Chinese art is visual art that, whether ancient or modern, originated in or is practiced in China or by Chinese artists or performers. Early so-called “stone age art” dates back to 10,000 BC, mostly consisting of simple pottery and sculptures. This early period was followed by a series of art dynasties, most of which lasted several hundred years. The Chinese art in the Republic of China (Taiwan) and that of overseas Chinese can also be considered part of Chinese art where it is based in or draws on Chinese heritage and Chinese culture.
Historical development to 221 BC
Early forms of art in China are found in the Neolithic Yangshao culture (Chinese: 仰韶文化; pinyin: Yǎngsháo Wénhuà), which dates back to the 6th millennium BCE. Archeological findings such as those at the Banpo have revealed that the Yangshao made pottery; early ceramics were unpainted and most often cord-marked. The first decorations were fish and human faces, but these eventually evolved into symmetrical–geometric abstract designs, some painted.
The most distinctive feature of Yangshao culture was the extensive use of painted pottery, especially human facial, animal, and geometric designs. Unlike the later Longshan culture, the Yangshao culture did not use pottery wheels in pottery making. Excavations have found that children were buried in painted pottery jars.
The Liangzhu culture was the last Neolithic Jade culture in the Yangtze River delta and was spaced over a period of about 1,300 years. The Jade from this culture is characterized by finely worked, large ritual jades such as Cong cylinders, Bi discs, Yue axes and also pendants and decorations in the form of chiseled open-work plaques, plates and representations of small birds, turtles and fish. The Liangzhu Jade has a white, milky bone-like aspect due to its Tremolite rock origin and influence of water-based fluids at the burial sites. Jade is a green stone that cannot be carved so it has to be ground.
The Bronze Age in China began with the Xia Dynasty. Examples from this period have been recovered from ruins of the Erlitou culture, in Shanxi, and include complex but unadorned utilitarian objects. In the following Shang Dynasty more elaborate objects, including many ritual vessels, were crafted. The Shang are remembered for their bronze casting, noted for its clarity of detail. Shang bronzesmiths usually worked in foundries outside the cities to make ritual vessels, and sometimes weapons and chariot fittings as well. The bronze vessels were receptacles for storing or serving various solids and liquids used in the performance of sacred ceremonies. Some forms such as the ku and jue can be very graceful, but the most powerful pieces are the ding, sometimes described as having the an “air of ferocious majesty.”
It is typical of the developed Shang style that all available space is decorated, most often with stylized forms of real and imaginary animals. The most common motif is the taotie, which shows a mythological being presented frontally as though squashed onto a horizontal plane to form a symmetrical design. The early significance of taotie is not clear, but myths about it existed around the late Zhou Dynasty. It was considered to be variously a covetous man banished to guard a corner of heaven against evil monsters; or a monster equipped with only a head which tries to devour men but hurts only itself.
The function and appearance of bronzes changed gradually from the Shang to the Zhou. They shifted from been used in religious rites to more practical purposes. By the Warring States Period, bronze vessels had become objects of aesthetic enjoyment. Some were decorated with social scenes, such as from a banquet or hunt; whilst others displayed abstract patterns inlaid with gold, silver, or precious and semiprecious stones.
Shang bronzes became appreciated as works of art from the Song Dynasty, when they were collected and prized not only for their shape and design but also for the various green, blue green, and even reddish patinas created by chemical action as they lay buried in the ground. The study of early Chinese bronze casting is a specialized field of art history].
Chu and Southern culture
A rich source of art in early China was the state of Chu, which developed in the Yangtze River valley. Excavations of Chu tombs have found painted wooden sculptures, jade disks, glass beads, musical instruments, and an assortment of lacquerware. Many of the lacquer objects are finely painted, red on black or black on red. A site in Changsha, Hunan province, has revealed the world’s oldest painting on silk discovered to date. It shows a woman accompanied by a phoenix and a dragon, two mythological animals to feature prominently in Chinese art.
