Mar 13, 2020 in Analysis

Art History Transition Of Chinese Society


China is one of the oldest existing civilizations in the world. It has existed for many years experiencing regular interactions, which depended on various factors. They included environmental factors and various land forming processes. Other forms of interruptions for this civilization were human factors human factors such as culture, religion governance among others. Significant positive transformation in China is greatly highlighted by a historical period between 5000 and 201 BC as seen by various archaeological and paleontological evidences excavated. That period is characterized by fast development where tools were greatly improved through the use of superior materials, such as bronze as compared to stones and bones that had been utilized earlier. Agriculture, as well as domestication of crops, is seen along various rivers especially the Yellow River. At the same time, material technology as well as art and architecture were developed. For example, the abandoned caves, which played a role of man-made dwellings made using rammed earth. Over the same period, various containers are made which were followed by pottery and some items of furniture. Moreover, people organized themselves into communities, which led to the development of several city states. Afterwards, empires could be developed. In addition, at that period of time the evidence of religion origin was seen. Culturally, ornaments and other items of adornment were seen.Current paper seeks to offer a general survey on the Chinese civilization beginning from the appearance of the Homo sapiens from the hominids to around 200 BC. The paper will show how the Chinese people became more complex in terms of development of new technology and material science leading to development of better tools, calligraphy, agriculture, culture, as well as the organization of various communities into city states which would later give rise to empires. Such aspects as art, architecture and music will be discussed. The discussions will be based on various excavations that have been done in China revealing the history of the Chinese civilization. 

Modern Man, (Homo sapiens sapiens) in China

There are no specific dates as to when the Neolithic period in China began. Through the use of radioactive carbon, archeologists found that it could have begun between 10000 BC and 2000 BC. That period is characterized by remarkable improvements in tools that were used. Stone continuously lost dominance as the material of choice being replaced by bones and wood. Additionally, the composition and formation of such tools indicated that more than one material could be used in one tool. The most important characteristic of the period is that the ‘upright man’ (Homo erectus) disappeared and a ‘thinking man’ (Homo sapiens sapiens) appeared. At Zhoukoudian historical site, the remains of upper cave hominids which represented a species of Homo sapiens sapiens were found. It was the final process of the whole evolution process of modern man. The earliest of such remains date back to around 27000BC. The culture represented here is a great improvement of Paleolithic age, as well as a foundation of Neolithic one. Archaeological findings show that Shadingdong (the upper cave hominids) had a very refined culture and had begun using red ochre, as well as ornaments as seen in several of their grave sites. Liaoning caves in the south show a similar refinement in terms of development of very refined tools made of bones. The appearance of Homo sapiens sapiens in around 27000BC caused a firm foundation for further technological and cultural development that began in the Neolithic period (10000BC-2000BC). The artifacts recovered from excavation show that in approximately 5000 BC Hemudu people of central China designed and used clay cauldrons which were used for cooking rice, hence the evidences of agriculture development. The people of that time also used other tools which included stone sickle and extensively domesticated rice. They were hunters, gatherers and fishermen. Some visual arts are seen in what is believed to have been the items of their religion. The remains of an ivory artifact that was engraved with two birds watching the sunrise suggests it. Other imagery is seen in an artifact of bone dagger, which was engraved with a long-tailed bird. The clay cauldron discussed earlier was seen to have remains of smoke and signs of being heated on the upper surface. Rice sap is found on the inner surface, which indicates that fire and art of cooking was invented. In the same location, remains of what is believed to be a sculpture of clay pig were found. Additionally, archeologists found several types of whistles made of bones. They are believed to be used to lure deers and other animals during hunting.

Holocene Epoch and climatic readjustment led to melting of glaciers and conversion of plains to marshland. The increase in temperature and raise in the amount of annual rainfalls gave rise to fast development of agriculture, technology, art, as well as development of political systems. The period between 5000-3000BC is what some historians choose to refer to as the Yangshao period. It is done despite the views of others who think that Yangshao was a culture of specific communities living in central China over that period of time. However, the central Chinese plains have been regarded as the cradle of Chinese civilization. The specific area where Yangshao civilization lived is the flood plain formed by the convergence of three rivers which are Wei, Fen and the Yellow River. The area is found in the present day Henan province’s Yangshao, Village of Mianchi County. Archaeological findings of 1970s show that the region is not the only civilization center of the time but is a pointer to other numerous civilizations and cultures that existed in the central China between 5000-3000BC.

