It is almost impossible to inform briefly about the basic features and specifics of Chinese culture since this is one of the oldest civilizations of the world with a complex interaction of different social, religious and philosophical influences. In present-day China, we still encounter cultural elements that have their roots in the distant past, and which are often completely different from the Western model. It is, therefore, important that, in addition to providing basic facts about Culture of China, to elaborate a bit about the tradition on certain parts of some separate spheres. Chinese architecture, painting, calligraphy and many other arts still fascinate people around the world by their uniqueness, including some of the world’s finest artists. This fascination does not end with them but continues with martial arts, tradition, and history of their music, as well as the making of porcelain and ceramics. These, and many more features are parts of one of the most complex and mysterious culture of the world, and in order to understand it fully, you should pay attention to some of the most important parts of Chinese culture.
Taking into consideration the specific features, long and traditional development and historical significance, the Chinese architecture occupies a special place in the world cultural heritage. Its uniqueness lays in the use of wood basic construction. There are many great architectural achievements preserved even from the very old times, such as the magnificent imperial palaces, sublime architecture of imperial tombs, sacrificial altars and mystical temples, refined and subtle garden architecture, bridges, engineering ingenuity and a number of examples from everyday residential architecture. When it comes to ancient architectural styles and their features, the most obvious and the most thorough feature is horizontality. Unlike Western architecture, which tends to increase in height and depth, the Chinese architecture puts the greater emphasis on the width of the building. Anyone who visited China at least once saw the amount of importance that was given to the gardens, and in general, to everything that is external and what is around those well-designed buildings. The love of nature found its clear and concrete expression in the art design of the garden, which is for more than thousand years an integral part of the architecture and art in general. Architectural elements of the Chinese garden are very numerous and varied. There are pavilions for sitting or tea ceremony, viewing platforms, terraces, bridges, covered paths and corridors, galleries, and much more. What is very important to mention is the practicality of constructing houses for a living, taking into account that all of the traditional houses are south oriented, in order to provide isolation and protection from the wind.
Usually, when we think about the Chinese arts, porcelain is an unavoidable part of them and for centuries it has been synonymous with beauty, sophistication, elegance and luxury. The first porcelain objects from the first master classes appeared at the court of the Tang Dynasty, in the period between the 7th and 9th century. Song Dynasty brought some crucial changes from the beginning of the 10th to the end of the 13th century, so the craft of making porcelain rose to the level of artistic mastery, developing different techniques of firing clay with the combination of its components. Then the Chinese Emperors began opening factories for producing porcelain and did not hesitate to spare treasure for the establishment of workshops that will satisfy the refined tastes of inhabitants of the imperial palaces. The Chinese for centuries worked on perfecting the techniques of baking, decorating and glazing porcelain, jealously guarding the secret of its production. The first pieces of porcelain in Europe were brought Vasco de Gama in the 15th century. During the Yuan Dynasty, a turning point in the history of Chinese porcelain came to being. Thanks to the improvement of production, that included various techniques and methods, blue porcelain appeared, and it was very attractive. The name of the porcelain was first mentioned by Marco Polo in his memoirs, in 1298. It is believed that the name comes from a bright, white-walled dishes that are compared with porcellama, type of sea snail shells.
The history of Chinese pottery or ceramics is almost as long as the history of China as well, with the traces from forty-five centuries ago. It is really unbelievable what developed from the ordinary material like fired clay, and became of a huge importance in Chinese culture and tradition, serving both, aesthetic and practical needs of every man. The Chinese did not just invented certain arts, but also brought them to the perfection, constantly contributing with some technical innovation, refinements, and diversity. Thus, it is obvious that there is no place in this world where pottery was of a huge importance as it was in China, and its influence is seen in the rest of the world. The traces of this art form, as previously hinted, can be seen even from the Neolithic period. It is produced in many shapes, forms, with different symbols and signs, but the perfection of the early age is the best exemplified by the number of terracotta warriors found in the tomb of the First Qin Emperor (221-210 BC). However, it did not stop with that, but many other technologies and styles were developed over the centuries. Probably the most familiar is the three-colored ware of the Tang Dynasty, where dominant colors were, of course, yellow, green and white, though some other such as blue, brown, purple were also applied. Not only traditional forms, like bowls and vases, were available during this period, since the exotic and cultural influence of the Silk Road was visible as well, with the shapes of camels and Asian travelers.
