC). It is embroidered with a dragon-and-phoenix design. More than 2,000 years old, it is the earliest piece of Chinese embroidery ever unearthed.

The art became widespread during the Han Dynasty (206 BC¡ª220 AD); many embroidered finds date back to that period.

Today, silk embroidery is practiced nearly all over China . The best commercial products, it is generally agreed, come from four provinces: Jiangsu (notably Suzhou ), Hunan , Sichuan and Guangdong , each with its distinctive features.

Embroidered works have become highly complex and exquisite today. Take the double-face embroidered ¡°Cat¡±, a representative work of Suzhou embroidery, for example. The artist splits the hair-thin colored silk thread into filaments¡ªhalf, quarter, 1/12 or even 1/48 of its original thickness---and uses these in embroidering concealing in the process the thousands of ends and joints and making them disappear as if by magic. The finished work is a cute and mischievous-looking cat on both sides of the groundwork. The most different part of the job is the eyes of the cat. To give them luster and life, silk filaments of more than 20 colors or shades have to used.

Recently, on the basis of two-face embroidery have developed further innovations---the same design on both sides in different colors, and totally different patterns on the two faces of the same groundwork. It seems that possibilities hitherto unknown to the art may yet be explored.

Hair Embroidery

Hair embroidery, a traditional Chinese art, is a special needle-work of making patterns on silk with human hair as the thread. As Chinese hair is mostly black, it used to be known also as moxiu (black ink embroidery).

Today the art excels by far its past attainment in color and in variety. The color is no longer limited to black. Others ---blonde, amber, auburn, white and grey¡ªof various shades are also used, totaling dozens of tones, mostly collected from areas of ethnic minorities. Occasionally, to give the lips of an ancient beauty their usual rosiness, white hair may be dyed red. But on the whole, pictures embroidered with hair are in its natural hues.

To work with human hair is more difficult than with silk thread, for compared with the latter Chinese hair is stiff, slippery and brittle, breaking easily when stretched with exertion. It requires a well-trained skill but it is also rewarding in the end-product, which is elegantly neat, erosion-free, worm-resistant and fast in color.

Tapestry Weaving

Kesi is a special type of weaving peculiar to China . It is different from embroidery but rather similar to the making of tapestry.

It is done on a wooden handloom with raw silk as the wrap and boiled-off silk as the weft. The weft threads are usually of dozens of colors and are separately reeled in may small shuttles. First the artisan makes on the wrap a sketchy drawing of the pattern to be woven and then guides a shuttle with the weft thread of a specified color across the warp threads¡ªalmost never throughout the entire width but only where that particular color is needed. So, that is a form of weaving patch by patch. One could also say it represents an integration of the skills of silk-weaving and painting. It is necessary to make frequent changes of the shuttles (i.e. threads of different colors), and a small piece of work requires thousands of changes to finish.

The completed piece shows the design neatly and in equal exquisiteness on both sides. The art has its beginnings in the Han and Wei Dynasties but blossomed during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), producing a great master in Zhu Kerou. The Picture of Duckings in Lotus Pond Woven by him, now kept in the Shanghai Museum , is considered a national treasure. The art of kesi was introduced to Japan during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The belt for the Japanese kimono, which is woven in this way, is still called by the Japanese ¡°Chinese Ming decorative belt¡±.

Jade carving

Jade is loosely understood in china as the collective name for most precious stones, and jade carving in this sense constitutes and important part of Chinese arts and crafts. The love of jade ware, according to Dr. Joseph Needham, the noted British naturalist, has been one of the cultural features of China . Crude jade tools have been fornd among the archaeological finds dating back to the New Stone Age. There is, however, no evidence to indicate that Neolithic people attached a great value to jade ware; they chose jade only because it was hard and good for making tools and fighting weapons. As time went on , people came gradually to appreciate the beauty of the stone, which after carving and polishing might be turned into things not only useful but also nice to look at.

In the historical epoch during which the slave society was replaced by the feudal society, jade ware became established as objects of pure decoration. Among the funerary objects unearthed from tombs of that long period are many jade articles used as personal ornaments or ceremonial vessels. The jade exhibits one sees today in museum of the country normally comprise vases, incense-burners, tripods, cups and wine vessels of various descriptions.

Large-sized jade articles began to appear in the middle of Chinese feudalism. There is today in the Round City of the Beihai Park a large fade jar the size of a small bathtub. It was used as a wine container by the Yuan Emperor Kublai Khan when he feted his followers. The 3.5-ton jar may hold as a circumference of 493 cm and measures 70 cm high and 55 cm deep in the middle. The elliptic jar is well-shaped and engraved all round with clouds, waves, dragons and sea horses. It is the oldest jade object of a large size kept intact in the country.

Another large piece worth mentioning is a jade sculpture dating form the region of Qianlong in the 18 th century. Entitled¡± Jade Mountain Showing the Great Yu Taming the Flood¡±, it was sculpted after a Song Dynasty painting of a similar title. The masterpiece, standing 2.4 meters high and about 1 meter wide, depicts in vivid detail how the Great Yu, a heroic representative of the ancient working people, fought the Great Flood. According to historical records, the uncut jadestone, weighing more than 5 tons, was discovered in Hotan area, Xinjiang, took three years to be transported over the distance of 4,000 kilometers to Beijing, and some more years to be carved and polished into the national treasure that it is.

¡°there is a price for gold but no price for jade¡±, says a Chinese proverb. Jade ware is oftern described as ¡°worth a string of towns¡±. An ancient story tells how King Zhao of Qin once offered 15 towns in exchange for the famous Ho's round jade. How is it that jade is so valuable?

First its value lies in its scarcity. Precious stones are formed over long geological epochs and are hard to get, especially green jade, white jade and agate. Ancient people on a treasure hunt had to trek on the back of yaks in mountainous regions to get at the unhewn rocks containing the gems, exposed or half exposed, by the stamping of the animal's hoofs. Sometimes, precious stones were washed down by mountain torrents and were got hold of midway by men with the eye and luck. In any event, exposed stones grew scare and people began to bore through the mountains to mine for precious stones, making them even difficult to get.

Secondly, the value of jade lies in its hardness. Precious stones are divided by their hardness into two major groups: jadeites and nephrites. Jadeites are the ones with a solid texture and hardness of degree 6 or above (on the basis of 10 for diamond). The .more valuable varieties such as green jade, may be as hard as degree 8 or 9. Jadeites are invulnerable to steel cutting tools made of carbonrumdum of diamond powder. Objects made of this hard jade are smooth, lustrous, glittering and translucent, and their grains are no longer visible to the naked eye.