The climatic conditions in 5000 BC favored growth of many plants which could support a very large energy pyramid. It means that many animals could thrive, which led to the development of Banpo civilization and culture. Excavation of the upper part of the Yellow River, especially on the western sides of Tiahang and Zhenghou mountains reveals a wide array of artifacts that are associated with the Banpo culture. Archaeologists suggest that the civilization was also present at the end of fifth and the beginning of the fourth millennium BC. Its culture developed the area of clay usage to levels that were never seen before. One of the artifacts found and associated with the Banpo culture is a pottery vessel that was shaped as an amphora. It had circled ears on the sides and measured 43 cm high. It also features some patterns of dots, lines and geometrical shapes on the outer wall, though the art of painting was developed later. In addition, people of that time developed such vessels as bowls, pots among others. With the development of painting, various artistic expressions were made on the vessels. Later, the culture was replaced by the subsequent Xiyin culture which further developed making of clay vessels. Additionally, artistic expressions on the vessels became more complex with time. The Xiyin culture expanded to larger areas due to population growth, as well as adoption by neighboring communities. The expansion of the culture is seen in a form of various artifacts found extensively in Shaanxi province and some areas of Henan province. Archaeological evidence shows that Xiyin decorations mainly included dots and curvilinear arcs. Later, squares and triangular spiral shapes were used. In such way, the culture has pioneered the use of geometrical patterns that were black in color. Round bellied bowls, basins and large narrow mouthed vessels, some of which had flared mouths, are all attributed to the Xiyin culture. 

In the end of the 4th millennium, Xiyin culture transformed into Majiayao culture and later into Bashan culture. During that time, numerous painted vessels were produced. The above culture developed into Gansu and Qinghai cultures. At that time, vessels started serving several purposes. Despite them being used for storage or even carrying materials, the paintings on their surfaces were sometimes used to communicate about the culture. Consequently, the Majiayao culture gave rise to others which included Bashan culture further spreading civilization to the south, to Ningxia province. Excavations in Qinghai provinces led to the discovery of a pottery that had been engraved with figures of Majiayao dancer. Suchparticular pottery was made as a tool and also a piece of work to display local culture. Some of the aspects displayed in such vessels are the skirts and sashes that dancers are thought to have adorned themselves with. The vessel retrieved in the present day Qinghai province is around 12.5 cm high and was found in a prehistoric village of Zongri located in Tongde county of Qinghai province. Still in 4th -3rd century BC, another trend suggested further development of the Chinese culture. Ancient villages explored in Ledu, Liuwan of Qinghai Province and Caiyuan of Ningxia province show the development of some form of a religion or a cultural trend that required people to bury the deceased with some artifacts. Burial sites contain some clay vessels, bone tools and even rice grains in some instances. Such developments as described above took place in parallel to others close to the flood plains of Yangtze and the Yellow River.

Neolithic period was marked by increasing significance of agriculture for subsistence. Many civilizations continuously adopted agriculture and refined it. The significance of hunting, gathering and fishing continuously reduced among many communities in different regions. The Yangtze River became an important site for millet domestication and subsequent farming. At the same time, the Yellow River was utilized for rice growing, while the Wei River was used for both crops. Excavation of ancient Banpo village in 1955 revealed artifacts and remains, which indicated that vegetables, such as mustard and cabbages, were grown there. Additionally, archaeologists and paleontologists concluded that animal husbandry was first done along the Wei River where pigs, dogs, cattle, and chicken were domesticated respectively.

