Guide to Prehistoric China | Chinese Antiques

Paleolithic 

What is currently China was occupied by Homo erectus more than a million years ago.  Recent study demonstrates that the stone apparatuses found at Xiaochangliang site are magnetostratigraphically dated to 1.36 million years ago. The archeological site of Xihoudu in Shanxi Province is the most punctual recorded utilization of flame by Homo erectus, which is dated 1.27 million years ago.  The unearthings at Yuanmou and later Lantian indicate early residence. Maybe the most renowned example of Homo erectus found in China is the purported Peking Man found in 1923–27. Fossilized teeth of Homo sapiens dating to 125,000–80,000 BCE have been found in Fuyan Cave in Dao County in Hunan.

Neolithic 

The Neolithic age in China can be followed back to around 10,000 BC.

Early proof for proto-Chinese millet horticulture is radiocarbon-dated to around 7000 BC. The soonest confirmation of developed rice, found by the Yangtze River, is cell based dated to 8,000 years ago. Farming offered ascend to the Jiahu society (7000 to 5800 BC). At Damaidi in Ningxia, 3,172 precipice carvings dating to 6000–5000 BC have been found, "including 8,453 individual characters, for example, the sun, moon, stars, divine beings and scenes of chasing or touching." These pictographs are rumored to be like the soonest characters affirmed to be composed Chinese. Chinese proto-composition existed in Jiahu around 7000 BC, Dadiwan from 5800 BC to 5400 BC, Damaidi around 6000 BC and Banpo dating from the fifth thousand years BC. A few researchers have proposed that Jiahu images (seventh thousand years BC) were the soonest Chinese written work system. Excavation of a Peiligang society site in Xinzheng district, Henan, found a group that prospered in 5,500 to 4,900 BC, with proof of farming, developed structures, earthenware, and internment of the dead.  With horticulture came expanded populace, the capacity to store and redistribute crops, and the possibility to bolster expert skilled workers and administrators. In late Neolithic times, the Yellow River valley started to build up itself as a focal point of Yangshao society (5000 BC to 3000 BC), and the main towns were established; the most archeologically noteworthy of these was found at Banpo, Xi'an.  Later, Yangshao society was superseded by the Longshan society, which was likewise focused on the Yellow River from around 3000 BC to 2000 BC. 

Bronze Age 

Bronze ancient rarities have been found at the Majiayao society site (somewhere around 3100 and 2700 BC), The Bronze Age is likewise spoken to at the Lower Xiajiadian society (2200–1600 BC site in upper east China.

Western Han Dynasty | Chinese Antiques

Founding of the Western Han Dynasty

Founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, the Western Han Dynasty was established as the second imperial dynasty of China when the peasant leader Liu crushed the Imperial Army of Qin in Wei Valley. Liu Bang of Han became the first emperor Gaozu of the Han Dynasty.

Wang Mang a former official of the Han Dynasty interrupted the rule of Han Dynasty. His aunt, the Empress Dowager appointed him to act as the emperor while the young Liu Ying came to age. Wang Mang gave his word to step down once Liu Ying was old enough, but when the time came for him to relinquish the throne, he broke the agreement and proclaimed himself as the Emperor. This was the end of the Western Han Dynasty and the beginning of Xin Dynasty which was short lived.

Hence, the Han Dynasty was divided into two periods: the Western Han and the Eastern Han. The Han Dynasty was successfully restored after the Xin Dynasty


Ruling, Society & Culture of the Western Han Dynasty

• During the early Western Han, some military officers were designated as Kings and they ruled over semi-autonomous fiefs. Later, only the emperor’s male relatives were given that designation.

• Regents and eunuchs were positions that were given to a few officials during the later periods of the dynasty. Those serving the government also had privileged positions during this dynasty. They were immune from arrests unless permission from the emperor was granted.

• Scholars belonged to the same tier as that of the nobles and the government officials.

• The Han kingdom rivalled that of the Romans in prominence and in achievements in the fields of art and science. This era had a very rich cultural, intellectual and political heritage

• The arts began to gain status during the Eastern Han period when calligraphy and painting were no longer seen as pure letter symbols only. Ceramics was also developed along with the spread of pottery.

• Han emperors and other noblemen adorned their tombs with replicas made through pottery of warriors, servants, concubines, toilets, furniture; everything they needed in the next world.

• The makers of the Han dynasty were credited with being the first politicians in Chinese history to develop a system of training and educating future administration officials. Becoming an actual official was still more possible through recommendations instead of imperial examinations.

• The military forces of the Han dynasty were said to have used the most advance forms of weaponry during that time. Swords were a favoured weapon and the improvement in iron casting and working during the Han period made it possible for them to produce stronger swords. Improvements were also made to the traditional crossbow making it more accurate and powerful. The army began to adapt stirrups to gain greater balance riding horses.

• During the Western Han era, writing surfaces were made from different materials such as bones, bamboo slips, wooden boards and even tortoise shells. These things are not only heavy but they also took up a lot of space and are hard to carry around. People then needed not only intelligence to study, but they needed to be strong to carry their books as well.

• Literature became an integral part of the Han dynasty culture mainly because of the invention of paper.

• Historian Sima Qian wrote the Book of History, the first account of Chinese history from Huangdi to Emperor Wu.

• The Yuefu, or the Music Bureau began to collect and record ceremonial chants and songs and ballads of common people.

• During the Han period, the loom was invented. With that, silk began to be woven for export trades. The world renowned “Three Treasures of the Han Dynasty” was also created during this time.