Nephrites, on the other hand, being below degree 6 in hardness, can generally be incised and carved by burins. Their commercial values are much lower than jadeites.Thirdly, the value of precious stones lies in their natural color and hue. Some are as white as snow, others are brightly red, and still others alluringly green. Diamond, emerald, sapphire and other gemstones can be processed into personal ornaments like rings and earrings whose color will remain brilliant all the time. Some stones carry an array of color which a master artisan can use to good effect. Even flaws in the stone can be turned into ¡°beauty spots¡±, for instance, an insect on a flower or a small squirrel on a tree, adding life and attraction to the entire piece of work.

Today there are jade workshops or factories in all major cities. Work which used to be done purely by hand ahs been partially mechanized. Although some operations have become faster with the use of simple machine, yet jade carving remains basically a handicraft art. And as raw materials are getting more and more scarce, the prices of jade were will always be on the upward trend.

Ivory Carving

Ivory sculpture is an old art in China dating back to prehistoric times. From the ruins of the Yin Dynasty capital of 3,700 years ago knives and rulers made of ivory have been unearthed. The record of the Warring States, a history written 20 centuries ago, tells of Mengchang, an aristocrat of the State of Qi, who left his homeland for a tour abroad and, when he arrived in the state of Chu, presented an ivory bed¡­the bed was worth a thousand pieces of gold; the slightest damage would ruin the man who had to compensate for it.¡±

As an art ivory carving calls for meticulous care. The varying shapes and sizes and the position of hard core of the tusks must be taken into careful consideration together with the carver's own specialties, when he conceives the work he is going to produce. Normally he will first hew out a rough shape before using his finer tools for the final chiseling and polishing of detail. For larger jobs a clay model will be moulded and found to be satisfactory before the ivory is worked on. A very large and complex piece of work comprises a number of parts sculptured separately and then assembled.

The Beijing Arts and Crafts Factory turned out in 1974 a large ivory sculpture entitled ¡°The Chengdu-Kunming Railway¡±. Measuring 180 cm long, 64cm wide and 110cm high and weighing 318 kilograms, it took 5,000 work-days to complete. Rich in national flavor, it was presented to the United Nations Headquarters.

A gem in the art of ivory carving is the ¡°latticed balls within balls¡±, which has a history of barely a hundred years. To create this marvel, the master craftsman first shapes a piece of ivory into a perfect spherical ball and then bores through it at suitable intervals several conical holes, whose apexes meet exactly at the centre of the ball. Next, he marks the inside of each hole with lines to indicate the number of balls to be cut out. Only now is he ready to cut the balls of different layers, starting with the innermost. In spite of the holes, he cannot see anything but have to work by feels, relying on his years of experience and on a fine carver with a curved blade. The rest of the balls are cut out and carved successively from the inside out. Throughout the whole operation, any hair-thin mistake would ruin the entire work of art.

Up to the time of writing, the most complicated ¡°latticed balls within balls¡± has been produced by the Daxin Ivory Factory of Guangzhou. Weng Rongbiao, a veteran master craftsman there, cut in 1977, out of an ivory block 15cm across, a set of 42 latticed balls¡ªone inside another, each ball movable inside its larger sphere and bearing pierced work of landscapes. And the innermost ball is as thin as paper! Weng Rongbiao is from a family of four generations of ivory-ball carvers. As early as 1915, his father won international recognition at the International Fair in Panama with a set of ¡°25 latticed balls within balls¡± carve out of ivory.

Microscopic Carving

The art of micro-carving refers generally to the engraving of infinitesimal characters on ivory or human hair. The artist engaged in this unique craft, when he applies the graver, cannot see the work he is doing but has to rely on feel. The art is therefore sometimes described as ¡°carving by one's will¡±.

There are in many cities of China such as microsculptors, who can engrave on small grain of ivory poems, paintings and miniature seal marks in no less than 10 different colors.

Zhang Yunhu, a micro-calligrapher of Shanghai , on a piece of ivory 3 cm square, reproduced the whole anthology of The Three Hundred Tang Poems, totaling more than 10,000characters. To the naked eye, the words are just rows upon rows of black needlepoint etchings

In 1982, he came out with another marvel¡ªthe complete text in 14,000 characters of the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party on a chip of ivory 2.8 cm square. This he did only in two weeks. Viewed under a microscope with a magnification of 100, the characters can be seen to be composed of elegant, clear and fine strokes.

Micro-carving on human hair is a new art developed only in recent years, being pioneered by Shen Weizhong, a member of the Suzhou Arts and Crafts Research Institute. On a hair several mm long and without the help of any magnifying apparatus, the artist can engrave poems or other texts by relying upon the feel of his fingers. To achieve this, he needs an absolutely quiet environment, in which, holding his breath and controlling his pulse by meditative power, he plies his art with a cutting wire thinner than the hair. To read the surprisingly neat characters on the finished work it is necessary to magnify them several dozen times with a microscope.

Hair carving has been developed on the basis of fine-character carving, which has always been a Chinese tradition. Its rudiments may be traced back to more than 2,000 years ago. On the fragments of oracle bones of the Western Zhou period, unearthed in Guyuan , Shanxi Province, have been found small carved characters the size of rice grains with hair-thin strokes. Archaeologists have also found on the much earlier Yin oracle shells miniature engravings the size of millet, legible only under 5-fold magnification.

Artists of today with their assiduous study and experiment have given the age-old art a new luster.

Clay Figurines

Clay figurines represent another type of folk art in China . They are much liked for their vivid and amusing expressions and, for this reason, make good indoor decorations and welcome presents between friends.

The principal material for making these figurines is porcelain clay. Though this is found in most localities of China , the best is supposed to be that at Huishan Mountain , Wuxi . Normally, when people talk about clay figurines in China , they tend to think of those made at Huishan. Indeed, the earth from the paddy fields of surrounding area is very fine and sticky, containing little sand. Moulded into figurines, it needs no firing but, after being dried in the shade for 3 or 4 days, is ready to be painted on. The finished products are very durable and will not crack in many years to come. A piece of work takes about half a day to complete, depending on the size and complexity.

The moulding of clay figures in China seems to have come from a long tradition. It is said that Sun Bin, famed strategist of the state of Qi who lived in the 4 th to 3 rd century BC during the Warring States Period, in order to break an enemy formation, used clay figures for mock exercises. Because of this legend, Sun Bin has been regarded as the founder of the craft. Legend aside, the art can be traced in written history at least 400 years back to the Ming Dynasty. It was an age when Buddhism flourished in China , and an increasing number of pilgrims came to visit the temples on Huishan Mountain . In the vicinities of the hill began to appear handicraftsmen who hand moulded clay into images of the Goddess of Mercy, the God of Longevity and other deities to be sold to the visitors. Later on, the subjects became expanded to include toys, dramatic and everyday characters, plump babies and clownish figures. The clay figurines were sold as they were moulded, and many shops thrived on them.

