The visual arts

Chinese art, like Chinese literature, goes back many centuries. Early themes were developed from religious and supernatural beliefs or from the natural environment and landscape. One of the oldest and most basic forms of Chinese art is calligraphy, the painting of the Chinese characters with a brush. Calligraphy has developed as a pure art form with its own standards of excellence. Building on the tradition of calligraphy, Chinese painting developed a distinctive style that differs greatly from Western painting. It is more efficient in terms of brushstrokes and appears more abstract. Landscapes have always been a popular theme, and sometimes these appear bizarre to the Western eye. To the Chinese painter, they may represent a figurative view painted with a few swift strokes of the artist's brush.

With their stress on simplicity and economy, Chinese calligraphy, painting, and poetry are closely related. In all of them, the artist seeks to express both inner harmony and harmony with the natural surroundings. Chinese poets and painters often have sought inspiration by withdrawing to isolated, mountainous areas, and these landscapes have become conventional themes of Chinese art. Similarly, Chinese architecture has traditionally aimed to convey harmony with society and nature.

The magnificent life-size terra-cotta statues of men and horses, discovered in the early 1970s in the tomb of an emperor who died in 210 BC, provide some indication of the long history of Chinese sculpture. After the introduction of Buddhism into China, Buddhist subjects became dominant themes of the sculptor's art. Perhaps best known (and most copied) in the West, however, are the works of Chinese decorative artists, such as pottery, bronzes, lacquer ware, and exquisitely detailed jade and ivory carvings.