One of the earliest forms of Chinese literature was historiography. The Chinese kept extensive records that date all the way back to the first century B.C.E. However, during the early times of China, only the lives of the highest social classes were recorded. In fact, the elite of China also enjoyed poetry by this time.(Text # 172)
One of the greatest of the Chinese poets was Sima Xiangru. He is known for using figurative language in order to draw his audience in, a style called fu. Because of his rhythmic style of poetry, Sima Xiangru was admired for most of the Western Han Period. However, he later fell out of favor because of the rise of Confucian-Canon. Confucian-Canon was based on the Five Classics and Four Books. The Five Classics were the Classic of Documents, Classic of Odes, Classic of Rites, Classic of Changes, and Spring and Autumn Annals. The Four Books were the Great Learning, Analects, Mencius, and the Doctrine of the Mean.(Four Books) All of the Classics and Books were the foundations of Confucian thought. Thus, when Confucian-Canon gained more popularity, the Fu poets lost their status, since they had a completely different style than the Confucians.
Visual Arts Edit
Calligraphy and painting were done with the same basic tools. Ink was made from pine soot or refined lampblack, and brushes were made of animal hair- the earliest have both been found from the Han dynasty. The earliest paintings were also found from the Han Dynasty, they were mostly done on silk- but there have been some paintings found on paper.(Hook 433)
Lacquer was used as paint on carved wood. During the Han dynasty, it was often used on boxes, cups, etc. An excellent example of Han Dynasty lacquer is the painted basket from a tomb in Lo-lang Korea (Hook 433). An image of an example of Han dynasty lacquer image can be found under the images tab.
Silk cloth had been woven in China since the Shang period and was continued to be made during the Han Dynasty. It was incredibly versatile and was most often used for clothing and for writing and paintings. Complicated weaving techniques originated in the Han Dynasty. (Hook 435)
Other examples of visual arts in the Han Dynasty include bronze work, jade figurines, and ceramics. Bronze work became more complex and beautiful. Bronze horses and figurines became more common. Jade figurines were reserved only for the rich and elite(Text # 172). Royals and other people of high status were often enclosed in jade tombs.
Performing Arts Edit
The Chinese put much focus on music and instruments. They had many instruments including the pipa and the sheng. The pipa is a type of lute that originated from Central Asia. "The type of pipa that became the most prominent has a bent neck, a tear-shaped body, four strings, traditionally of silk, but now often nylon, and four frets."(Arkenberg) The sheng on the other hand, "has a bowl-shaped body with a mouthpiece and seventeen bamboo reeds."(Arkenberg) Finally, another instrument gained power during the Han Dynasty is the qin. It has seven strings and it is similar to a guitar.
Odes were also a very important form of performing arts for the Chinese. Odes are poems that are meant to be sung. Chinese odes often had a very tragic ending, either ending suicide or separation between the main characters.(Lewis 220) Along with most of the other poems under Confucius-Canon, these odes did not have much metaphorical meaning, and were usually straight to the point. The odes were about a speaker who was responding to a tragic event by exploring and revealing their emotions.
Most Chinese dwellings -rich and poor- were modeled according to the pattern of the imperial palace.(Hook 442) The upper classes usually had two to three floors with the signature Chinese curved roofs. The peasant classes often only had one floor that they shared with other families that they worked alongside with.
A common craftsman lived in a single courtyard with one building to the north-side. The buildings were for the married children and use for a workshop. Farmers in a village would've lived in the same way. In some areas, people still lived in vaulted caves. Comfortable cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The K'ang was the traditional form of heating in Chinese houses. The K'ang was a platform with an opening at the bottom where it would be heated. It was used as a sleeping area at night and as a sitting area in the daytime for the entire family.
Religious buildings were similar, Chinese architecture was incredibly secular and religious temples had the same layout as other buildings(Hook 443). with no distinct differences, one could not tell the difference between a Buddhist temple, and a Confucian temple.