For centuries, opportunity for economic and social advancement in China could be provided by high performance on Imperial examinations. The literary emphasis of the exams affected the general perception of cultural refinement in China, such as the belief that calligraphy and literati painting were higher forms of art than dancing or drama. China's traditional values were derived from various versions of Confucianism and conservatism. A number of more authoritarian and rational strains of thought have also been influential, such as Legalism. There was often conflict between the philosophies, such as the individualistic Song Dynasty neo-Confucians, who believed Legalism departed from the original spirit of Confucianism. Examinations and a culture of merit remain greatly valued in China today. In recent years, a number of New Confucians have advocated that democratic ideals and human rights are quite compatible with traditional Confucian "Asian values."
The first leaders of the People's Republic of China were born in the old society but were influenced by the May Fourth Movement and reformist ideals. They sought to change some traditional aspects of Chinese culture, such as rural land tenure, sexism, and a Confucian education, while preserving others, such as the family structure and obedience to the state. Many observers believe that the period following 1949 is a continuation of traditional Chinese dynastic history, while others say that the CPC's rule has damaged the foundations of Chinese culture, especially through political movements such as the Cultural Revolution, where many aspects of traditional culture were labeled 'regressive and harmful' or 'vestiges of feudalism' by the regime. They further argue that many important aspects of traditional Chinese morals and culture, such as Confucianism, Chinese art, literature, and performing arts like Beijing opera, were altered to conform to government policies and propaganda at the time. One example being Chinese character simplification, since traditional characters were blamed for the country's low literacy rate at the time. However, simplified Chinese characters are not used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.
Today, the PRC government has accepted a great deal of traditional Chinese culture as an integral part of Chinese society, lauding it as an important achievement of the Chinese civilization and emphasizing it as vital to a Chinese national identity. Since the Cultural Revolution has ended, various forms of traditional Chinese art, literature, music, film, fashion and architecture have seen a vigorous revival, and folk and variety art in particular have gained a new found respectability, and sparked interest nationally and even worldwide.
Confucianism was the official philosophy throughout most of Imperial China's history, and mastery of Confucian texts was the primary criterion for entry into the imperial bureaucracy. China's traditional values were derived from various versions of Confucianism. A number of more authoritarian strains of thought have also been influential, such as Legalism. There was often conflict between the philosophies, e.g. the Song Dynasty Neo-Confucians believed Legalism departed from the original spirit of Confucianism. Examinations and a culture of merit remain greatly valued in China today. In recent years, a number of New Confucians (not to be confused with Neo-Confucianism) have advocated that democratic ideals and human rights are quite compatible with traditional Confucian "Asian values".
With the rise of Western economic and military power beginning in the mid-19th century, non-Chinese systems of social and political organization gained adherents in China. Some of these would-be reformers totally rejected China's cultural legacy, while others sought to combine the strengths of Chinese and Western cultures. In essence, the history of 20th century China is one of experimentation with new systems of social, political, and economic organization that would allow for the reintegration of the nation in the wake of dynastic collapse.
- 1 Arts, scholarship, and literature
- 2 People in the culture
- 3 Language
- 4 Mythology and spirituality
- 5 Health
- 6 Literature
- 7 Music
- 8 Arts
- 9 Martial arts
- 10 Fashion
- 11 Architecture
- 12 Cuisine
- 13 Leisure
- 14 History
- 15 Literature
- 16 Traditional arts
- 17 Contemporary performing arts
- 18 Publishing
- 19 References
Arts, scholarship, and literature
Chinese characters have had many variants and styles throughout Chinese history. Tens of thousands of ancient written documents are still extant, from Oracle bones to Qing edicts. This literary emphasis affected the general perception of cultural refinement in China, e.g. the view that calligraphy was a higher art form than painting or drama. Manuscripts of the Classics and religious texts (mainly Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist) were handwritten by ink brush. Calligraphy later became commercialized, and works by famous artists became prized possessions.
Chinese literature has a long past; the earliest classic work in Chinese, the I Ching or "Book of Changes" dates to around 1000 BCE. A flourishing of philosophy during the Warring States Period produced such noteworthy works as Confucius's Analects and Laozi's Tao Te Ching. (See also the Chinese classics.) Dynastic histories were often written, beginning with Sima Qian's seminal Records of the Historian written from 109 BCE to 91 BCE. The Tang Dynasty witnessed a poetic flowering, while the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature were written during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Printmaking in the form of movable type was developed during the Song Dynasty. Academies of scholars sponsored by the empire were formed to comment on the classics in both printed and handwritten form. Royalty frequently participated in these discussions as well. The Song Dynasty was also a period of great scientific literature, such as Su Song's Xin Yixiang Fayao and Shen Kuo's Dream Pool Essays. There were also enormous works of historiography and large encyclopedias, such as Sima Guang's Zizhi Tongjian of 1084 CE or the Four Great Books of Song fully compiled and edited by the 11th century.