Early Imperial China (221 BC–AD 220)
The Terracotta Army, inside the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, consists of more than 7,000 life-size tomb terra-cotta figures of warriors and horses buried with the self-proclaimed first Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huang) in 210–209 BC. The figures were painted before being placed into the vault. The original colors were visible when the pieces were first unearthed. However, exposure to air caused the pigments to fade, so today the unearthed figures appear terracotta in color. The figures are in several poses including standing infantry and kneeling archers, as well as charioteers with horses. Each figure’s head appears to be unique, showing a variety of facial features and expressions as well as hair styles.
Porcelain is made from a hard paste made of the clay kaolin and a feldspar called petuntse, which cements the vessel and seals any pores. China has become synonymous with high-quality porcelain. Most china pots comes from the city of Jingdezhen in China’s Jiangxi province. Jingdezhen, under a variety of names, has been central to porcelain production in China since at least the early Han Dynasty.
The most noticeable difference between porcelain and the other pottery clays is that it “wets” very quickly (that is, added water has a noticeably greater effect on the plasticity for porcelain than other clays), and that it tends to continue to “move” longer than other clays, requiring experience in handling to attain optimum results. During medieval times in Europe, porcelain was very expensive and in high demand for its beauty. TLV mirrors also date from the Han dynasty.
The Han Dynasty was known for jade burial suits. One of the earliest known depictions of a landscape in Chinese art comes from a pair of hollow-tile door panels from a Western Han Dynasty tomb near Zhengzhou, dated 60 BCE. A scene of continuous depth recession is conveyed by the zigzag of lines representing roads and garden walls, giving the impression that one is looking down from the top of a hill. This artistic landscape scene was made by the repeated impression of standard stamps on the clay while it was still soft and not yet fired. However, the oldest known landscape art scene tradition in the classical sense of painting is a work by Zhan Ziqian of the Sui Dynasty (581–618).
A gilt bronze lamp with a shutter, in the shape of a maidservant, from the Western Han Dynasty, 2nd century BC
Two gentlemen engrossed in conversation while two others look on, a painting on a ceramic tile from a tomb near Luoyang, Henan province, dated to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 AD)
Period of division (220–581)
Influence of Buddhism
Buddhism arrived in China around the 1st century AD (although there are some traditions about a monk visiting China during Asoka‘s reign), and through to the 8th century it became very active and creative in the development of Buddhist art, particularly in the area of statuary. Receiving this distant religion, China soon incorporated strong Chinese traits in its artistic expression.
In the fifth to sixth century the Northern Dynasties, rather removed from the original sources of inspiration, tended to develop rather symbolic and abstract modes of representation, with schematic lines. Their style is also said to be solemn and majestic. The lack of corporeality of this art, and its distance from the original Buddhist objective of expressing the pure ideal of enlightenment in an accessible, realistic manner, progressively led to a research towards more naturalism and realism, leading to the expression of Tang Buddhist art.
In ancient China, painting and calligraphy were the most highly appreciated arts in court circles and were produced almost exclusively by amateurs, aristocrats and scholar-officials who alone had the leisure to perfect the technique and sensibility necessary for great brushwork. Calligraphy was thought to be the highest and purest form of painting. The implements were the brush pen, made of animal hair, and black inks, made from pine soot and animal glue. Writing as well as painting was done on silk. But after the invention of paper in the 1st century, silk was gradually replaced by the new and cheaper material. Original writings by famous calligraphers have been greatly valued throughout China’s history and are mounted on scrolls and hung on walls in the same way that paintings are.
Wang Xizhi was a famous Chinese calligrapher who lived in the 4th century AD. His most famous work is the Lanting Xu, the preface of a collection of poems written by a number of poets when gathering at Lan Ting near the town of Shaoxing in Zhejiang province and engaging in a game called “qu shui liu shang”.
Wei Shuo was a well-known calligrapher of Eastern Jin Dynasty who established consequential rules about the Regular Script. Her well-known works include Famous Concubine Inscription (名姬帖 Ming Ji Tie) and The Inscription of Wei-shi He’nan (衛氏和南帖 Wei-shi He’nan Tie).