• During the Western Han dynasty, the “dark style” black from the Qin Dynasty was the preferred colour. Court dress was black and when performing sacrificial ceremonies, the formal dress was edged with red.

• Characteristics of Han Dynasty clothing were square sleeves, sloping necklines, red clothes, red shoes and cicada-like hat. Clothes worn by high ranking officials and ordinary people had the same style. The only way to identify the position or rank of a person in the society was by the colour and the quality of the materials used in his clothing.

• During the Han Dynasty, a significant event referred to as the Yellow Turban Rebellion occurred. China was headed by Emperor Ling when this peasant revolt broke out. The rebels all wore yellow scarves around their heads which is the reason why the Yellow Turban Rebellion is also referred to as Yellow Scarves Rebellion. This momentous event in China also holds some significance with Taoism.

• The society of the Han Dynasty can generally be described as highly structured with a clear definition of each social class. Han China was comprised of a three-tiered rigid social system. Aristocrats and bureaucrats were at the top of this hierarchy followed by skilled farmers and iron workers. The bottom tier consisted of unskilled servants and slaves. The emperor was at the top of the whole hierarchy.

• At the time of the Eastern Han dynasty, red was the most respectful colour because it symbolised the “fire virtue” of the Han Dynasty. The government officials of this period wore coloured clothes that conformed to the season, according to the Five Elements theory. During Spring, ceremonial clothes as well as carriages were grey-green. In Summer, ceremonial dress was was red. For Autumn, the preferred colour was yellow and in Winter, the preferred colour was black.

• Shenyi was the long coat developed in the Western Han Dynasty and the Yijin which made up the front of the jacket/gown. Women in this period wore long pants, long jackets, a long intricate belt with delicate, expensive accessories to show the class a woman belonged to in the society.

• The famous Silk Road was developed during this dynasty. Composed of different routes through the mountains and valleys that merchants, traders and government officials followed for safe travel away from robbers and bandits.

• The greatest contributor to the Han dynasty economy’s affluence was the silk trade and the opening up of the Silk Road.

• The invention of the loom enabled silk to be produced and traded to the western people through the Silk Road. Silk was used as a currency.

• The Han dynasty inventions were some of the greatest contributions not only in the Chinese society but across the globe. Some of the lesser known innovations developed during this period include the creation of the wheelbarrow, paper, seismograph and stirrups.

• The invention of cast iron tools can also be credited to the people of the Han dynasty. It was during the Han dynasty that the cast iron processing was perfected. Furnaces which are able to convert iron ore into pig iron and later into cast iron. This resulted in vastly improved weapons, tools and domestic wares. It paved the way for the creation of new agricultural tools which in turn helped increase the agricultural tax revenue of the empire.

• Better irrigation systems were enhanced to aid in the colonisation of the northern region of China. The Empire invested on conducting study on agriculture and crop rotation was used.

• Iron and salt, two biggest products in the economy of the empire, were monopolized for at least a century.

• A new class of philosophers and educated elite were hailed. This led to assemblage of different important books such as anthologies, history accounts and encyclopedia. The most famous and important book of the Han dynasty is the Book of the Mountains and Seas. This atlas-like book includes every information known at the era about geography and topography of known lands, ecology, zoology and botany and famous myths.

• Iron and salt, two biggest products in the economy of the empire, were monopolized for at least a century.

• A new class of philosophers and educated elite were hailed. This led to assemblage of different important books such as anthologies, history accounts and encyclopedia. The most famous and important book of the Han dynasty is the Book of the Mountains and Seas. This atlas-like book includes every information known at the era about geography and topography of known lands, ecology, zoology and botany and famous myths.

Events During The Han Dynasty

256 BC: Liu Bang, born (Emperor Gao/Gaozu), emerges from peasant class to become the first emperor of the Han Dynasty.

206 BC: Han Dynasty begins. Lui Bang reduces taxes, develops agriculture, restricts spending, levies heavy taxes and restrictions on corrupt Qin merchants. He subdues other unruly kings within the neighbourhood and soon annexes them all, appointing his sons and relatives as princes of these subjugated kingdoms, thereby consolidating all the powers of his new empire.

195 BC: Lui Bang dies. He is mortally wounded during his Ying Bu rebellion campaign with a stray arrow.

141 BC: Emperor Wu of Han, tenth son of Emperor Jing (seventh emperor of the Han Dynasty Liu Che) rules at 16 years old. Chinese history regards him as the greatest Han emperor with the goal of unification of the whole of China. As an energetic military campaigner, Liu Che embarks China into its greatest expansion ever, conquering parts of modern Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam and Korea, vanquishing the Huns to the Gobi desert. This Emperor of the Han dynasty moves an approximate two million Chinese to the north western part of the empire to ensure

87 BC: Emperor Wu, Liu Che dies on the throne aged 70, capping his 54-year rule.

45 BC: Future Xin Emperor Wang Ming is born.

13BC: Liu Xiu is born on 13 January.

25 AD: Emperor Guang Wu (Liu Xiu) restores the fallen Han Dynasty. Liu Xiu is an emperor of the Han Dynasty and first emperor of the Eastern Han. He rules small parts of China at first and successfully unifies China little by little.

104 AD: A eunuch of the Imperial Court, Cai Lun invents a new type of paper. Bamboo fibres and the inner bark of a mulberry tree are added to water and pounded using a wooden tool. The whole mixture is poured over a flat woven cloth letting the water drain out. When dried, only the fibres remain and Cai Lun realises he has made a lightweight material with a good writing surface.