Sharing the fame with Huishan in this field is a family in the northern port city of Tianjin . Niren Zhang (the Zhang family of clay figurine moulders) has been in the trade for four generations. They specialize in figures of popular tales and classical novels and are renowned for the drame and life they give their creations. They have also portrayed in clay men in various trades at different times, reflecting social life as genre paintings do. The family, regarded as a pride of the city of Tianjin , is also known abroad.

Dough figurines

Sculpture with dough is a folk art known to few countries, if any outside China .

It is interesting to see how a few color pieces of dough are turned in a matter of minutes into expressive and lively figurines by the trained hands of a folk artist, relying on no model. The figurines are generally about 8 centimeter (3 inches) tall, but recent innovations include figures as tall as 30 centimeters or tiny enough to be displayed in half a walnut shell.

The folk sculptor plies his trade with very simple tools: a spatula, scissors, a comb and a pointed stick, all of diminutive sizes.

The material used by him is prepared of two-thirds purified wheat flour and one ¨Cthird glutinous rice flour. Mixed with water, the dough is kneaded well while bee-honey and glycerine are added. Cooked in a steamer under cover for half an hour, it will be ready for moulding. Other additives in the dough are a little antiseptic and repellent to make the finished figurines durable. The various colors in the dough are from mineral pigments that do not change with time.

Although the art has a history of some 2,000 years, few people specialize in today. Nevertheless, the works produced by the limited number of dough sculptors in the arts and crafts facories of Jinan, Shanghai and Beijing have aroused considerable interest in the collectors of China and abroad.

Ice Carving

Ice carving, a seasonal art in the far north of China , is also called ¡°ice lanterns¡± and has its origin in local life. To prevent lights form being blown out by the winter wind, people started long, long ago to use hollowed ice blocks as lantern bulbs, giving the art its primitive form.

The citizens of Harbin , capital of the northernmost Heilongjiang Province , put on the first ¡°ice lantern show¡± in the winter of 1963. By means of moulds the made various ice lanterns, in which they lighted candles. It proved a success and established a custom: since then an ¡°ice festival¡± has been held every year lasting from New Year's Day to the traditional Lantern Festival (about mid-February), with the scale growing ever larger and the skills more and more perfected. Apart from the usual lanterns, pavilions, terraces, bridges and towers are built in ice to decorate the landscapes formed by sparking mountains, crystal trees, glistening birds and animals, fish swimming in transparent pools¡­Ice sculpture is also found to be an artistic form suitable for reproducing scenes of well-known dramas and stories of science fiction often seen at the festival. Some works are of colossal dimensions: a pagoda may be built of up to 200 huge ice blocks, and it makes an impressive sight when lighted at night by hundreds of built-in colored lamps. The ice show, with its translucent works and sparkling lights, reminds visitors of the fabled emerald and crystal palace of the legendary Dragon King.

The main material for ice sculpture is obtained from the rivers. With the mercury constantly kept known at minus 20C ¡ª30.C in winter, the waters in the north provide an inexhaustible supply of ice. It is first sawn by workmen into blocks, and then the sculptors will put them to different uses according to thickness, strength and transparency. A large work is usually assembled of many component pieces.

Butter Sculpture

There is a special custom, among the Tibetans in Qinghai and Tibet , of making butter sculptures in winter. It is an art of moulding butter into various forms¡ªhuman figures, flowers, fancy buildings, birds and beasts¡ªto present certain scenes or depict popular episodes in Buddha's life.

The butter is made from yak or goat milk, suitable for moulding because it is snow-white, fine, soft and pliable, and mixes well with pigments.

Butter sculpture has a long history behind it. When Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty was married in AD 641 to Songzan Gambo, leader of the Tibetan People, she took with her a gold statue of Sakymnuni, which was later enshrined in Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa . Several hundred years later, Tsong Kha-pa (1357-1419), founder of the Yellow Sect of Lamaism, offered to the statue a bouquet of flowers made of butter. This gave rise to a practice which spread to and flourished in Ta'er (Gumbum) Monastery in Tsong Kha-pa's homeland in Qinghai Province . Perfected over the years by the lamas of the monastery, the skills of fashioning various figures in butter became an established art which, along with clay sculpture, mural painting and tanka embroidery, has contributed to the fame of the monastery.

A festival starting from the 15 th day of the lunar New Year is held annually at the monastery, displaying, besides paintings and embroideries, large numbers of colored butter sculptures, attracting huge crowds of Tibetan and Han visitors.

As butter melts in heat, the craft is practiced only in winter.

Lacquer Ware

Lacquer is natural substance obtained from the lacquer tree which has its home in China , a country still leading the world in lacquer resources. Much of the country is suitable for growing the tree, but most of the output comes from five provinces¡ª Shaanxi , Huibei , Sichuan , Guizhou and Yunnan .

Raw lacquer is the sap of the lacquer tree, which hardens in contact with air. A tree becomes productive 3-5 years after planting, and entails hard work on the part of the tapper. He can only get the latex in June and July each year and must tap it in the predawn hours before the cock's crow and sunrise. For the sun would reduce the moisture in the air, stopping the flow of the latex.

Lacquerware has a long history which extends back to the remote ages in China . From the Neolithic remains at Tuanjie Village and Meiyan Township (both in Wujiang Country, Jiangsu Province) were unearthed in 1955 a number of lacquer-painted black pottery objects, two of which, a cup and a pot, were discovered intact and found to bear patterns painted in lacquer after the objects had been fired. They are the earliest lacquered articles ever discovered in China and are now kept in the Museum of Nanjing .

Before the invention of the Chinese ink, lacquer had been used for writing. Twenty-eight bamboo clips found in a Warring State (475-221 BC) tomb at Changtaiguan, Xinyang , Henan Province, bear a list of the burial objects with the characters written in lacquer.

Lacquerware is moisture-proof, resistant to heat, acid and alkali, and its color and luster are highly durable, adding beauty to its practical use. Beijing , Fuzhou and Yangzhou are the cities leading in the production of Chinese lacquer ware.

The making of Beijing lacquerware starts with a brass or wooden body. After preparation and polishing, it is coated with several dozen up to hundreds of layers of lacquer, reaching a total thickness of 5 to 18 millimeters. Then, gravers will cut into the hardened lacquer, creating ¡°carved paintings¡± of landscapes, human figures, flowers and birds. It is then finished by drying and polishing. Traditional Beijing lacquer objects are in the forms of chairs, screens, tea tables, vases, etc. Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, an enthusiast for lacquerware, had his coffin decorated with carved lacquer.