Gu Kaizhi is a celebrated painter of ancient China born in Wuxi. He wrote three books about painting theory: On Painting (画论), Introduction of Famous Paintings of Wei and Jin Dynasties (魏晋胜流画赞) and Painting Yuntai Mountain (画云台山记). He wrote, “In figure paintings the clothes and the appearances were not very important. The eyes were the spirit and the decisive factor.”
Three of Gu’s paintings still survive today. They are “Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies“, “Nymph of the Luo River” (洛神赋), and “Wise and Benevolent Women”.
There are other examples of Jin Dynasty painting from tombs. This includes the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, painted on a brick wall of a tomb located near modern Nanjing and now found in the Shaanxi Provincial Museum. Each of the figures are labeled and shown either drinking, writing, or playing a musical instrument. Other tomb paintings also depict scenes of daily life, such as men plowing fields with teams of oxen.
The Sui and Tang dynasties (581–960)
A Chinese Tang Dynasty tri-color glazed porcelain horse (ca. 700 CE), using yellow, green and white colors.
Buddhist architecture and sculpture
Following a transition under the Sui Dynasty, Buddhist sculpture of the Tang evolved towards a markedly lifelike expression. As a consequence of the Dynasty’s openness to foreign trade and influences through the Silk Road, Tang dynasty Buddhist sculpture assumed a rather classical form, inspired by the Greco-Buddhist art of Central Asia.
However, foreign influences came to be negatively perceived towards the end of the Tang dynasty. In the year 845, the Tang emperor Wu-Tsung outlawed all “foreign” religions (including Christian Nestorianism, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism) in order to support the indigenous Taoism. He confiscated Buddhist possessions and forced the faith to go underground, therefore affecting the ulterior development of the religion and its arts in China.
Most wooden Tang sculptures have not survived, though representations of the Tang international style can still be seen in Nara, Japan. The longevity of stone sculpture has proved much greater. Some of the finest examples can be seen at Longmen, near Luoyang, Yungang near Datong, and Bingling Temple, in Gansu.
One of the most famous Buddhist Chinese pagodas is the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, built in 652 AD.
A Man Herding Horses, by Han Gan (706-783 AD), Tang Dynasty original.
Beginning in the Tang dynasty (618–907), the primary subject matter of painting was the landscape, known as shanshui (mountain water) painting. In these landscapes, usually monochromatic and sparse, the purpose was not to reproduce exactly the appearance of nature but rather to grasp an emotion or atmosphere so as to catch the “rhythm” of nature.
Painting in the traditional style involved essentially the same techniques as calligraphy and was done with a brush dipped in black or colored ink; oils were not used. As with calligraphy, the most popular materials on which paintings were made were paper and silk. The finished works were then mounted on scrolls, which could be hung or rolled up. Traditional painting was also done in albums, on walls, lacquer work, and in other media.
Dong Yuan was an active painter in the Southern Tang Kingdom. He was known for both figure and landscape paintings, and exemplified the elegant style which would become the standard for brush painting in China over the next 900 years. As with many artists in China, his profession was as an official where he studied the existing styles of Li Sixun and Wang Wei. However, he added to the number of techniques, including more sophisticated perspective, use of pointillism and crosshatching to build up vivid effect.
Zhan Ziqian was a painter during the Sui Dynasty. His only painting in existence is Strolling About In Spring arranged mountains perspectively. Because the first pure scenery paintings of Europe emerged after the 17th century, Strolling About In Spring may well be the first scenery painting of the world.
The Song and Yuan dynasties (960–1368)
During the Song dynasty (960–1279), landscapes of more subtle expression appeared; immeasurable distances were conveyed through the use of blurred outlines, mountain contours disappearing into the mist, and impressionistic treatment of natural phenomena. Emphasis was placed on the spiritual qualities of the painting and on the ability of the artist to reveal the inner harmony of man and nature, as perceived according to Taoist and Buddhist concepts.
Liang Kai was a Chinese painter who lived in the 13th century (Song Dynasty). He called himself “Madman Liang,” and he spent his life drinking and painting. Eventually, he retired and became a Zen monk. Liang is credited with inventing the Zen school of Chinese art. Wen Tong was a painter who lived in the 11th century. He was famous for ink paintings of bamboo. He could hold two brushes in one hand and paint two different distanced bamboos simultaneously. He did not need to see the bamboo while he painted them because he had seen a lot of them.
