Page:EB1911 - Volume 06.djvu/229

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.




tyrant the nation’s records were again brought to light, and have been carefully preserved and edited since that time. Prof. Legge’s translation of the Spring and Autumn Annals and the Shu-king, or Book of History, in the “Sacred Books of the East” series, have opened for students the stores of historical knowledge which were at the command of Confucius, and European writers on Chinese history have found in the dynastic annals a never-failing source of valuable information. It was from these works and epitomes of these that de Maillac gathered the facts for his celebrated Histoire générale de la Chine, and it is from similar sources that all other writers on Chinese history have drawn their inspiration.

The following works on ancient and modern Chinese history may be specially mentioned: J. A. de Moyria de Maillac, Histoire générale de la Chine (1777), &c.; J. B. du Halde, General History of China (4 vols., 1736); M. de Guignes, Voyages à Péking . . . (3 vols., 1808); D. Boulger, A History of China (3 vols., 1881); Valentine Chirol, The Far Eastern Question (1896); E. R. Huc, The Chinese Empire (2 vols., 1855); T. T. Meadows, The Chinese and their Rebellions (1856); G. Pauthier, Histoire des relations politiques de la Chine avec les puissances occidentales depuis les temps les plus anciens jusqu’à nos jours . . . (1859); Sir George Staunton, Notes of Proceedings and Occurrences during the British Embassy to Peking in 1816 (1824); Chinese Expansion historically reviewed, a paper read before the Central Asian Society by Baron Suyematsu on January 11, 1905; F. Hirth, Ancient History of China (New York, 1908); Prof. Herbert A. Giles’s Chinese Biographical Dictionary (1897) is a storehouse of biographical detail and anecdote.

For Chinese relations with foreign powers see H. Cordier, Histoire des relations de la Chine avec les puissances occidentales, 1860–1902 (3 vols., Paris, 1901–1902); Hertslet’s China Treaties. Treaties, &c., between Great Britain and China, and between China and Foreign Powers, and Orders in Council, &c., affecting British Interests in China (3rd ed., revised by G. G. P. Hertslet and E. Parkes, London, 1908); J. O. Bland and E. Backhouse, China under the Empress Dowager (London, 1910). More general works are Sir R. K. Douglas, China, history since the time of Marco Polo (London, 1899); E. H. Parker, China; Her History, Diplomacy and Commerce (London, 1901); China, Past and Present (London, 1903); A. J. Sargent, Anglo-Chinese Commerce and Diplomacy—mainly in the 19th century (Oxford, 1907). For current affairs see the authorities cited in the footnotes.

VI. Chinese Art

1. Painting.—Painting is the pre-eminent art of China, which can boast of a succession of great painters for at least twelve centuries. Though the Chinese have an instinctive gift for harmonious colour, their painting is above all an art of line. It is intimately connected with writing, itself a fine art demanding the same skill and supple power in the wielding of the brush. The most typical expression of the Chinese genius in painting is the ink sketch, such as the masters of the Sung dynasty most preferred and the Japanese from the 15th century adopted for an abiding model. Utmost vigour of stroke was here combined with utmost delicacy of modulation. Rich colour and the use of gold are an integral part of the Buddhist pictures, though in the masterpieces of the religious painters a grand rhythm of linear design gives the fundamental character. Exquisite subdued colour is also found in the “flower and bird pieces” and still-life subjects of the Sung artists, and becomes more emphatic and variegated in the decorative artists of the Ming period.