105 AD: Cai Lun presents this invention to the Emperor He Di and paper is then invented, according to Chinese History.

Ming Dynasty History | Chinese Antiques

Founding of the Ming Dynasty

The Ming dynasty was founded by General Zhu Yuanzhang, a Budhist orphan from Nanjing. He pushed the Yuan court back into Inner Mongolia and victoriously declared himself emperor with the title Hongwu ('vast military accomplishment').

Ruling, Society & Culture of the Ming Dynasty

First Ming Emperor Hongwu fathered 36 sons and 16 daughters.

Emperor Xuande was regarded by later Ming scholars as a golden age of good government and patronage of the arts. He was a talented artist and poet with artists at court. Notable advances were made in the porcelains produced at the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen. 

Although the city of Beijing has been rebuilt in part many times since 1421, the Ming design has been maintained.

The wealthy of Ming China delighted in beauty –silk gauzes, translucent porcelains, ornate lacquerwork, filigree – while famine periodically reduced subsistence farmers to eating earth and each other.

Ming princes fought with Japanese blades, wore Mongolian-style helmets, sported hat-top ornaments studded with Sri Lankan and Indian gems, and were buried with ingots of African gold.

Ming China was wealthy in knowledge and learning whose economy was at the heart of the global luxuries trade, thriving on the New World silver proffered by Europeans in love with its blue and white porcelain and embroidered silks.

Ming empire was geographically diverse as its borders enclosed subtropical forests and freezing mountains, paddy fields and desert that took months to traverse from north to south. 

The million-strong Ming army was a ubiquitous presence throughout China, providing labour for building and transportation projects, as well as supervising trade over land and maritime borders.

Blue and white porcelain was not a Ming invention, but during the Yongle emperor’s reign new refined clay recipes made it possible for vessels to become thinner, and new glazes produced a much purer translucent white and a glossier finish. A far greater range of shapes was introduced, including a number inspired by bottles, flasks, jugs, candleholders and pen boxes from the Islamic world.

One order given to the imperial kilns for 443,500 porcelain pieces with dragon and phoenix designs was placed in 1433.

The best Ming sculptures are small ornamental carvings of jade, ivory, wood, and porcelain.

Although a high level of workmanship is manifest in Ming decorative arts such as cloisonné, enamelware, bronzework, lacquerwork, and furniture, the major achievements in art were in painting and pottery.

There were 16 Ming emperors.

There were two main traditions in painting - “literati painting” (wenrenhua) of the Wu school and “professional academics” (huayuanpai) associated with the Zhe school.

Key Events During the Ming Dynasty

1368: Ming Dynasty begins and lasts for 276 years.

1380: Ming founder, Hongwu, executes his prime minister. For its next 264 years, the dynasty functions without an official head of government.

1399: Emperor Hongwu’s rule ends.

1403: Emperor Yongle (the third Ming Emperor) orders the transfer of the capital from Nanjing, in the southeast, to Beijing in the north. 

1405: Chinese explorer Zheng begins his first journey to India and Africa. He establishes trade relationships and bring back news of the outside world. His armadas consist of 250 ships, 60 metres long, at the time the largest ever built – carrying porcelain, lacquer, silks escorted by 27,000 armed men.

1405: Construction on the Forbidden City begins involving more than 200,000 labourers. 

1405-08 Yongle commissions a team of 2,169 scholars to compile a vast anthology of orthodox literary texts. 

1414 Yongle legislates for the school curriculum in deep rural south China.

1421: Yongle inaugurates his new capital Beijing in front of an international audience from Asia and the coasts of the Indian Ocean whom are banqueted, accommodated and loaded with gifts. 

1424: Yongle’s reign ends.

1426: The short reign of the Xuande emperor begins. 

1517: First Portuguese traders arrive in the country.

1644: Ming Dynasty falls to peasant rebels. The last Ming emperor enters the Pavilion of Imperial Longevity, north of the Forbidden City and hangs himself with his sash.

Tang Dynasty | Chinese Antiques

Founding of the Tang Dynasty

The Sui Dynasty began to collapse in AD 618 and a Northern China aristocrat named Li Yuan marched with an army on the capital city of Chang'an. He helped to put a new child emperor on the throne and ruled the country as Prime Minister.

When the old Emperor Yang was assassinated, Li Yuan then declared himself as emperor and established the Tang Dynasty.

Quick Facts about the Tang Dynasty

During the Tang rule, China experienced a time of peace and prosperity that made it one of the most powerful nations in the world. This time period is sometimes referred to as the Golden Age of Ancient China.

Taizong, the co-founder and second emperor of the Great Tang Empire was one of the most enlightened emperors in Chinese history. He was considered the real founder of the Tang Empire.

Under Emperor Taizong Li Shimin's wise governing, the national strength and social development reached an unparalleled prosperity - economy and commerce flourished, the social order was stable, corruption never existed in the court and the national boundaries were even open to foreign countries.

Taizong had sophisticated taste in art and profound knowledge on Chinese history and classics. His great love for art and culture was demonstrated in his diligent effort in procuring great works of art.

Taizong was especially fond of Wang Xizi’s calligraphy. He commissioned professional copyists to do careful reproductions of the works in the imperial collection and patronized Wang-style calligraphers at his court, many of whom held high-ranking posts.

The eighth century heralded the second important epoch in Tang history, achieved largely during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong. The national economy, politics and culture all developed rapidly and the social development entered a new heyday. Chang'an City was the largest and the most prosperous metropolis in the world. This is rightfully ranked as the classical period of Chinese art and literature, as it set the high standard to which later poets, painters, and sculptors aspired.