Yangzhou lacquer articles are distinguished not only by carving in relief but by exquisite patterns inlaid with gems, gold, ivory and mother of pearl. The products are normally screens, cabinets, tables, chairs, vases, trays, cups, boxes and ashtrays.

Fuzhou is well-known for the ¡°bodiless lacquerware¡±, one of the ¡°Three Treasures¡± of Chinese arts and crafts (the other two being Beijing cloisonn¨¦ and Jingdezhen porcelain.

The bodiless lacquerware starts with a body of clay, plaster or wood. Grass linen or silk is pasted onto it, layer after layer, with lacquer as the binder. The original body is removed after the outer cloth shell has dried in the shade. This is then smoothed with putty, polished, and coated with layers of lacquer. After being carved with colorful patterns, it becomes the bodiless lacquerware of extremely light weigh and exquisite finish.

Porcelain of Jingdezhen

Jingdezhen , formerly spelt China Teh Chen and known as the ¡°Ceramics Metropolis¡± of China , is a synonym for Chinese porcelain.

Variably called Xinping or Changnanzhen in history, it is situated in the northeastern part of Jiangxi Priovince in a small basin rich in fine kaolin, hemmed in by mountains which keep it supplied with firewood from their conifers. People there began to produce ceramics as early as 1,800 years ago in the Eastern Han Dynasty. In the Jingde Period (1004-1007), Emperor Zhenzong of Song Dynasty decreed that Changnanzhen should produce the porcelain used by imperial court, with each in scribed at the bottom ¡°Made in the Reign of Jingde¡±. From then on people began to call all chinaware bearing such in scriptions ¡°porcelain of Jingdezhen ¡±.

The ceramic industry experienced further development at Jiangdezhen during the Ming and Qing Dynasties or form the 14 th to the 19 th century, when skills became perfected and the general quality more refined: government kilns were set up to cater exclusively to the need of the imperial house.

The leading center of the porcelain industry, Jingdezhen has been put under state protection also as an important historical city. With 133 ancient buildings and cultural sites, it is a tourist town attracting large numbers of visitors from home and abroad.


Cloisonn¨¦, in which China excels, is known as Jingtailan in the country. It first appeared toward the end of the Yuan Dynasty in the mid-14 century, flourished and reached its peak of development during the reign of the Ming emperor Jiangtai (1450-1457). And as the objects were mostly in blue color, cloisonn¨¦ came to be called by its present name Jiangtailan.

A Jingtailan articles has a copper body. The design on it is formed by copper wire stuck on with a vegetable glue. Colored enamel is filled in with different colors kept apart by the wire strips. After being fired four or five times in a kiln, the work piece is polished and gilded into a colorful and lustrous work of art.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), cloisonneware was mainly supplied for use in the imperial palace, in the form of incense-burners, vases, jars, boxes and candlesticks¡ªall I imitation of antique porcelain and bronze.

Present-day production, with Beijing as the leading centre, stresses the adding of ornamental beauty to things that are useful. The artifacts include vases, plates, jars, boxes, tea sets, lamps, lanterns, tables, stools, drinking vessels and small articles for the desk.

A pair of big cloisonn¨¦ horses have been made in recent years, each measuring 2.1 meters high and 2.4 meters long, and weighing about 700 kilograms. They took eight months to finish, involving the labor of hundreds of workers and 60tons of coal for the firing. They represent the largest object ever made in cloisonn¨¦ in the 500 years since the art was born.

Cloisonn¨¦ ware bears on the surface vitreous enamel which, like porcelain, is hard but brittle, so it must not be knocked against anything hard. To remove dust from it. It should be whisked lightly with a soft cloth. Avoid heavy wiping with a wet cloth, for this might eventually wear of the gilding

Potted Landscapes

China is the homeland of the potted or miniature landscape. The art began about 1.200 years ago during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) and has been know under various names. An indoor decoration of refined taste over long ages, it has been praised as ¡°wordless poetry and sculptured painting¡±.

The miniature landscape has become quite popular today and can be classified into two major categories: miniature rockeries and miniature trees.

The rocks used for the potted rockery are those that easily suck up water., such as sandstone, stratified rock and stalactite. A chosen piece is cut and carved into the shape of a mountain of rugged beauty, and placed in a flat pot with water. As the rock is moist, green moss grows on its surface. Some miniature tree my also be planted in a crevice of the rock, which is sometimes decorated with a little pagoda, bridge or pavilion. A tiny sail or two on the water will complete an enchanting landscape with mountain and river.

Miniature trees, the second category, are usually diminutive pines, cypresses, wintersweets, elms and bamboos which, with small leaves and thin branches, are slow in growth but vigorous in vitality. And the most valued miniature tree is made of old tree roots. They belong to trees that grow on mountain rocks in the wild. People fell the trees leaving the roots as they are. New trees sprout and grow up and are felled again. This repeats itself but the roots remain, some as old as hundreds of years, assuming hardy and grotesque forms. Uprooted and transplanted in pots, they are further pruned and trained to have the gnarled branches of rugged grace or elegant vigour.

Potted landscapes have become a common sight in China-in parks, galleries, conference and reception rooms, even at public squares. Competitive exhibitions are held every year, and making it a pastime to introduce bits of nature in pots into their living and working quarters.


Batik or wax printing is a folk art popular among certain ethnic minorities in Guizhou and neighboring provinces.

It involves painstaking work but follows a rather simple process. First, beewax is melted in a bowl; then a special brass knife is used to pick up the liquid wax and made patterns with it as it hardens on the cotton cloth to be printed. The cloth is immersed completely in a jar of indigo bath so that the unwaxed parts take on color. The dyed cloth is boiled to melt off the wax and leave clear patterns in white on a blue ground.

Batik offers ample scope for artistic imagination in the making of patterns. Those commonly seen are floral, geometric and spiral designs, but folk painters may also follow their artistic inclinations and draw flowers, birds, beasts, insects or fish. The patterns in all cases are enchantingly simple with rich local flavour.

In the process of printing, the dye penetrates fine racks naturally formed in the solidified wax, leaving hair-thin blue lines on the undyed white designs and enhancing the charm of the end product. And as the fine lines differ, no two pieces of cloth are identical even though they may bear the same pattern.

In the ethnic areas, batik is used extensively on many cloth articles, from dresses, skirts, kerchiefs, belts to handkerchiefs, pillows, pillow slips and bedcovers, from tablecloths, curtains, tapestries to handbags, satchels and cushions.