Zhang Zeduan was a notable painter for his horizontal Along the River During Qingming Festival landscape and cityscape painting. It has been quoted as “China’s Mona Lisa” and has had many well-known remakes throughout Chinese history. Other famous paintings include The Night Revels of Han Xizai, originally painted by the Southern Tang artist Gu Hongzhong in the 10th century, while the well-known version of his painting is a 12th century remake of the Song Dynasty. This is a large horizontal handscroll of a domestic scene showing men of the gentry class being entertained by musicians and dancers while enjoying food, beverage, and wash basins provided by maidservants. In 2000, the modern artist Wang Qingsong created a parody of this painting with a long, horizontal photograph of people in modern clothing making similar facial expressions, poses, and hand gestures as the original painting.
Song Dynasty ding-ware porcelain bottle with iron pigment under a transparent colorless glaze, 11th century.
Playing Children, by Song artist Su Hanchen, c. 1150 AD.
With the fall of the Song dynasty in 1279, and the subsequent dislocation caused by the establishment of the Yuan dynasty by the Mongol conquerers, many court and literary artists retreated from social life, and returned to nature, through landscape paintings, and by renewing the “blue and green” style of the Tang era. 
Wang Meng was one such painter, and one of his most famous works is the Forest Grotto. Zhao Mengfu was a Chinese scholar, painter and calligrapher during the Yuan Dynasty. His rejection of the refined, gentle brushwork of his era in favor of the cruder style of the 8th century is considered to have brought about a revolution that created the modern Chinese landscape painting. There was also the vivid and detailed works of art by Qian Xuan (1235-1305), who had served the Song court, and out of patriotism refused to serve the Mongols, instead turning to painting. He was also famous for reviving and reproducing a more Tang Dynasty style of painting.
The later Yuan dynasty is characterized by the work of the so-called “Four Great Masters”. The most notable of these was Huang Gongwang (1269-1354) whose cool and restrained landscapes were admired by contemporaries, and by the Chinese literati painters of later centuries. Another of great influence was Ni Zan (1301-1374), who frequently arranged his compositions with a strong and distinct foreground and background, but left the middle-ground as an empty expanse. This scheme was frequently to be adopted by later Ming and Qing dynasty painters.
Late imperial China (1368-1911)
Peach Festival of the Queen Mother of the West, early 17th century, Ming Dynasty.
Under the Ming dynasty, Chinese culture bloomed. Narrative painting, with a wider color range and a much busier composition than the Song paintings, was immensely popular during the time.
Wen Zhengming (1470-1559) developed the style of the Wu school in Suzhou, which dominated Chinese painting during the 16th century.
European culture began to make an impact on Chinese art during this period. The Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci visited Nanjing with many Western artworks, which were influential in showing different techniques of perspective and shading. 
Early Qing painting
The early Qing dynasty developed in two main strands: the Orthodox school, and the Individualist painters, both of which followed the theories of Dong Qichang, but emphasizing very different aspects.
The “Four Wangs“, including Wang Jian (1598-1677) and Wang Shimin (1592-1680), were particularly renowned in the Orthodox school, and sought inspiration in recreating the past styles, especially the technical skills in brushstrokes and calligraphy of ancient masters. The younger Wang Yuanqi (1642-1715) ritualized the approach of engaging with and drawing inspiration from a work of an ancient master. His own works were often annotated with his theories of how his painting relates to the master’s model. 
The Individualist painters included Bada Shanren (1626-1705) and Shitao (1641-1707). They drew more from the revolutionary ideas of transcending the tradition to achieve an original individualistic styles; in this way they were more faithfully following the way of Dong Qichang than the Orthodox school (who were his official direct followers.) 
As the techniques of color printing were perfected, illustrated manuals on the art of painting began to be published. Jieziyuan Huazhuan (Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden), a five-volume work first published in 1679, has been in use as a technical textbook for artists and students ever since.