The reign of Xuanzong was one of China's most brilliant eras. He was a scholar and a great patron of the arts. He fell in love with a courtesan known as Yang Guifei, who brought about his downfall.

The Tang Dynasty benefited from the hard work of the earlier Sui Dynasty which finished the Grand Canal and rebuilt much of the Great Wall.

It was during the Tang Dynasty that drinking tea became a leisure activity and the author Lu Yu wrote a description on the art of drinking tea called the Classic of Tea.

Toilet paper was invented during this time.

The capital city of Chang'an was the largest city in the world at the time. It is estimated that the total population of the city and the countryside around it totalled nearly 2 million people.

During the Tang dynasty, the monk Zhiyong, a seventh-generation descendant of Wang Xizhi, produced many copies of traditional Wang style writings for distribution among various temples throughout (modern day) Zhejiang province. Zhiyong was also the teacher of Yu Shinan, an assistant in the Palace Library at the Sui court who went on to hold more senior academic positions at the early Tang court under Taizong. The Tang emperor appreciated Yu's steadfast personality and extensive learning as well as his excellence as a calligrapher.

Many advancements in the areas of engineering and technology were made during the Tang Dynasty; the invention of woodblock printing. Woodblock printing allowed books to be printed in mass production. This helped to increase literacy and to pass on knowledge throughout the empire.

Another major invention of the time was gunpowder which was mostly used for fireworks during the Tang Dynasty. The people believed that fireworks could help to scare off evil spirits. Also advancements in porcelain, mapmaking, gas cylinders for natural gas, medicine, and in clock making.

The arts flourished during the Tang Dynasty and it is most famous for its poetry which became an integral part of the Chinese culture. Poetry was a required study for those who wished to pass the civil service exams. Talented poets were well-respected and often recited their poetry as entertainment at parties. Some of the great poets in Chinese history lived during this time such as Li Bai, Du Fu, Li Po, and Wang Wei.

Painting was very popular and the era produced famous painters such as Wu Daozi, Wang Wei (also a famous poet), and Zhou Fang.

The Tang Dynasty ruled over a vast area that stretched from Korea to Northern Vietnam. It even reached west as far as Afghanistan.

The Tang established a detailed code of laws and administrative functions. They taxed the people based on their land and also required that farmers served in the army for a period of time.

Tang government officials were assigned based on their scores on the civil service examinations. In an effort to get the best talent into the government, examinations were more open to men of the non-noble classes than with previous dynasties. There were even government run schools to help educate more people.

At the start of the Tang Dynasty the emperors were tolerant of many religions. Buddhism became a very popular religion throughout China. However, near the end of the dynasty, the rulers made Confucianism the national religion and banned all other religions. Many Buddhist monasteries and temples were shut down.

A great part of the Tang aristocracy was of non-Chinese; especially Turkish origin, and merchants from Inner Asia, like Sogdhians and Persians.
 

 

 

 

Calligraphy is an art form that has been closely associated with political power throughout China's history. Tang Taizong (r. 626-649 AD) himself was an avid collector of Wang Xizhi calligraphy during his day, and went to extreme lengths to gather up all the known extant Wang Xizhi works. He commissioned professional copyists to do careful reproductions of the works in the imperial collection and patronized Wang-style calligraphers at his court, many of whom held high-ranking posts.
 


Li Shimin (Tang Taizong, r. 626-649 AD), Encomium on the Warm Springs (628 AD)


Key Events During The Tang Dynasty

AD 618: Tang Dynasty begins. The Mongols defeat the Song loyalists.

AD 626-649: Taizong, the second emperor of Tang Dynasty reigns.

AD 699-759: The naturalist idiom of the poet and painter Wang Wei becomes artistic paradigm for later generations.

AD 700: The expressions and images contained in the poems of Li Bo reflect the flamboyant lives of the court and the conflicting sentiments generated by military campaigns.

AD710-760: The vigorous brushwork of the court painter Wu Daozi becomes artistic paradigm for later generations.

AD 712-756: Emperor Xuanzong rules. He is called the Brilliant Monarch. Since the title of Xuanzong's reign is Kaiyuan, that period is called the Heyday of Kaiyuan, in which the dynasty reaches its summit of prosperity.

AD755-763: Rebellion led by General An Lushan results in Xuanzong’s downfall.AD 874: A rebellion by the over-taxed people occurs with much of the city of Chang'an being destroyed. The Tang manages to halt the rebellion.

AD 868: The first full-length book the Diamond Sutra is published.

AD 907 The last Tang emperor, Emperor Ai is forced to abdicate by Chancellor Zhu Quanzhong, who afterwards changes the state title into Liang, finally putting the ever powerful and mighty dynasty to an end.

Sony Dynasty | Chinese Antiques

Founding of the Song Dynasty 

The Northern Song was founded by Zhao Kuangyin, a military general ending the upheaval of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. With a strong central government the dynasty controlled most of inner China. The Song capital was in the northern city of Bianjing (today Kaifeng, eastern Henan province).
The Southern Song was set up by Zhao Gou, son of the last emperor of Northern Song. After Jin defeated the Northern Song, many imperial clansmen were captured by Jin's army. Fortunately, Zhao Gou had a lucky escape and fled to Nanjing Yingtianfu (in current Shangqiu of Henan Province) and established the Southern Song Dynasty there. Later, the capital city was moved to Lin'an (currently Hangzhou City in Zhejiang Province). The Southern Song's regime was subject to the Jin.