With the development of tourism in China , batik articles are growning in popularit as attractive souvenirs of certain Chinese province.


The making of paper-cut is another popular folk art in China . A piece of paper can be turned in the hands of an artisan, with the help of a knife or a pair of scissors, into any of a wide variety of patterns¡ªlandscapes, flowers, birds, animals, and human figures. These simple works of art maybe displayed in wall frames or pressed under grass table-tops to grace the room with their elegant lines and pleasing images.

Paper-cuts fall into two categories: 1) The monochrome scissor-cut: this is cut from a single piece of paper with a pair of scissors. It requires imagination and dexterity on the part of the artist. A master in this field is Wang Zigan, member of the Shanghai Arts and Crafts Research Institute, who has practiced the craft for more than 50 years since the age of 13. It is a delightful experience to watch him at it¡ªturn the scissors this way and that, cutting through a large piece of paper and producing in a matter of minutes, a picture of a crowing cock with a group of grazing lambs. To cut such a picture or any other from a vast repertory, he needs no draft or model, but his work is always done in smooth and flowing lines and with expressive figures. 2) The patterned paper-cut: For this, patterns or models are first made by the master, and then the workers do the cutting accordingly, not on one sheet of paper but through a pile of some two dozen, producing as many paper-cuts at a time. The cutting tools used are knives of various sizes, some as long as 14 cm others as thin as possible.

It is difficult to tell since when he art of paper-cutting began in China . Excavations made in 1949 at the ruins of the ancient city of Gaochang in Turpan, Xinjiang Province, unearthed paper-cuts showing a pair of horses and a pair of monkeys. They date back 1,500 years to the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasty (420-589). They are the earliest speciments of ancient paper-cuts that have been discovered.

In the old days, people of certain regions used to cut red paper and imitation fold foil into chickens, dogs, sheep, pigs, cattle and horses or pictures of ¡°peaches of immortality¡± and ¡°high-ranking person on fine horse¡± and decorate their offerings to the gods with these by way of praying for prosperity and happiness. Today, on festival or festive occasion such as a wedding, paper-cuts are still made and pasted on doors, windows, walls, rice jars and stoves to brighten up the house and add to the jubilance.

There is yet another kind of paper-cuts especially made as patterns for embroidery work. The art of paper-cutting has experienced considerable development since the founding of New China. Research societies have been set up in a number of areas and the number of lovers have been on the increase. The folk art, it seems, has a more splendid future in store.

Basketwork on Porcelain

This is a national art with a tradition of barely 100 years. It is very fine basketwork woven with thread-like bamboo strips round a porcelain vessel as the body. If the latter is compared to a beauty, the basket will be her elegant and close-fitting dress; it not only protects the vessel but also enhances is appeal.

To weave such a basket involves a process of a dozen steps or more. The bamboo must be flawless on the surface and at least 2/3 of a meter long between the joints. Thread-thin strips are drawn from it, averaging about one kilogram from every 100 kilograms of bamboo. Then the handicraftsman weaves the strips, next to the surface of the porcelain, into a basket of close-knit and even-arranged warp and weft without showing any ends or joints. The basket, in some cases, is woven with picture of various figures, bringing the art to an even higher level of ingenuity. Even if the porcelain inside should be broken, the basket itself would still remain a fine piece of art worth keeping.

The shadow show

The shadow show or leather silhouette play is a type of drama which has its roots in China . Legend has it that Emperor Wudi (156-87B,C) of the Western Han was depressed with the death of his favorite concubine Lady Li. To help hi get over the sadness, an occultist sculptured a wooden figure in the likeness of the lady and projected its shadow on a curtain for the emperor to see, bringing him consolation with the brief that the shadow was her spirit. This has been though to be the beginning of the shadow show.

Today's shadow puppets are made of leather instead of wood for the simple reason that leather is much lighter, easier to manipulate and carry round. The process for making the puppets is as follows: Sheep or donkey with hair removed is cleaned and treated chemically to become thin enough to be translucent. Coated with tung oil and dried, it is carved into various parts of dramatic figures. The trunk, head and limbs of a puppet are separately carved but joined together by thread so that each part may be manipulated by operator to simulate human movements. The leather puppets are painted with various color to show their different qualities¡ªkind or wicked, beautiful or unly. During the performance, the ¡°actors¡± are held close to a white curtain with their colored shadows cast on it by a strong light fro behind. Moved by guiding sticks, they play the roles, accompanied by music, with their parts or singing done by the operators. The plays can be quite dramatic and, when it comes to fairy tales or kungfu stories, the ¡°actors¡± may be made to rid eon clouds or perform unusual feats, to the great enjoyment of the audience, especially children.

The shadow show become quite popular as early as the Song Dynasty (960-1279) when holidays were marked by the presentation of many shadow plays. During the Ming (1368-1644), there were 40 to 50 shadow show troupes in the city of Beijing alone.

In the 13 th century the shadow show became a regular recreation in the barracks of the Mongolian troops. It was spread by the conquering Mongols to distant countries like Persia , Arabia and Turkey . Later, it was introduced to Southeastern Asian countries, too.

The show began to spread to Europe in the mid-18 th century, when French missionaries to China took it back to France in 1767 and put on performances in Paris and Marseilles , causing quite a stir. In time, the ombres chinoises, with local modification and embellishment, became the ombres francaises and struck root in the country.

As present, more than 20 countries are known to have shadow show troupes. Some people may have gone too far in alleging that the Chinese shadow show heralded the cinematic industry, but it certainly has contributed its bit towards enriching the world's amusement business. Today, when the motion picture and television have become wide spread through out the world, foreign tourists in China are still keen to see a performance of this ancient dramatic art.

Shadow puppets are also available from certain shops as art souvenirs of the country.

The puppet Show

The puppet show is better known as mu'ouxi (play of wooden dolls), in the country, which has its roots in remote times. It is said that King Mu of the Zhou (10 th century B,C.) of oral history, on his way home from a big hunt on the Kunlun Mountain , saw a choral dance performed by Yanshi, a skilled carpenter, with wooden dolls made by himself. However, it was not until the Han Dynasty that the puppet show was mentioned as a full fledged form of amusement. Still, that puts it at least 2,000 years back in Chinese history.

As in most other countries, three types of puppet shows are presented in China : the rod-top puppet, the marionette and the glove puppet of these, the first type is most popular in China . The puppet generally less than a meter tall, is made with true-to-life features. It is raised overhead at the top of a stick by the puppeteer with one hand and manipulated by him with the other hand and moving a pair of wire rods. This type of puppets generally do not show their feet.

