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Painting in Shang, Zhou, Warring States and Qin Dynasty

Shang Dynasty (1700 BC - 221 BC)

During Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 B.C.), complex forms of writings were developed called ideograms, pictograms and phonograms. The earliest writings were discovered engraved on bones and animal shells. Excavation of hundreds of tombs revealed that the Shang people used vessels, carvings of jade, stone and bone, indicating a complex civilization was already established by that era.

Zhou Dynasty (1027 BC - 475 BC)

The art traditions continued into the Zhou Dynasty (1027-475 B.C.) with abundance evidence of wall paintings. The Zhou had adopted much of the Shang's culture: language and bronze technology in particular. The middle Zhou period was characterized by constant turmoil and warfare, and it was during these times that both Confucianism and Daoism emerged as philosophies. New ideas and thoughts had great influences in society and thus changed the artistic traditions forever.

Brush painting began in the Zhou period, by this time, silk had already been long discovered. Unfortunately, few of the paintings survived. The earliest surviving examples silk painting were dated around the third century B.C., which were excavated from the tombs at Ch'ang-sha, in present day Hunan Province.

Warring States (475 - 221 BC)

The chronicles of the Warring States were complex, involving the central states: Qin, Chu, Wei, Zhou and Han. The outlying states were the Zhao, Song, Lu, qi, Zhongshan and Yan. The rivalry between the states however did bring together several cultural developments. By about 500 B.C., the discovery of iron contributed to the improvement of agriculture techniques which in turn lead to the economic prosperity of all peasants. All of which gave rise to the collection and accumulation of wealth. Craftsmen and artists developed more elaborate techniques as seen in the workings of jade, glass, weaving and paintings.

Right - The oldest silk painting found in China was discovered in a Chu tomb at Changsha. The painting depicts the occupant of the tomb riding a dragon and ascending heaven after his death.

Qin Dynasty

It was not until 221 B.C., Qin Shi Huang or Shi Huang Di, united China into one state and proclaimed himself as the First Emperor.

During his brutal reign, Qin Shi Huang centralized the government, established standards for weights, distance, coinage and written language, and of course, created the Great Wall. Qin Shi Huang had left behind a powerful legacy during his brief reign. In 1974, diggers working near Xian accidentally unearthed the First Emperor's tomb: more than eight thousand life-size terra cotta figures of warriors and horses lined up in military formation. Each figure was life-like, as if the soldier had never left his post protecting the emperor.

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