Quick Facts about the Song Dynasty

It had a prosperous economy and radiant culture. This period was considered as another period of 'golden age' after the glorious Tang Dynasty.

During the Song Dynasty, agriculture and productive technology were improved which promoted the output of food.

Painting became closely allied with calligraphy in aim, form, and technique so that it shed its status as mere craft and joined the higher ranks of the fine arts.

In the handicraft industry, the division of labour became more detailed which advanced handicrafts technology. The development of the commodity economy meant that the earliest paper currency appeared in this period.

Often coined the Chinese "renaissance". This term refers mainly to two aspects, namely the large amount of technical inventions made and perfected during the Song period. E.g. gunpowder, typography, the compass, book-printing, and to the "recovery" of what was defined as a Chinese culture after many centuries of "barbarian" influences.

With regard to literature, a large number of outstanding scholars and poets, such as Zhuxi, Ouyang Xiu, Su Shi, Sima Guang and Shen Kuo, emerged and built up the splendid cultural atmosphere of the Song Dynasty.

The Song only ruled over a relatively small area compared to the Han, the Tang or the Qing dynasties.

The Song period was a time of consolidation for Chinese culture, in which Confucianism was reconfirmed in its eminent position as a cultural doctrine, and Buddhism and Taoism were acknowledged as state-sponsored religions.

The early Northern Song dynasty witnessed the flowering of one of the supreme artistic expressions of Chinese civilization: monumental landscape painting. Retreating to the mountains to escape the turmoil and destruction that occurred at the end of the Tang dynasty, tenth-century recluse-painters discovered in nature the moral order that they had found lacking in the human world. In their visionary landscapes, the great mountain, towering above the lesser mountains, trees, and men, was like "a ruler among his subjects, a master among servants." Later, Song court painters transformed these idealised images of nature into emblems of a perfectly ordered state.

An important outgrowth of Song political unification was the creation of a distinctive style of court painting under the auspices of the Imperial Painting Academy. Painters from all parts of the empire were recruited to serve the needs of the court. The varied traditions represented by this diverse group of artists were welded together into a harmonious Song academic manner that valued a naturalistic, closely descriptive portrayal of the physical world.

There was a political shift during the early Song — from a society ruled by a hereditary aristocratic order to a society governed by a central bureaucracy of scholar-officials chosen through the civil-service examinations.

Dissatisfied with the rigidity and oversophistication of early Northern Song calligraphy, eleventh-century scholars sought to revive the natural, spontaneous qualities of more archaic models.

The literati also applied their new critical standards to painting. Rejecting the highly realistic descriptive style followed by the professional painters of the Imperial Painting Academy, they also departed from the official view that art must serve the state. Instead, the amateur scholar-artist pursued painting and calligraphy for his own amusement as a forum of personal expression.

Technology and science were strongly supported and communication was promoted all over the territory. Among the most noted projects that the empire supported was that of engineer Zhang Sixun, an astronomical clock tower.

The dynasty conquered lands and preserved good relationships with other countries in Asia both in terms of trade and diplomatic conduct.

Key Events During The Song Dynasty

960 AD: Zhao Kuangyin launches a mutiny in Chenqiao county (in current Henan Province). Soon the last king of the Latter Zhou is forced to abdicate.

960-1127 AD: 9 emperors reign during the Northern Song dynasty.

970 AD – 978 AD: During the earlier years of the Northern Song, Emperor Taizu builds a resilient central administration that rules the empire and pays great importance to the competitiveness and talent of bureaucrats through the conduct of examination for civil service, thereby disregarding social standing and connections. 

1100-1125 AD: Under Emperor Huizong, himself an accomplished painter and calligrapher, imperial patronage and the ruler's direct involvement in establishing artistic direction reaches a zenith. While maintaining that the fundamental purpose of painting is to be true to nature, Huizong seeks to enrich its content through the inclusion of poetic resonance and references to antique styles.

1127 AD: Northern Song dynasty is destroyed by the Jin. Zhao Gou flees to Nanjing Yingtianfu (in current Shangqiu of Henan Province) and establishes the Southern Song dynasty there. 

1127-1279 AD: 9 emperors reign during the Southern Song dynasty.

1132 AD: Song Dynasty establishes China's first permanent navy. The government sponsors massive shipbuilding and harbour improvement projects to protect and support the multitudes of ships sailing for maritime interests. 

1161 AD: During the Tangdao and Caishi Battle, the dynasty makes use of marine vessels equipped with trebuchet propellers that hurl gunpowder bombs. The Song Dynasty triumphs over the two battles.

1268 AD – 1273 AD The Mongols attack the Song dynasty and Kublai blocks the Yangzi River with his fleet

1271 AD: Kublai officially declares the formation of Yuan Dynasty.

1275 AD: The Song troops are defeated by Kublai’s army.

1276 AD: The majority of the territory of Song Empire has been seized by Yuan troops.

1279 AD: At the Yamen Battle, Pearl River Delta, Yuan armed forces led by Zhang Hongfan crumple the Song struggle. Emperor Huaizong of Song Dynasty, who is then eight years old, gives in to suicide, together with Lu Xifu who is a Prime Minister and the imperial clan’s 800 members; the remaining citizens are untouched.

Yuan Dynasty History | Chinese Antiques

Founding of the Yuan Dynasty (Great Mongol State)

The Yuan dynasty was founded by the Mongol Genghis Khan’s grandson Kublai Khan who became the emperor and moved his capital from Karakorum in Mongolia to Beijing in China. It was the first time that foreigners had ruled all of China.