For centuries, economic and social advancement in China could be provided by high performance on the imperial examinations. This led to a meritocracy, although it was available only to males who could afford test preparation. Imperial examinations required applicants to write essays and demonstrate mastery of the Confucian classics. Those who passed the highest level of the exam became elite scholar-officials known as jinshi, a highly esteemed socio-economic position.
Chinese philosophers, writers and poets were highly respected and played key roles in preserving and promoting the culture of the empire. Some classical scholars, however, were noted for their daring depictions of the lives of the common people, often to the displeasure of authorities.
The Chinese invented numerous musical instruments, such as the zheng (zither with movable bridges), qin (bridgeless zither), sheng (free reed mouth organ), and xiao (vertical flute) and adopted and developed others such the erhu (alto fiddle or bowed lute) and pipa (pear-shaped plucked lute), many of which have later spread throughout East Asia and Southeast Asia, particularly to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
People in the culture
Many ethnic groups have existed in China. In terms of the numbers, however, the pre-eminent ethnic group is the Han Chinese. Throughout history, many groups have been assimilated into neighboring ethnicities or disappeared without a trace. At the same time, many within the Han identity have maintained distinct linguistic and regional cultural traditions. The term Zhonghua Minzu has been used to describe the notion of Chinese nationalism in general. Much of the traditional cultural identity within the community has to do with distinguishing the family name.
Traditional Chinese Culture covers a large geographical territories, each region is usually divided into distinct sub-cultures. Using modern names, here are some distinction:
- The Yangtze River areas include Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi, Anhui, Zhejiang and Jiangsu.
Spoken Chinese consisted of a number of Chinese dialects throughout history. In the Ming Dynasty standard Mandarin was nationalized. Even so, it wasn't until the Republic of China era in the 1900s when there was any noticeable result in promoting a common unified language in China.
The ancient written standard was Classical Chinese. It was used for thousands of years, but was mostly reserved for scholars and intellectuals. By the 20th century, millions of citizens, especially those outside of the imperial court were illiterate. Only after the May 4th Movement did the push for Vernacular Chinese begin. This allowed common citizens to read since it was modeled after the linguistics and phonology of a spoken language.
Mythology and spirituality
A large part of Chinese culture is based on the notion that a spiritual world exists. Countless methods of divination have helped answer questions, even serving as an alternate to medicine. Folklores have helped fill the gap for things that cannot be explained. There is often a blurred line between myth, religion and unexplained phenomenon. While many deities are part of the tradition, some of the most recognized holy figures include Guan Yin, Jade Emperor and Buddha. Many of the stories have since evolved into traditional Chinese holidays. Other concepts have extended to outside of mythology into spiritual symbols such as Door god and the Imperial guardian lions. Along with the belief of the holy, there is also the evil. Practices such as Taoist exorcism fighting mogwai and jiang shi with peachwood swords are just some of the concepts passed down from generations. A few Chinese fortune telling rituals are still in use today after thousands of years of refinement.
A large part of traditional Chinese culture is about finding the balance of Yin and Yang in relation to Qi, health and the meridian system in order to find harmony. Traditional Chinese medicine consists of a number of treatments including Chinese herbology and acupuncture. Other less intrusive forms of health improvement include qigong and meditation.
The extensive collection of books that have been preserved since the Zhou Dynasty demonstrate just how advanced the intellectuals have been at one time. Indeed, the era of the Zhou Dynasty is often looked to as the touchstone of Chinese cultural development. The Five Cardinal Points is the foundation for almost all major studies. Concepts covered within the Chinese classic texts present a wide range of subjects including poetry, astrology, astronomy, calendar, constellations and many others. Some of the most important early texts include I Ching and Shujing within the Four Books and Five Classics. Many Chinese concepts such as Yin and Yang, Qi, Four Pillars of Destiny in relation to heaven and earth were all theorized in the dynastic periods.
Notable confucianists, taoists and scholars of all class have made significant contributions from documenting history to authoring saintly concepts that seem hundred of years ahead of time. Many novels such as Four Great Classical Novels spawned countless fictional stories. By the end of the Qing Dynasty, Chinese culture would embark on a new era with Vernacular Chinese for the common citizens. Hu Shih and Lu Xun would be pioneers in modern literature.
