The Making of Early China

Choice of subject matter in their painting of the potteries in relation to their daily life style (or story).

The Han dynasty

The Han dynasty was founded by Liu Bang, the king of Han, and it lasted from 206 B.C to 220 C.E. The territorial boundary of the dynasty was extensive below. The entire rule of the Han dynasty was characterized by civil peace and prosperity. The Emperors guaranteed civil stability due to the presence of strong military that also helped the dynasty conquered more territories. The Han dynasty remarkably advanced in classical culture, education and science.  Through the Confucian system, the elite with adverse knowledge in various fields were assigned various key portfolios within the dynasty. As a result, they were able to promote education through art particularly after the invention of paper commonly used for painting and calligraphy.  The area colored dark red in Figure 1, was one the greatest dynasties in the Chinese imperial rule. The period of Han regime was characterized by large cultural and scientific developments such as music, calendars, and clocks among others due to the influx of various groups of people, from Rome and Middle East, into the dynasty.

            The emperor Lu Bang established the Han dynasty after four years of civil uprisings led by peasants against Qin dynasty. Bang recruited people into the leadership of Han on the basis of their ability and not their wealth or status. Therefore, he ended up with plenty of serfs and commoners in his government. The Han dynasty passed its Zenith under the reign of Emperors Zhao and Xuan who lost control of the empire due to the newly initiated rules and policies that limited the power and ability of the people to occupy various government offices.

            The Emperors Zhao and Xuan relied on the Confucians astronomy to appoint various government positions such as the advisory and ruling council. The western dynasty became under revolution during the rule of Wang Mang who changed the name of dynasty to Xin amidst series of protests, civil resistance and rebellion that saw Wang Mang being overthrown by the uprising peasants. The dynasty was later restored by a trusted royal member Liu Xiu and Luo Yang was made the new Capital City. 

The potteries of Han dynasty

            The Chinese are regarded as the master potters of the world. They have a vast experience in earthenware and could outdo other cultures that were into pottery earlier on like Persians, Egyptians and Romans due to their patience and spirit of industry.  The painted pottery found in Neolithic age was actually regarded as fine China.  The pottery ware made of Kaolin featured the earliest porcelain found between 16th to 11th centuries B.C. during the Shang dynasty.  The pottery displayed some peculiar common qualities such as smoothness and an imaginable impervious quality of hard enamel.  Although pottery ware was mostly used by ordinary people in making items that were used for daily domestic use, the rich embraced the creativity and beauty of the pottery and used them during important functions of the Empire.

            The development of porcelain and other pottery work in the Han dynasty was observed in the period between 206 BC to 220. Porcelain gained acceptance quickly and within short duration of time, the artwork was introduced into the Western Han dynasty. Styles of various porcelains were formed and regional differences in porcelain products became evident. Fully aware of the important place of pottery and porcelains in the Han dynasty, this paper attempts to provide brief information about sampled pottery materials of the Han dynasty and their historic cultural significance.

                                                  1.     mortuary Vessel- Hu

Although various experts have varying opinions about the origin of various ceramic wares, the mortuary jar origins could be traced back to the Han dynasty through the Jin and Six dynasties.        This vessel is earthenware with painted decorations believed to have originated from Luoyang area of China. It contains animated beasts with bared fangs on mounted anchor. The decoration on the vessel provides a perfect expression of the Western Han dynasty’s assertive character. The mortuary vessel is so far the finest known examples of classical paintings of the Han dynasty.  The blue beast is symbol of star of heavenly wolf (Sirus) with the archer used for personification of the adjoining constellation.

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            The bow whose arrow points directly at wolf star is accompanied by white tiger which symbolizes the west. The administrative function of the mortuary vessel relates to banditry, war and protection. It was believed that Wolf was used to govern against thievery and looting of the barbarian Xiongnu who fought with the Han people on the Western China. Twinkles of wolf star symbolized banditry and shifts in position will indicate Xiongnu will be on the war path. The mounted anchor symbolized the eternal image of nomadic people of Eurasian steppes. The mortuary vessel (Hu) was considered a milestone in the Chinese painting.  

  1. 2.      Large tortoise

Shantung province has plenty of sculptured stones of Han dynasty.  The love for nature and its beauties led to decorations and sculpturing of various animals such as armed frogs, tortoises like the one in Figure 3, beasts, winged dragons, beasts among others. 

The big tortoise like the one in Figure 3 was used as a pedestal tablet used for commemorating important events like funeral complexes of Chinese Emperors and dignitaries. It represents the finest discoveries from the Shang marble sculpture and the stone carvings of the Han dynasty that existed in animal figures buffaloes, birds and sacrificial victims. The impression was derived the monumental feeling and the engraved geometric and zoomorphic designs.

  1. 3.      Figurines

            The clay molded figurines excavated from Chinese tombs provided plenty of information about how people lived and the kind of beliefs they held before the duration of Confucius. Prior to Confucius, masters were buried with their slaves, servants and belongings because they believed that the dead will continue with their earthly lifestyle. Most figurines took after animals like pigs, goats, camels, farm life, dancers and watch towers among others.

  1. 4.      Hu Vase and cover and Ceramics ware of the Qin and Han dynasties

            It was typically molded with mythical beast mask handles painted red and white pigments with bands used for scrolling clouds and various geometric patterns.  This vase was typically used for rituals and burials.These ritual vessels existed in various sizes and were actually grouped according to use in in various sacrifices.  These vessels are believed to be used for cooking food which was extracted by spirits and the residents who participated later ate the residues. It is believed that such pottery like the one in could be common in Neolithic pottery.

            The above ceramics was found Qin and Han dynasties molded from gray clay.  Hard clay was used for making commonly used wares while soft clay used for making decoration including making funeral objects.  Apart from those used for daily activities, the ceramics were largely rare funeral objects.

  1. 5.      Terracotta Mingqi pottery

The mingqi pottery in was special models of buildings that exhibited the superb expressions of Chinese architecture. It was unearthed in one of the towns of Han dynasty. The Han pottery models were actually predated the wooden ones. The mingqi is considered more of a symbol than a ritual emblem. They were considered part of private paraphernalia in the burial ceremonies and special token from the family members. This terracotta model is a symbol of opulence since the rich lived in such multi-storied houses that could even accommodate animals.


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            Studies have shown that there was a connection between the bronze age and Neolithic pottery since techniques for stamping designs on pottery was influenced by bronze age. The resultant designs on pottery included the magnificent urn made from stoneware which could be found in Freer gallery.  The luxury pottery of the Han dynasty was used to furnish homes of the wealthy merchants, royals, nobles and other senior officials. The superb porcelain artworks of the Han dynasty bear much influence on the modern art.  The Chinese culture of the Han dynasty remains the most influential and widespread culture across the world.





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