Ruling, Society & Culture of the Yuan Dynasty

The government of the Yuan Dynasty ruled in Chinese fashion however had virtually no Chinese officials. Mongols and other foreigners were given all government positions.

The Chinese nobility were better educated than the Mongol invaders and were not allowed to be involved in government. Therefore they pursued art and literature.

The greatest advances in literature were in the forms of theatre and opera. The theatre was a favourite form of entertainment for the emperors and wealthy families. Western musical instruments were introduced to enrich the Chinese performing arts. 

Advances were made in the fields of cartography, geography, and scientific education.

Active trade also introduced Chinese innovations like printing techniques and porcelain to Europe, while the production of thin glass and cloisonné were brought to China.

Best known of the foreigners believed to have reached China during this period was Marco Polo, whose account of his travels portrays the wealth and splendour of Chinese cities.

A return to past styles by Yuan artists led to the use of expressive calligraphic brushwork in painting to express images of nature and of the mind.

As an amateur painter, Zhao Mengfu studied the styles of earlier masters. As a calligrapher, he explored a diverse range of styles. Combining principles of monumental writing from the Han and Tang dynasties with the fluid, more intimate brushwork of Wang Xizhi (303–361), he produced a new model of standard script for calligraphy and typeface for woodblock printing throughout China.

One of the Four Great Masters of the late Yuan, Ni Zan was widely known for his landscape style, characterised by dry brushwork. He became a model for later literati painters, who admired his noble character and praised his seemingly simple paintings as reflecting inner strength and fortitude.

Yuan was a period of innovation in ceramic production. Sources for new decorative motifs and vessel shapes came from Near Eastern metalwork, Tang dynasty features surviving in Jin dynasty ceramics, and archaic Chinese bronzes and jades.

Porcelains exhibiting a bluish-tone glaze continued to be produced along with new types of porcelains painted with underglaze copper-red and colbalt-blue designs. Some of the most innovative techniques were developed for stoneware with a white slip ground painted with underglaze black-iron pigment and sometimes incised designs, while others were detailed using overglazes, polychrome, and numerous other techniques.

Key Events of the Yuan Dynasty

1279: Yuan Dynasty begins. The Mongols defeat the Song loyalists and the child emperor dies. Northern and Southern China are united for the first time in 300 years. China is part of the Mongol Empire. 

1281: Kublai Khan attempts to invade Japan for a second time. A typhoon destroys his fleet resulting in a costly defeat. 

1294: Kublai Khan dies aged 79.

1301: Yuan artist, a rich and cultured man, Ni Zan is born.

1313: The forth Yuan emperor Buyantu Khan re-establishes traditional imperial examinations for imperial officials to reform corruption and flaws in the empire. 

1331: The bubonic plague pandemic enters the Yuan empire and ravages the population. Millions of people die and the disaster contributes to political instability. 

1344: The Yellow River causes a massive flood that destroys a key, populous region in the centre of the Yuan empire. 

1353: Ni Zan begins 20 years of waterborne wandering. He is forced to flee from his lands during a period of Chinese rebel uprisings. 

1322: Yuan artist Zhao Mengfu dies. His work showed calligraphy was critical to the practice and understanding of the pictorial arts. 

1368: Zhu Yuanzhang reaches the capital of Dadu, the Yuan emperor flees to Mongolia. The Yuan dynasty falls and the Ming Dynasty begins.

Eastern Han Dynasty | Chinese Antiques

Founding of the Eastern Han Dynasty

Founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, the Western Han Dynasty was established as the second imperial dynasty of China when the peasant leader Liu crushed the Imperial Army of Qin in Wei Valley. Liu Bang of Han became the first emperor Gaozu of the Han Dynasty.

Wang Mang a former official of the Han Dynasty interrupted the rule of Han Dynasty. His aunt, the Empress Dowager appointed him to act as the emperor while the young Liu Ying came to age. Wang Mang gave his word to step down once Liu Ying was old enough, but when the time came for him to relinquish the throne, he broke the agreement and proclaimed himself as the Emperor. This was the end of the Western Han Dynasty and the beginning of Xin Dynasty which was short lived.

Hence, the Han Dynasty was divided into two periods: the Western Han and the Eastern Han. The Han Dynasty was successfully restored after the Xin Dynasty.

Ruling, Society & Culture of the Eastern Han Dynasty

During the early Western Han, some military officers were designated as Kings and they ruled over semi-autonomous fiefs. Later, only the emperor’s male relatives were given that designation.

Regents and eunuchs were positions that were given to a few officials during the later periods of the dynasty. Those serving the government also had privileged positions during this dynasty. They were immune from arrests unless permission from the emperor was granted.

Scholars belonged to the same tier as that of the nobles and the government officials.

The Han kingdom rivalled that of the Romans in prominence and in achievements in the fields of art and science. This era had a very rich cultural, intellectual and political heritage

The arts began to gain status during the Eastern Han period when calligraphy and painting were no longer seen as pure letter symbols only. Ceramics was also developed along with the spread of pottery.

Han emperors and other noblemen adorned their tombs with replicas made through pottery of warriors, servants, concubines, toilets, furniture; everything they needed in the next world.

The makers of the Han dynasty were credited with being the first politicians in Chinese history to develop a system of training and educating future administration officials. Becoming an actual official was still more possible through recommendations instead of imperial examinations.