Late Qing Art
Nianhua were a form of colored woodlblock prints in China, depicting images for decoration during the Chinese New Year. In the 19th century Nianhua were used as news mediums.
The Shanghai School (海上画派 Haishang Huapai or 海派 Haipai) is a very important Chinese school of traditional arts during the Qing Dynasty and the whole of the 20th century. Under efforts of masters from this school, traditional Chinese art reached another climax and continued to the present in forms of “Chinese painting” (中国画), or guohua (国画) for short. The Shanghai School challenged and broke the literati tradition of Chinese art, while also paying technical homage to the ancient masters and improving on existing traditional techniques. Members of this school were themselves educated literati who had come to question their very status and the purpose of art, and had anticipated the impending modernization of Chinese society. In an era of rapid social change, works from the Shanghai School were widely innovative and diverse, and often contained thoughtful yet subtle social commentary. The most well-known figures from this school are Ren Xiong (任熊), Ren Yi (任伯年, also known as Ren Bonian), Zhao Zhiqian (赵之谦), Wu Changshuo (吴昌硕), Sha Menghai (沙孟海, calligraphist), Pan Tianshou (潘天寿), Fu Baoshi (傅抱石). Other well-known painters are: Wang Zhen, XuGu, Zhang Xiong, Hu Yuan, and Yang Borun.
New China art (1912-1949)
Sanmao, one of the most well-known comic book characters in China
With the end of the last dynasty in China, the New Culture Movement began and defied all facets of traditionalism. A new breed of 20th century cultural philosophers like Xiao Youmei, Cai Yuanpei, Feng Zikai and Wang Guangqi wanted Chinese culture to modernize and reflect the New China. The Chinese Civil War would cause a drastic split between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China. Following was the Second Sino-Japanese War in particular the Battle of Shanghai would leave the major cultural art center borderline to a humanitarian crisis.
Western style oil painting was introduced to China by painters such as Xiao Tao Sheng.
 Communist and socialist art (1950-1980s)
Selective art decline
The Communist Party of China would have full control of the government with Mao Zedong heading the People’s Republic of China. If the art was presented in a manner that favored the government, the artists were heavily promoted. Vice versa, any clash with communist party beliefs would force the artists to become farmers via “re-education” processes under the regime. The peak era of governmental control came under the Cultural Revolution. The most notable event was the Destruction of the Four Olds, which had major consequences for pottery, paintings, literary art, architecture and countless others.
Artists were encouraged to employ socialist realism. Some Soviet Union socialist realism was imported without modification, and painters were assigned subjects and expected to mass-produce paintings. This regimen was considerably relaxed in 1953, and after the Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1956–57, traditional Chinese painting experienced a significant revival. Along with these developments in professional art circles, there was a proliferation of peasant art depicting everyday life in the rural areas on wall murals and in open-air painting exhibitions. Notable modern Chinese painters include Huang Binhong, Qi Baishi, Xu Beihong, Chang Ta Chien, Pan Tianshou, Wu Changshi, Fu Baoshi, Wang Kangle and Zhang Chongren.
Redevelopment (Mid-1980s – 1990s)
Execution by Yue Minjun, the most expensive Chinese contemporary art sold in 2007, for a value of US $5.9 million (or Euro €4.2 million)
Contemporary Chinese art (中国当代艺术, Zhongguo Dangdai Yishu) often referred to as Chinese avant-garde art, continued to develop since the 1980s as an outgrowth of modern art developments post-Cultural Revolution. Contemporary Chinese art fully incorporates painting, film, video, photography, and performance. Until recently, art exhibitions deemed controversial have been routinely shut down by police, and performance artists in particular faced the threat of arrest in the early 1990s. More recently there has been greater tolerance by the Chinese government, though many internationally acclaimed artists are still restricted from media exposure at home or have exhibitions ordered closed. Leading contemporary visual artists include Ai Weiwei, Cai Guoqiang, Cai Xin, Fang Lijun, Huang Yan, Huang Yong Ping, Kong Bai Ji, Lu Shengzhong, Ma Liuming, Ma Qingyun, Qiu Shihua, Song Dong, Li Wei, Christine Wang, Wang Guangyi, Wang Qingsong, Wenda Gu, Xu Bing, Yang Zhichao, Zhan Wang, Zhang Dali, Zhang Xiaogang, Zhang Huan, Zhu Yu, Yan Lei, Ma Kelu, Ding Fang, Shang Yang, Wei, Ligang (modern calligraphist), Yue Min Jun, Zheng Fan Zhi, Liu Fengzhi, and Zhang Yue.