One of the basic skills required of the operator is to be able to hold high the puppet, which weighs 2 to 3 kilograms, with one arm and to keep it either motionless or moving steadily on the same level as dictated by the scenario. Only on this basis may the puppet be convincing in its other dramatic actions.

The marionette appears on stage in full view of the audience. It is of a more complicated structure, with the head, shoulders, waist, hands and feet all jointed movable and controlled by separate wires. During performance, it is operated from a concealed operating bridge high above the puppet.

The glove or hand puppet, rather like those in Punch and Judy show, is also called ¡°bag puppet¡± (budai mu'ou) in China . About 20cm long, it is the smallest of the three types. Its dress is in the form of a small bag, from inside which the puppeteer's hand manipulates its postures and movements.

The Kite

The kite, a Chinese invention, has been praised as the forerunner of the modern aeroplane. In the pavilion of aircraft of the National Aeronautics and Space Museum, Washington D.C. , a plaque says, ¡°the earliest aircraft are the kites and missiles of China ¡±.

The kite is mainly, but not only, a plaything. It has contributed to science and production. The first planes were shaped after the kite. In 1782, Benjamin Franklin, noted American scientist and statesman, studied lightning and thunder in the sky with the help of a kite and then invented the lightning rod. Kites are still used by some fisherman to lay bait in the sea to attract fish, or by photographers to take pictures of bird's-eye view from high altitude.

The earliest Chinese kites were made of wood and called muyuan (wooden kites); they date as far back as the Warring state Period (475-221 B.C.) at least two millennia ago. After the invention of paper kites began to be made of this new material called zhiyuan (paper kites)

Instead of being playthings, early kites were used for military purposes. Historical records say they were large in size; some were powerful enough to carry men up in the air to observe enemy movements, and others were used to scatter poropaganda leaflets over hostile forces. According to the Records of Strange Events (Du Yi Zhi), an ancient work, when Xiao Yan, Emperor Wudi (464-549) of the Liang Dynasty, was surrounded at Taicheng, Nanjing by the rebel troops of a kite that he sent out an S.O.S. message for outside help.

During the Tang dynasty (618-907), people began to fix on kites some bamboo strip which, when high in the air, would vibrate and ring in the breeze like a zheng (a stringed instrument). Since then, the popular Chinese name for the kite has become fengzheng (wind zheng). The kites made today in certain localities are fixed with silk strings or rubber bands to give out pleasant ringing in the wind.

It was also believed, for instance, during the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911), that flying a kite and then letting it go, apart from the pleasure in itself, might send off one's bad luck and illness. Consequently it would bring bad luck if one should pick up a kite lost by other people. This may be dismissed as superstition but may not be altogether without reason: think of the good it will do to a person, ill and depressed all the time, if he or she could go out into the fields and fresh air to fly a kite.

Certain enthusiasts enjoy flying kites during the night. They hang small colored lanterns on the line with candles burning inside, which go up high in the air to decorate the night sky with strings of glimmering lights, adding much to the fun.

Chinese kites fall into two major categories: those with detachable wings and those with fixed wings. The former can be taken apart and packed in boxes. Easy to carry about, they make good presents. The second category refers to those with fixed, non-detachable frames; then fly to better and higher, given a steady wind. Classified by designs and other specifications, there are no less than 300 varieties, including human figures, fish, insects, birds, animals and written characters. In size, they range from 304 meters to only 30 centimeters across.

It is no easy job to make a kite that one can be proud of. For the frame, the right kind of bamboo must be selected. It should be thick and strong for a kite of large dimensions in order to stand the wind pressure. For miniature kites, on the other hand, thin bamboo strips are to be used.

The second step in the making of a kite is the covering of the frame. This is normally done with paper sometimes with silk. Silk kites are more durable and generally of higher artistic value.

Painting of the kite may be done in either of two ways. For mass-produced kites, pre-printed paper is used to cover the frames. Custom-made kites are painted manually after covering. Many of the designs bear messages of good luck; a pine tree and a crane, for example, mean longevity, bats and peaches wish you good fortune and a long life, and so on.

In 1983 a large-scale kite-flying competition was held in Tianjin . A ¡°dragon-headed centipede¡± of a hundred sections, with a total length of a hundred meters, flown up by a squad of 5 or 6 young men of the Tianjin Fine Arts Factory, thrashed and danced about in the air. A Japanese enthusiast sent up a 300-meter-long kite of a string of 270 sections. These and other successes attracted large crowds and won thunderous applause.

The well-known Weifang ( Shandong Province ) Kite Festival has become an annual feature in the country, drawing hundreds of participants each April from home and many foreign countries.

As early as two dozen years ago, a film entitled The Kite was jointly made by Chinese and French studios, which sings of Sino-French friendship through the ¡°adventures¡± of a kite.


The sound of firecracker is distinctive feature on Chinese festival and joyous personal occasions.

Firecrackers are called by various names at different times and in different part of the country. At the very beginning, crackers were used to scare away wild beasts, especially a legendary unicorn called nian, which appeared regularly at the end of winter or beginning of spring, wreaking great havoc among the people. That was long before the invention of gunpowder, and people burnt dry bamboo sticks to produce the explosive sound. So the first firecrackers were called baozhu (cracking bamboo), which is still the name in some books.

Incidentally, nian, the name of the animal which appeared at yearly intervals, came to mean ¡°year¡±. And the custom of letting off firecrackers at the New Year has become deep-rooted in all parts of the country. The beginning of the custom can be traced in written history to at least 2,000 years ago.

When gunpowder was invented in China , it was used to fill in bamboo tubes and, when lighted, produced loud explosions. Firecrackers came to be called baozhang (exploding sticks), a name still used in certain regions. According to the Song Dynasty work Origins of Things, the first scientist who used gunpowder in crackers was Ma Jun of the period of the Three Kingdom (220-265), which puts their beginning at 1,700 years ago.

Baozhang led to the earliest crackers of gunpowder rolled in paper, which could give out single explosion only. The double-bang ertijiao and stringed firecrackers bianpao came as later innovations. The ¡°double-bang¡± is a tight paper roll composed of two powder-filled chambers; the first explosion bursts the bottom chamber and sends the cracker up into the air and then the second explodes, making a loud and far-reaching report. Modern times have witnessed further improvements of the traditional firecrackers. Color luminescent chemicals are added in to gunpowder, and the firework shells fired up by cannons explode high in the air, covering the night sky with magnificent displays of colorful splendour.

Enthusiasts for firecrackers have always been youths and children. Given the excuse and occasion¡ªNew Year, a wedding, a victory scored by the national team at an important world sports event, the opening of an international festival, etc. They will resort to firecrackers to express their jubilation. And the custom seems to have been spreading fast to other nations.