The military forces of the Han dynasty were said to have used the most advance forms of weaponry during that time. Swords were a favoured weapon and the improvement in iron casting and working during the Han period made it possible for them to produce stronger swords. Improvements were also made to the traditional crossbow making it more accurate and powerful. The army began to adapt stirrups to gain greater balance riding horses.

During the Western Han era, writing surfaces were made from different materials such as bones, bamboo slips, wooden boards and even tortoise shells. These things are not only heavy but they also took up a lot of space and are hard to carry around. People then needed not only intelligence to study, but they needed to be strong to carry their books as well.

Literature became an integral part of the Han dynasty culture mainly because of the invention of paper.

Historian Sima Qian wrote the Book of History, the first account of Chinese history from Huangdi to Emperor Wu.

The Yuefu, or the Music Bureau began to collect and record ceremonial chants and songs and ballads of common people.

During the Han period, the loom was invented. With that, silk began to be woven for export trades. The world renowned “Three Treasures of the Han Dynasty” was also created during this time.

During the Western Han dynasty, the “dark style” black from the Qin Dynasty was the preferred colour. Court dress was black and when performing sacrificial ceremonies, the formal dress was edged with red.

Characteristics of Han Dynasty clothing were square sleeves, sloping necklines, red clothes, red shoes and cicada-like hat. Clothes worn by high ranking officials and ordinary people had the same style. The only way to identify the position or rank of a person in the society was by the colour and the quality of the materials used in his clothing.

During the Han Dynasty, a significant event referred to as the Yellow Turban Rebellion occurred. China was headed by Emperor Ling when this peasant revolt broke out. The rebels all wore yellow scarves around their heads which is the reason why the Yellow Turban Rebellion is also referred to as Yellow Scarves Rebellion. This momentous event in China also holds some significance with Taoism.

The society of the Han Dynasty can generally be described as highly structured with a clear definition of each social class. Han China was comprised of a three-tiered rigid social system. Aristocrats and bureaucrats were at the top of this hierarchy followed by skilled farmers and iron workers. The bottom tier consisted of unskilled servants and slaves. The emperor was at the top of the whole hierarchy.

At the time of the Eastern Han dynasty, red was the most respectful colour because it symbolised the “fire virtue” of the Han Dynasty. The government officials of this period wore coloured clothes that conformed to the season, according to the Five Elements theory. During Spring, ceremonial clothes as well as carriages were grey-green. In Summer, ceremonial dress was was red. For Autumn, the preferred colour was yellow and in Winter, the preferred colour was black.

Shenyi was the long coat developed in the Western Han Dynasty and the Yijin which made up the front of the jacket/gown. Women in this period wore long pants, long jackets, a long intricate belt with delicate, expensive accessories to show the class a woman belonged to in the society.

The famous Silk Road was developed during this dynasty. Composed of different routes through the mountains and valleys that merchants, traders and government officials followed for safe travel away from robbers and bandits.

The greatest contributor to the Han dynasty economy’s affluence was the silk trade and the opening up of the Silk Road.

The invention of the loom enabled silk to be produced and traded to the western people through the Silk Road. Silk was used as a currency.

The Han dynasty inventions were some of the greatest contributions not only in the Chinese society but across the globe. Some of the lesser known innovations developed during this period include the creation of the wheelbarrow, paper, seismograph and stirrups.

The invention of cast iron tools can also be credited to the people of the Han dynasty. It was during the Han dynasty that the cast iron processing was perfected. Furnaces which are able to convert iron ore into pig iron and later into cast iron. This resulted in vastly improved weapons, tools and domestic wares. It paved the way for the creation of new agricultural tools which in turn helped increase the agricultural tax revenue of the empire.

Better irrigation systems were enhanced to aid in the colonisation of the northern region of China. The Empire invested on conducting study on agriculture and crop rotation was used.

Iron and salt, two biggest products in the economy of the empire, were monopolized for at least a century.

A new class of philosophers and educated elite were hailed. This led to assemblage of different important books such as anthologies, history accounts and encyclopedia. The most famous and important book of the Han dynasty is the Book of the Mountains and Seas. This atlas-like book includes every information known at the era about geography and topography of known lands, ecology, zoology and botany and famous myths.

Iron and salt, two biggest products in the economy of the empire, were monopolized for at least a century.

A new class of philosophers and educated elite were hailed. This led to assemblage of different important books such as anthologies, history accounts and encyclopedia. The most famous and important book of the Han dynasty is the Book of the Mountains and Seas. This atlas-like book includes every information known at the era about geography and topography of known lands, ecology, zoology and botany and famous myths.

Events During The Han Dynasty

256 BC:  Liu Bang, born (Emperor Gao/Gaozu), emerges from peasant class to become the first emperor of the Han Dynasty.

206 BC:  Han Dynasty begins. Lui Bang reduces taxes, develops agriculture, restricts spending, levies heavy taxes and restrictions on corrupt Qin merchants. He subdues other unruly kings within the neighbourhood and soon annexes them all, appointing his sons and relatives as princes of these subjugated kingdoms, thereby consolidating all the powers of his new empire.

195 BC:  Lui Bang dies. He is mortally wounded during his Ying Bu rebellion campaign with a stray arrow. 

141 BC:  Emperor Wu of Han, tenth son of Emperor Jing (seventh emperor of the Han Dynasty Liu Che) rules at 16 years old. Chinese history regards him as the greatest Han emperor with the goal of unification of the whole of China. As an energetic military campaigner, Liu Che embarks China into its greatest expansion ever, conquering parts of modern Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam and Korea, vanquishing the Huns to the Gobi desert. This Emperor of the Han dynasty moves an approximate two million Chinese to the north western part of the empire to ensure

87 BC:  Emperor Wu, Liu Che dies on the throne aged 70, capping his 54-year rule.

45 BC:  Future Xin Emperor Wang Ming is born.

13BC:  Liu Xiu is born on 13 January. 