As any other art, the painting also has its specific place among various arts that are typical for China, and as such it passed through many phases throughout the history. The first serious works appeared in the Jin Dynasty, and though for many painters it was just a leisure activity, with no deep interests, many serious works, and writings about them belong to this period. One of the most important things was the first emergence of the individual artists, such as Gu Kaizhi (顧愷之). The themes they dealt with were usually quite traditional and mostly related to families, though they have them something specific and yet very unknown by the time. The artists from the period of the Tang Dynasty were a bit more experimental in their forms and the use of colors. Quite typical for the period was the artist named Wu Daozi (吳道子), who created only black ink paintings. This was also the time when landscape paintings appeared and started being quite appreciated. Yuan Dynasty is known as the period when different arts started merging into one, so you may come across some paintings with different poems inscribed on them, using calligraphy. Later on, the still life paintings became quite famous and influential. Yangzhou and Shanghai became the centers of different artists who pursued some new ideas for their work. Cultural Revolution and the period after served as a turnover for the themes that paintings dealt with, but even today, the importance of this art is not in the decrease.
Chinese traditional music is an important element of Chinese Culture and very well known and popular worldwide. According to numerous documents, the development of traditional music on the territory of the today’s Republic of China began nearly 3000 years ago. In the social life of ancient China, music played a special role. Chinese legend says that the Ling Lun, who is considered to be the founder of traditional Chinese music, made a flute of bamboo which, when played, imitated the sounds of birds. The main features of Chinese music are sharp melody line and strict symmetry in the rhythmic and melodic sense. The development of this kind of music passed through many changes in different ruling dynasties, and as such, reached its full development. In the early 12th century, various stage performances with singing and instrumental ensemble occurred in China, but later, in the 14th century, Chinese opera as we know it developed from that form. Chinese opera itself is a complex art. It consists of singing, recitation, mime, acrobatics and dance. It represents the perfect combination of speech and dancing and is very popular among the people. It evolved from folk songs, dances, epic stories, being a typical combination of music and literature. The whole performance of the opera is accompanied by ancient instruments. The actors in opera present unique melodies to the audience, dialogues are very well written and have a great literary value. One of the most popular instruments are Gong, also called the Tam-Tam, and Paixiao, being a form of the pan flute.
Calligraphy represents the art of writing in a special and beautiful manner, and it is one of the most praised and most important arts in traditional China. Generally, it is a quite simple form that demands only brush and ink in order to be created, though years and years of practice are necessary to bring it to perfection. China has a long history of creating this visual art, almost as long as the country itself, and in order to understand it, you must know, not just Chinese language, but some of its origins. However, the specific knowledge is not required if you just want to approach it aesthetically, without thinking about the meaning. So, besides the practical purpose of transmitting the artist’s thoughts, it also has the purpose of showing the magnificent beauty of writing and Chinese letters. There are different styles of Chinese calligraphy, and some of the earliest examples are Oracle inscriptions. They represent writings on animal bones, and date from the period of the Shang Dynasty, that is, 13th century BC. The other, very famous is so called Running style, which is not strict and allows much more freedom of movement than the other styles. Clerical style got its name because it was found on some of the official documents, such as government records and similar things. It is also characterized by the quick and easy brush movement, though not with a lot of freedom. Besides these, there are many more styles, and their existence confirms the importance of Calligraphy in Chinese culture.
Chinese martial arts
When thinking about Chinese martial arts, the first thing that comes to mind is Kung Fu, and there are many reasons for that. It is also known by the name Wushu, and it has a long tradition in Chinese history, being one of the earliest sports that this nation started practicing. The first traces of Kung Fu as we know it today date from the period of the Shang and Zhou Dynasty, though not before Song Dynasty the first schools and technique developments appeared. There are various styles, and the most famous are; Shaolin, Tai Chi and Qigong, having numerous followers worldwide. As mostly all of them, Shaolin represents the both, physical exercise and mental training, being based upon Buddhist philosophy and originating from the Shaolin Temple in Henan. This is a mix of Taoism, traditional medicine, and physical exercise, and also one of the portrayals that Chinese Martial arts are not just about the physical strength. Qigong, being divided into two categories, Dynamic Qigong, followed by body movements, and Static Qigong, that includes only breath and mind, is quite beneficial for the physical and mental health. There are many people in the world that practice Martial arts, but some of them specifically left their traces and became worldwide known masters. Those people are, for example, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, and there is no person today that have not heard about them. Chinese Martial arts are practiced everywhere, and each country in the world has at least one school for it.