Celadon, a famous type of ancient Chinese stoneware, came into being during the period of the Five Dynasties (907-960). It is characterized by simple but refined shapes, jade-like glaze, solid substance and a distinctive style. As the celadonware produced in Longquan country, Zhejiang Province , is most valued, so it is also generally called Longquan qingci.

Its Chinese name, qingci, means ¡°greenish porcelain¡±. Why then is it known in the West as ¡°celadon¡±?

Celadon was the hero of the French writer Honored's Urfe's romance L'Astree (1610), the lover of the heroine Astree. He was presented as a young man in green and his dress became all the rage in Europe . And it was just about this time that the Chinese qingci made its debut in Paris and won acclaim. People compared its color to Celadon's suit and started to call the porcelain ¡°celadon¡±, a name which has stuck and spread to other countries.

Now, new products of Longquan qingci have been developed to radiate with fresh luster; they include eggshell China and underglaze painting.

Red Ware.

Yixing , Jiangsu Province, known in China as the Pottery Metropolis¡±, produces a much-valued red ware or boccaro ware. Teapots of this category made there were appraised as the best vessel there was, already in the Song Dynasty a thousand years ago.

Yixinag earthenware is generally marked by simplicity and exquisite craftsmanship; it is also appreciated for its practical utility. The material, called zisha (purple sand) is abundantly available in the locality. Although not as white or as fine as kaolin, it needs no glazing and, after firing, the product is solid and impermeable, yet porous enough to ¡°breathe¡±. A Yixing teapot enhances the tea brewed in it in respect of color, perfume, and taste. Its walls seem to absorb the tea and keeps its fragrance. It summer it keeps the tea overnight without spoiling. With hot tea inside, it does not scald the hand, purple sand being a slow heat-conductor. But in winter it may serve as a handwarmer and may be left on a low fire to make certain types of tea which need simmering. To the Chinese connoisseur, it is the ¡°ideal teapot¡±.

The purple sand of Yixing may also be made into other utensils. The earthenware steam cooker is a casserole which cooks with steam and appears on the dining table as a serving dish as well. Drinking vessels and coffee sets of red ware are also welcome to users because they are good in preserving the flavor of the beverages. A boon to flower lovers, the red ware flower pot absorbs excessive water, helps the soil ¡°breathe¡±, keeps the roots from rotting, and generally ensures the plant a healthy growth.

What makes the Yixing earthenware all the more attractive is the tasy designs it bears. Artisans cut or incise on the unburnt bodies pictures of birds and fish, flowers and animals, Chinese characters and seal marks all in the traditional style, thus turning utensils of practical use into works of art with national features.

Technical innovations attained in recent years have made it possible for the ¡°Pottery Metropolis¡± to turn out many refractory kitchen utensils such as steamers, rice cookers, and pots, pans and dishes used for roasting. They can stand drastic change of heat and may be used on any kind of fire to cook food by boiling, steaming, roasting or frying. Thus new uses have been developed for the traditional earthenware.

Tri-Colored Tang

Tangsancai refers to the tri-colored glazed pottery of the Tang Dynasty (618 -907 A .D.), a painted earthenware which appreciated I the wake of celadon. It is called ¡°tri-colored ¡° because yellow, green and white were normally used, although some pieces are also in two or four colors. Developed on the basis of the green and brown glazed-pottery of the Han Dynasty, it represented a peak in the development of Chinese ceramics and was already well-known in the world in its time.

Unearthed tri-colored Tangs are usually horses, camels, female figures of musicians and acrobats, and pillows. Of these , the three-colored camels have won the greatest admiration. They are presented as bearing loads of silk or carrying musicians on their backs, their heads raised as if neighing; the red-bearded, blue-eye drivers, clad in tunics of tight sleeves and hats with up-turned brims, reproduce true-to-life images of men from Central Asia of that time as they trudged along the silk Road to the tinkle of camel bells.

The tri-colored glazed pottery of the Tang Dynasty was developed some 1,300 years ago by drawing on the skills of Chinese painting and sculpture and employing on the bodies the techniques of claystrip forming and incising. The lines thus produced were rugged and powerful. Then glazes of different colors were painted on and, which chemical reactions took place in the process of firing in the kiln, they dripped naturally so that the colors mingled with each other and formed smooth tones.

The tri-colored Tang flourished during a rather short period of time (the 8 th century) of the dynasty, when pottery pieces of this category were used by the aristocrats as funerary objects. So the finds today are limited in number and are considered to be rare treasures, valued for their brilliant color and life-like shape.

Imitations now produced in Luoyang , Xi'an and other cities of China are well received as tourist souvenirs because of their close resemblance to the authentic works.

Eggshell China

A gem of Chinese ceramics, eggshell china is remarkable first of all for its extraordinary thinness. Yet it is appreciated also because it is spotlessly white, translucent, and sonorous when tapped. It is made mainly into bowls, vases, cups, lampshades and articles for use in the study. Whatever form it assumes, one may appreciate through its paper-thin wall the colored painting on the other side, like watching the moon through flimsy clouds, or green hills through a thin mist with the beauty enhanced by a veiled effect.

The ¡°eggshell¡± has as its forerunner yingqingci (shadowy celadon), which was produced as early as in the North Song Dynasty (906-1127). Present-day production excels the past in both quantity and quality. Recent successes at Jingdezhen include a 75-cm ¨Ctall vase and a large bowl 25.7cm across, sizes though impossible to mould in eggshell china in the past

To make such ¡°insubstantial¡± utensils, an exacting craftsmanship is called for. It requires the best and carefully selected kaolin, mixing of ingredients according to strict prescriptions and repeated tempering of the clay, before the potter moulds the paste into bodies. Then a master craftsman will wield various cutting tools to shape them finely into eggshell thinness and have them fired in the kiln at high temperature of over 1,300C .

Of these processes, the most difficult part is fine-moulding, which finalizes the form of the utensil. A veteran master, relying solely on his sense of hearing and touch, decides on the thickness of the wall , holding his breath when he applies his knife, as a slight slip would result in a ruined body.

Eggshell porcelain is not for use but for interior decoration and it is deluxe ornament, too..

Silk Flowers

These are artificial flowers made of fine woven silk in exact imitation of natural ones in respect of color and shape. They are made in several steps: starching and dyeing of the material, shaping and pasting. The art of making silk flowers is believed to have originated in the imperial palace; such flowers are therefore also known as songhua, or palace flowers.

In a famous painting of Palace Ladies by Gu Kaizhi of the Jin Dynasty, the ladies are shown to be wearing flowery ornaments artificially made, showing that silk flowers have had a history of at least 1,500 years.