Beginning in the late 1980s there was unprecedented exposure for younger Chinese visual artists in the west to some degree through the agency of curators based outside the country such as Hou Hanru. Local curators within the country such as Gao Minglu and critics such as Li Xianting (栗宪庭) reinforced this promotion of particular brands of painting that had recently emerged, while also spreading the idea of art as a strong social force within Chinese culture. There was some controversy as critics identified these imprecise representations of contemporary Chinese art as having been constructed out of personal preferences, a kind of programmatized artist-curator relationship that only further alienated the majority of the avant-garde from Chinese officialdom and western art market patronage.
All The Mountains Blanketed in Red
Today, the market for Chinese art, both antique and contemporary, is widely reported to be among the hottest and fastest-growing in the world, attracting buyers all over the world. The Voice of America reported in 2006 that modern Chinese art is raking in record prices both internationally and in domestic markets, some experts even fearing the market might be overheating. The Economist reported that Chinese art has become the latest darling in the world market according to the record sales from Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the biggest fine-art auction houses. The International Herald Tribune reported that Chinese porcelains were fought over in the art market as “if there was no tomorrow”. Contemporary Chinese art also saw record sales throughout the 2000s. In 2007, it was estimated that 5 of the world’s 10 best selling living artists at art auction were from China, with artists such as Zhang Xiaogang whose works were sold for a total of $56.8 million at auction in 2007. In terms of buying-market, China overtook France in late 2000s as the world’s third-largest art market, after the United States and the United Kingdom, due to the growing middle-class in the country. Sotheby’s noted that contemporary Chinese art has rapidly changed the contemporary Asian art world into one of the most dynamic sectors on the international art market. During the global economic crisis, the contemporary Asian art market and the contemporary Chinese art market experienced a slow down in late 2008. The market for Contemporary Chinese and Asian art saw a major revival in late 2009 with record level sales at Christie’s. For centuries largely made-up of European and American buyers, the international buying market for Chinese art has also began to be dominated by Chinese dealers and collectors in recent years. In was reported in 2011, China has became the world’s second biggest market for art and antiques, accounting for 23 percent of the world’s total art market, behind the United States (which accounts for 34 percent of the world’s art market).
One of the areas that has revived art concentration and also commercialized the industry is the 798 Art District in Dashanzi of Beijing. The artist Zhang Xiaogang sold a 1993 painting for USD $ 2.3 million in 2006, which included blank faced Chinese families from the Cultural Revolution era, while Yue Minjun‘s work Execution in 2007 was sold for a then record of nearly $6 million at Sotheby’s. such as Stanley Ho, the owner of the Macau Casinos, and casino developer Stephen Wynn, would capitalize on the art trends. Items such as Ming Dynasty vases and assorted Imperial pieces were auctioned off.
Other art works produced in China or Hong Kong were sold in places such as Christie’s including a Chinese porcelain piece with the mark of Emperor Qianlong sold for HKD $ $151.3 million. A 1964 painting “All the Mountains Blanketed in Red” was sold for HKD $35 million. Auctions were also held at Sotheby’s where Xu Beihong‘s 1939 masterpiece “Put Down Your Whip“ sold for HKD $72 million. The industry is not limited to fine arts, as many other types of contemporary pieces were also sold. In 2000, a number of Chinese artists were included in Documenta and the Venice Biennale of 2003. China now has its own major contemporary art showcase with the Venice Biennale. Fuck Off was a notorious art exhibition which ran alongside the Shanghai Biennial Festival in 2000 and was curated by independent curator Feng Boyi and contemporary artist Ai Weiwei.