The music of China dates back to the dawn of Chinese civilization with documents and artifacts providing evidence of a well-developed musical culture as early as the Zhou Dynasty (1122 BC - 256 BC). Some of the oldest written music dates back to Confucius's time. The first major well-documented flowering of Chinese music was for the qin during the Tang Dynasty, though it is known to have played a major part before the Han Dynasty.
Different forms of art have swayed under the influence of great philosophers, teachers, religious figures and even political figures. Chinese art encompasses all facets of fine art, folk art and performance art. Porcelain pottery was one of the first forms of art in the Palaeolithic period. Early Chinese music and poetry was influenced by the Book of Songs, Confucius and the Chinese poet and statesman Qu Yuan. Chinese painting became a highly appreciated art in court circles encompassing a wide variety of Shan shui with specialized styles such as Ming Dynasty painting. Early Chinese music was based on percussion instruments, which later gave away to string and reed instruments. By the Han dynasty papercutting became a new art form after the invention of paper. Chinese opera would also be introduced and branched regionally in additional to other performance formats such as variety arts.
China is one of the main birth place of Eastern martial arts. The names of martial arts were called Kung Fu or its first name Wushu. China also includes the home to the well-respected Shaolin Monastery and Wudang Mountains. The first generation of art started more for the purpose of survival and warfare than art. Overtime, some art forms have branched off, while others have retained a distinct Chinese flavor. Regardless, China has brewed some of the most renowned martial artists including Wong Fei Hung and many others. The art have also co-existed with a variety of weapons including the more standard 18 arms. Legendary and controversial moves like Dim Mak are also praised and talked about within the culture.
Different social class in different time eras boast different fashion trends. China's fashion history covers hundreds of years with some of the most colorful and diverse arrangements. Fashionable but questionable practices such as footbinding have also been part of the culture. Many symbols such as phoenix have been used for decorative as well as economic purposes.
Chinese architecture, examples of which can be found from over 2,000 years ago, has long been a hallmark of the culture. There are certain features common to Chinese architecture, regardless of specific region or use. The most important is its emphasis on width, as the wide halls of the Forbidden City serve as an example. In contrast, western architecture emphasize on height, though there are exceptions such as pagodas.
Another important feature is symmetry, which connotes a sense of grandeur as it applies to everything from palaces to farmhouses. One notable exception is in the design of gardens, which tends to be as asymmetrical as possible. Like Chinese scroll paintings, the principle underlying the garden's composition is to create enduring flow, to let the patron wander and enjoy the garden without prescription, as in nature herself. Feng shui has played an important part in structural development.
The overwhelmingly large variety mainly comes from the emperors hosting a banquet of 100 dishes each meal. Countless number of imperial kitchen staff and concubines were involved in the food preparation process. Overtime, many dishes became part of the everyday-citizen culture. Some of the highest quality restaurants with recipes close to the dynastic periods include Fangshan restaurant in Beihai Park Beijing and the Oriole Pavilion. Arguably all branches of Hong Kong eastern style or even American Chinese food are in some ways rooted from the original dynastic cuisines.
A number of games and past-times are popular within Chinese culture. The most common game is Mah Jong. The same pieces are used for other styled games such as Shanghai Solitaire. Others include Pai Gow, Pai gow poker and other bone domino games. Go proverb and Xiangqi is also popular. Ethnic games like Chinese yo-yo are also part of the culture.
- This article discusses the culture of the People's Republic of China. See also the culture of China, culture of Hong Kong, culture of Macau and culture of Taiwan.
The culture of the People's Republic of China is a rich and varied blend of traditional Chinese culture with communist and other international modern and post-modern influences. During the Cultural Revolution, an enormous number of cultural treasures of inestimable value were seriously damaged or destroyed and the practice of many arts and crafts was prohibited. Since the early 1980s, however, official repudiation of those policies has been complemented by vigorous efforts to renew China's remarkable cultural traditions. China's culture thus remains highly complex, encompassing ancient traditions and modern experiments, in what sometimes appears to be a rather dynamic but tenuous mix.
The culture of People's Republic was in development long before its foundation in 1949, and is mainly a combination of traditional Chinese culture and communism. Much of the diversity of China's culture seems to come from the diversity of the Han Chinese who make up China, and the national minorities who bring individual cultural elements from their cultures, and contribute to a continuing development of Chinese culture that follows cultural changes nationwide and internationally. The culture is also very much based on the history of China which developed mainly in isolation over the hundreds of years in which it has adapted and assimilated. The ideology of the Communist and Maoist movement beginning in the twentieth century is certainly crucial to understanding modern Chinese culture. Today, China still has many close cultural links with other parts of the world, especially within East Asia and Southeast Asia (see Sinosphere).