Silk flowers may be worn as personal ornaments or given away as presents of good taste and personal touch. Needless to say, they are welcome substitutes in seasons when fresh flowers are hard to come by.

Brick Sculpture

Bricks carved with patterns in relief were used for decorative purposes on the exterior of old houses-mansions of officials and the rich, shrines and temples, landscape buildings in parts. They are also found on the entrance gates, windows and screen walls in houses which once belonged to big business and the landed gentry, ¡°to bring honour to the owner and their ancestors¡±.

Carvings on bricks may cover a wide range of subjects. Usually seen are human figures drawn from popular legends, dramas and folklore, most of them lifelike and spirited. Animals and plants are also favorite subjects, mostly those portending power and good luck or representing certain lofty qualities, for example, dragon, phoenix, plum, bamboo, chrysanthemum and so on. Other carvings represent attempts to reproduce traditional paintings on bricks. Apart from the sculpted pictures, they are often complete with inscriptions and seal marks.

This particular art of sculpture was done on a kind of carefully polished blue brick. It was called fanzhuan (square brick) in the Ming Dynasty and jinzhuan (¡°gold¡± brick, see a preceding article of this title under ARCHITECTURE) in the Qing Dynasty. This brick was fine in texture and most suitable for carving, but as it was also brittle, the work might be easily ruined by a slip of the carving tool.

The large numbers of brick-carvings which we can still see today are impressive with their vivid figures, their composition in depths and on varying levels, giving a feeling of three dimensions and appealing with an impact not found in frescoes.

New Year Picture

The expression explain itself. The Chinese people have the custom of sticking up pictures to celebrate the traditional New Year¡ªnow called the Spring Festival. This was recorded in historical works of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The custom is particularly popular in the vast countryside, where just before the festival day every household will be busy spring cleaning and pasting colorful pictures or paper cuttings on their doors, windows, walls, even wardrobes and stoves.

Traditional New Year pictures, usually made by the blockprinting method, are characterized b simple, clear lines, brilliant colors and scenes of prosperity. The method consists of several steps: drawing and tracing, block engraving, painting, coloring and, in some cases, mounting. The finished pictures, therefore, have the features of both woodcut prints and Chinese paintings, making a special branch in traditional folk art.

The themes expressed in New Year pictures cover a wide range, for plump babies to the Old God of Longevity, from landscapes to birds, and flowers, from the ploughing cattle in spring to rich harvests in autumn. Human figures often show artistic exaggeration, but the message in all pictures is always gook luck, festivity or other nice things in the wish of the people. Usual objects in the pictures include the crane or the peach or peony which symbolizes a long life, the plum or peony which is a mark of good fortune and happiness. The colors most favored are red, green, purple, yellow and black¡ªwhich are not only bright but contrast well with one another ¨Cin tended to give fresh, vivid, pleasant and inspiring impressions.

To meet the specific needs of the vast rural population, New Year pictures are produced in al regions in China with different local characteristics. But the leading producers are at three localities: Yangliuqing Village near Tianjin , Taohuawu near Suzhou and Weifang in Shangdong.

Interior Painting in Snuff Bottles

Snuff bottles are not native to China but were reportedly introduced from the West by Fr. Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit father who worked in Beijing in the early 17 th century. Yet the art of interior painting in snuff bottles was born and developed in China and unique to the country.

A popular story tells how the art originated. In the Qing Dynasty, an official addicted to snuff stopped on his way at a small temple for a rest. When he took out his crystal snuff bottle to take a sniff, he found it was already empty. He then scraped off a little of the powder that had stuck on the interior wall of the bottle by means of a slender bamboo stick, thus leaving lines on the inside, visible through the transparent wall. A young monk saw him at this and hit upon the idea of making picture inside the bottle. Thus a new art was born.

The ¡°painting brush¡± of the snuff bottle artist today is not very different from what the official in the story used at the beginning. It is a slender bamboo stick, not much thicker but much longer than a match, with the tip shaped like a fine-pointed hook. Dipped in colored ink and thrust inside the bottle, the hooked tip is employed to paint on the interior surfaces of the walls, following the will of the painter.

The art became perfected and flourished towards the end of the Qing Dynasty at the turn of the century. Curio dealers began to offer good prices to collect them for a profit.

Snuff bottles are small I size, no more than 6 -7 cm high and 4 -5 cm wide, yet the accomplished artist can produce, on the limited space of the internal surfaces, any subject on the whole gamut of traditional Chinese painting¡ªhuman portraits, landscapes, flowers, and birds¡ªand calligraphy. Liu Shouben, a celebrated contemporary master in this field, succeeded in painting all the 108 heroes and heroines of the classical novel Water Margin, each with his or her characteristic expression, all inside one single bottle!

Tangkha paintings

Tangkha, a transliteration of a Tibetan word, refer to a kind o f painting scroll mounted on dyed brocade. The tangkha painting is one of two splendid gems of Tibetan art along with Tibetan-style murals. A tangkha is usually one meter long, but the largest could extend for several dozen meters. For their distinct ethnic flavor, heady religious aura, and unique art style, tangkha has been cherished among the Tibetan as treasures. These paintings cover a wide range of themes, which fall into following categories: Mahasanghika school of tangkha painting. This school of tangkha painting is devoted to Sakyamuni, Maitreya and the Eighteen Arhats who are the main characters of the Mahasanghika sect of Buddhism. Paintings devoted to this sect are found in various temples in Tibet .

Esoteric School of tangkha painting. The figures portrayed by this school of tangkha painting are mostly in grotesque and ferocious images. Quite a few of the paintings feature two figures that have their bodies intertwined.

Indian Adaptations of tangkha painting. In this school of tangkha painting Buddhist sages are portrayed with their torso naked and their body twisted, with slender waists and fat hips. The facial expressions of the subjects are as a rule calm an d gentle.

Goddess school of tangkha painting. In start contrast with the Han tradition of Buddhism which is virtually devoid of female deities, Tibetan Buddhism abounds in them. This give rise to a school of tangkha painting devoted exclusively to goddesses.

Apart from these four categories, there are also tangkha paintings that are devoted to folklore, local habits and customs, Tibetan medicine and historical tales.

The tangkha paintings can be hung up on walls, and thus they are easy to be collected and stored. Such paintings can be done on a variety of media, such as cloth, embroidery, tapestry woven in fine silk and gold thread, and mosaic fashioned out of pearls. Padded embroidery, however, is the most artistic of all, as this school of tangkha painting is made by patching up hundreds or even thousands of pieces of brocade, which is a combination of Han and Tibetan art. Pearl mosaic tangkhas are rarity anywhere in this world.


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