25 AD:   Emperor Guang Wu (Liu Xiu) restores the fallen Han Dynasty. Liu Xiu is an emperor of the Han Dynasty and first emperor of the Eastern Han. He rules small parts of China at first and successfully unifies China little by little. 

104 AD:  A eunuch of the Imperial Court, Cai Lun invents a new type of paper. Bamboo fibres and the inner bark of a mulberry tree are added to water and pounded using a wooden tool. The whole mixture is poured over a flat woven cloth letting the water drain out. When dried, only the fibres remain and Cai Lun realises he has made a lightweight material with a good writing surface. 

105 AD:  Cai Lun presents this invention to the Emperor He Di and paper is then invented, according to Chinese History.

Qing Dynasty History | Chinese Antiques

Founding of the Qing Dynasty

The Qing Dynasty came to power after the 270 year reign the Ming Dynasty which had become beset with a series of famines, natural disasters and economic calamities. This led to a growing popular belief that the Ming Emperors had lost the ‘Mandate of Heaven’ - that an emperor was selected by heaven to act as a god on earth.
 

Ruling, Society & Culture of the Qing Dynasty

Dorgon, the regent for the child emperor had policies of reappointing Ming officials and continuing the Confucian Imperial Examinations which helped the empire to stabilise and prosper.

Emperor Kangxi had one of the longest reigns in dynastic history. 

The Kangxi Emperor was seven years old when he became an emperor but regents ruled the empire in his place until he was 15. He let a number of Jesuits into the empire and appointed them to positions in his court, valuing their knowledge and using them as advisers for world, diplomatic and military affairs. They taught his technicians how to make better guns and cannons.

Under the two emperors Yongzheng and Qianlong handicraft industries prospered, painting, printmaking, and porcelain manufacture flourished.

Western medicines provided by missionary doctors saved tens of thousands of lives.

Like the Tang, Yuan and Ming Empires, the Qing Empire ended in rebellions, wars, natural disasters, economic problems, famines and invasions.

Literate families focused on training for the government examinations and studied ancient philosophical and religious texts. They had little knowledge or appreciation for modern Western education.

 Under the Qing empire, the territory grew to treble its size under the preceding Ming dynasty - the population grew from some 150 million to 450 million,

Qing dynasty artists were both individualistic and innovative. Based largely on the dicta of a late Ming dynasty artist-critic, Dong Qichang, Qing painters were classified as “individualist” masters (such as Daoji and Zhu Da) and “orthodox” masters (such as the Six Masters of the early Qing period). 

There were “schools” of painting such as the Four Masters of Anhui, the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou, and the Eight Masters of Nanjing. The attitude shared by most artists, in spite of obvious differences, was a strong preference for “literati painting” (wenrenhua), which emphasized personal expression above all.

Qing porcelain displayed a high technical mastery and coloured glazes such as copper red, called “blown red” (jihong) by the Chinese and “oxblood” (sang-de-boeuf) by the French, and two classes of painted porcelain ware, known in Europe as famille verte and famille rose, from their predominant green and rose colours.

In music, the most notable development of the dynasty probably was jingxi, or Peking opera, over several decades at the end of the 18th century.
 

Key Events of the Qing Dynasty

1644: Qing Dynasty begins.

1645: Dorgon (Regent for child Emperor) decrees that Ming men must shave their hair in the front and make a long pigtail in the back.

1646: Imperial Examinations are held every three years and gains the support of large numbers of literati and staffs the bureaucracy.

1650: Dorgon dies and Emperor Shunzhi started to rule personally at 13.

1661: Emperor Shunzhi dies.

1661–1722: Emperor Kangxi becomes the ruler and builds the Summer Imperial Palace during his reign.

1722-1735: Emperor Yongzheng reigns.

1735-1799: Emperor Qianlong reigns.

1796-1804: The White Lotus Rebellion is a big popular uprising that starts due to discontent against Qing rule.

1799: Death of Emperor Qianlong. The Qing empire begins to topple.

1839-1842: First Opium War.

1842: Britain gains Hong Kong under the Treaty of Nanking.

1851-1864: The Taiping Rebellion begins - 25 million people die.

1854: Britain wins the Second Opium War.

1855-1873: The Muslim Panthay Rebellion – 1 million people die.

1861: Empress Dowager Cixi comes to power in 1861 and rules behind the scenes until 1908.

1862-1874: Her son reigns.

1864-1877: Dungan revolt – sectarian war between 3 Muslim sects.

1875-1908: Empress Dowager Cixi’s nephew rules.

1876-1879: Northern Chinese Famine – 10% of the population of several Northern provinces die (about 10 million people).

1879: The Gansu Earthquake measuring about magnitude 8 - 22,000 people die.

1883-1885: Sino-French War.

1887: Yellow River flood - one of the world's biggest natural disasters in history when 1-2 million people die.

1894–1895: The Qing Dynasty loses the Sino-Japanese War and cedes Formosa and a part of Liaoning.

1900: Boxer Rebellion.

1910-1912: 60,000 people die from bubonic plague

1911: Missionaries operate about 3,000 schools.

1912: Emperor Puyi abdicates the royal throne, bringing to an end over two millennia of imperial Qing rule in China and leading to the creation of the Republic of China.