Technologically, the Banpo culture is credited with having invented the potter’s wheel. It improved the shape of pottery and made the whole process easier. The people of the North-East China used the coiling technique for their pottery. At the Wanjiayinwa site that is associated with the late Banpo, ceramic vessels were made using potter’s wheel. The representatives of the Banpo culture used the coiling technique for ceramic for a long period. The vessels made were rough and were used for cooking, while the smooth, polished ones were used for serving food or storing water. In terms of arts, a given period of Yangshao was characterized with geometric, zoomorphic or anthropomorphic expressions incised on tools and vessels. Fish were the most dominant for the zoomorphic figures. The depiction of such figures shows very advanced artistic skills. Combination of naturalistic designs and geometric figures is also seen. At the same time, a large kiln was excavated along the Wei River, which was used for making pottery.

Yangshao is also a period characterized by advanced stone and jade work represented by the advanced stone artifacts with clear and sharp edges. Some of them are highly polished. Hong Shan and Songze cultures were very important in the advancement of jade work. Several jade artifacts have been excavated in Anhui province and the surrounding areas. They include disks, and arcs ring pendants, bracelets and rings, as well as objects placed in the deceased’s mouths. Tools, such as spears, harpoons, arrowheads, chisels among others were placed in the tombs for males. In approximately70% of the female tombs, archeologists found twisting whorls. The field of metallurgy was established and developed in that period represented by a bronze knife belonging to the Majiayao culture. It measured 12.5 cm and was found in Gansu province.

The rise of the early civilization, especially in the Yangshao period is argued to have been occasioned or enhanced by the ability of the people to live together as a society. Excavation of ancient sites dating back to the second millennium BC shows an arrangement of rectangular residences that were made using rammed earth. It shows that people were organized into villages which are sometimes argued to be chiefdoms. Each village would later develop into a city that was ruled by one person. In some instances, some rulers had influence over several city states which is considered to be the earliest form of the empire in the region. The relationship between the core and peripheries of civilization enabled massive exchange of technology and knowledge regarding issues such as agriculture and religion among others. Due to such exchange, there was a form of ‘competition’, meaning that each of the cores of civilization would advance far more than others before being overtaken. For instance, even if the civilization around the Wei River was far much advanced compared to others, its way of life would later be overtaken by the Yellow River and later Yangtze in addition to the South and later the North East.

Excavations in the sites of cultures, such as Erligang, Shang and dynasties such as, Zhou and Qin, show advancement of the earlier technology and material science; however, not many new things were created. The art of molding, curving, bronze working, ceramic working are greatly advanced. Proliferation of refined jades and complex tools made of bronze is seen, as well. Additionally, religion played a significant role in the cities and empires formation of the first millennium BC, where many worship centers were developed in several city squares. The culture developed from simple to advanced forms: the deferential in wealth, skills and influence was the major cause of rise of empires. Despite sculptures being used for worship places, they greatly helped in developing the artistic expression of the ancient Chinese community.

The Qin dynasty was the first unification of various empires in ancient China and lasted for a period of 15 years (221-206 BCE).It was imperial in nature having conquered the earlier city states.  It was culmination of all the previous civilizations and had a very remarkable advancement in technology, material science, religion, governance among others. Various artifacts are associated with current period, including refined jades and tools made of bronze among others. However, the greatest engineering and art feature associated with a given period was the creation of the Great Wall of China in the North, which has been extensively studied to reveal information about that time.


A number of excavations prove that the Chinese society underwent a very significant change between 5000-207BC resulting in a creation of a complex modern society.  In 5000BC, the most commonly used material was bone and stone. However, by 200BC, bronze and ceramic were widely used. Additionally, complex shapes for tools and artifacts had been developed. Various artifacts found show development in complexity of technology, material science, architecture, religion, and even governance. The given period of time is also characterized by massive advancement of artifacts found in the Chinese society. From incision of simple expressions on bone tools, there was development of calligraphy towards the end of the period. Images and graphics were easily curved or molded on ceramic and bronze tools and jades, including sculptures. In addition to rammed earth used for building structures, the Chinese were able to build superior structures using stones. Moreover, the society’s form of government improved from villages to city square and later to a thriving empire that was ruled through legalism. All the above-mentioned facts show that the Chinese society developed and became highly advanced between 5000-207BC.

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