Not to represent facts, but to suggest a poetic idea (often perfumed, so to speak, with reminiscence of some actual poem), has ever been the Chinese artist’s aim. “A picture is a voiceless poem” is an old saying in China, where very frequently the artist was a literary man by profession. Oriental critics lay more stress on loftiness of sentiment and tone than on technical qualities. This idealist temper helps to explain the deliberate avoidance of all emphasis on appearances of material solidity by means of chiaroscuro, &c., and the exclusive use of the light medium of water-colour. The Chinese express actual dislike for the representation of relief. Whoever compares the painting of Europe with that of Asia (and Chinese painting is the central type for the one continent, as Italian may claim to be for the other) must first understand this contrast of aim. The limitations of the Chinese are great, but these limitations save them from mistaking advances in science for advances in art, and from petty imitation of fact. Their religious painting has great affinity with the early religious art of Italy (e.g. that of Siena). But the ideas of the Renaissance, its scientific curiosity, its materialism, its glorification of human personality, are wholly missing in China. For Europe, Man is ever the hero and the foreground—hence the dominant study of the nude, and the tendency to thronged compositions, with dramatic motives of effort and conflict. The Chinese artists, weak in the plastic, weak in the architectural sense, paint mostly in a lyric mood, with a contemplative ideal. Hence the value given to space in their designs, the semi-religious passion for nature, and the supremacy of landscape. Beauty is found not only in pleasant prospects, but in wild solitudes, rain, snow and storm. The life of things is contemplated and portrayed for its own sake, not for its uses in the life of men. From this point of view the body of Chinese painting is much more modern in conception than that of Western art. Landscape was a mature and free art in China more than a thousand years ago, and her school of landscape is the loftiest yet known to the world. Nor was man ever dissociated from nature. As early as the 4th century Ku Kʽai-chih says that in painting a certain noble character he must give him a fit background of great peaks and deep ravines. Chinese painting, in sum, finely complements rather than poorly supplements that of Europe; where the latter is strong, it is weak; but in certain chosen provinces it long ago found consummate expression for thoughts and feelings scarcely yet expressed with us.

The origin of Chinese painting is lost in legend, though there is no reason to doubt its great antiquity. References in literature prove that by the 3rd century B.C. it was a developed art. To this period is ascribed the invention of the hair-brush, in the use of which as an instrument History: Early periods (to A.D. 618). both for writing and drawing the Chinese have attained marvellous skill; the usual material for the picture being woven silk, or, less often and since the 1st century A.D., paper. In early times wood panels were employed; and large compositions were painted on walls prepared with white lime. These mural decorations have all disappeared. History and portraiture seem to have been the prevailing subjects; a secular art corresponding to the social ideals of Confucianism. Yet long before the introduction of Buddhism (A.D. 67) with its images and pictures, we find that the two great symbolic figures of the Chinese imagination, the Tiger and the Dragon—typifying the forces of Nature and the power of the Spirit—had been evolved in art; and to imaginative minds the mystic ideas of Lao Tzü and the legends of his hermit followers proved a fruitful field for artistic motives of a kind which Buddhism was still more to enrich and multiply. Early classifications rank Buddhist and Taoist subjects together as one class.

With the 2nd century A.D. we come to individual names of artists and to the beginnings of landscape. Ku Kʽai-chih (4th century) ranks as one of the greatest names of Chinese art. A painting by him now in the British Museum (Plate I. fig. 1) shows a maturity which has nothing tentative about it. The dignified and elegant types are rendered with a mastery of sensitive brush-line which is not surpassed in later art. Ku Kʽai-chih painted all kinds of subjects, but excelled in portraiture. During the next century the criticism of painting was formulated in six canons by Hsieh Ho. Rhythm, organic or structural beauty, is the supreme quality insisted on.

During the Tʽang dynasty the empire expanded to its utmost limits, stretching as far as the Persian Gulf. India was invaded; Buddhism, taught by numbers of Indian missionaries, became firmly established, and controlled the ideals and imaginations of the time. The vigorous Tʽang dynasty
(A.D. 618–907).
style of a great era was impressed upon the Tʽang art, which culminated in Wu Taotzü, universally acknowledged as the greatest of all Chinese painters. It is doubtful if any of his work remains. The picture reproduced (Plate I. fig. 2) was long attributed to him, but is now thought to be of later date, like the two landscapes well known under his name in Japan. Wu Taotzü seems to have given supreme expression to the central subject of Buddhist art, the Nirvana of Buddha, who lies serenely asleep, with all creation, from saints and kings to birds and beasts, passionately bewailing him. The composition is known from Japanese copies; and it is in fact from the early religious schools of Japan that we can best conjecture the grandeur of the Tʽang style. Wu Taotzü excelled in all subjects: other