For some years after the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, traditional Chinese culture was tolerated to some extent. The main changes concentrated on attempts to remove traditional social inequalities, such as sexism, ethnocentrism, and serfdom. A form of Standard Mandarin known as Putonghua was promoted by the Central People's Government in Beijing as the lingua franca in a continuation of the Kuo-yü of the Republic of China (ROC), but the various local spoken variants and the languages of the numerous ethnic groups of China were tolerated.
As the Soviet Union was an ally of the PRC at the time, the culture of Russia, especially the Russian language, was quite popular; but this trend was halted when a border dispute ended the Sino-Soviet alliance in 1961 - the Sino-Soviet split.
When the Cultural Revolution began in 1962 all forms of traditional culture, Chinese or Western, were suppressed, including to bring an end to the Four Olds. Temples and churches were vandalized by the Red Guards; Confucian morality was frowned upon; and a cult of personality surrounding Chairman Mao Zedong was promoted. The Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong (or the "Little Red Book") achieved sanctity equivalent to a holy text as part of Maoism, or "thoughts of Mao Zedong", which became the national ideology. Simplified Chinese ideograms were also officially introduced at the time, though many such simplified characters have existed for hundreds of years. It was in an effort to promote literacy, but has brought about a number of debates.
The artistic community was particularly affected by the Cultural Revolution. Initially only eight "Sample Acts", or propaganda performances, were allowed, along with the "Loyalty Dance", posters that deify Chairman Mao, and a large number of revolutionary songs such as The East Is Red. (See also Mao suit.)
During the later stages of the Cultural Revolution, the Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius campaign was a political campaign started by Mao Zedong's fourth wife Jiang Qing, which lasted from 1973 to 1974 and was an extension of the then-current anti-Lin Biao campaign, used to attack the then-Premier Zhou Enlai.
After the Maoist era, there has been a renaissance of traditional Chinese culture. Local religions including Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have flourished. These are not mutually exclusive, and many people practice a combination of the three along with elements of various folk religions. There has also been a revival of Chinese Islam and Christianity, although religious institutions remain under the control of the government. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and the China Christian Council (CCC) are Protestant groups. The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CCPA) and the Chinese Catholic Bishops Council (CCBC) are subordinate to the government in Beijing, instead of to the Holy See.
Traditional Chinese arts have also re-emerged from the Cultural Revolution, but their developments have been hampered by the Chinese society's ready acceptance of outside cultural influences, particularly the popular culture of Hong Kong, which has a huge following inside the PRC. Nevertheless the television stations in the PRC have in recent years produced numerous quality drama series, covering everything from imperial history to modern-day police actions, and are gaining immense popularity in mainland China.
The official enforcement of the One-Child Policy has created a generation of "Little Emperors" doted upon by their parents, made more so by the development of a Western-style consumer culture within the PRC. This initially revived a sense of xenophilia among the mainland Chinese population that originated in the colonial days of the late 19th century. However, as mainland China became an economic power in its own right, the PRC government has intentionally fostered a sense of patriotic pride amongst the mainland Chinese population, which some critics see as a resurgence of Chinese nationalism.
Beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s mainland China became exposed to more western elements, notably pop culture. American cinema is popular. Young people gather late at night in bars and nightclubs. There is a growing obsession with brand names. Teen slang is incorporating western language. China has also developed a unique cell phone culture, as it has the most mobile phone users in the world.
In the New Culture Movement (1917-23), literary writing style was largely replaced by the vernacular in all areas of literature. This was brought about mainly by Lu Xun (1881-1936), China's first major stylist in vernacular prose (other than the novel), and the literary reformers Hu Shi (1891-1962) and Chen Duxiu (1880-1942).
The late 1920s and 1930s were years of creativity in Chinese fiction, and literary journals and societies espousing various artistic theories proliferated. Among the major writers of the period were Guo Moruo (1892-1978), a poet, historian, essayist, and critic; Mao Dun (1896-1981), the first of the novelists to emerge from the League of Left-Wing Writers and one whose work reflected the revolutionary struggle and disillusionment of the late 1920s; and Ba Jin (1904-2005), a novelist whose work was influenced by Ivan Turgenev and other Russian writers. In the 1930s Ba Jin produced a trilogy that depicted the struggle of modern youth against the age-old dominance of the Confucian family system. Comparison often is made between Jia (Family), one of the novels in the trilogy, and Hong Lou Meng. Another writer of the period was the gifted satirist and novelist Lao She (1899-1966). Many of these writers became important as administrators of artistic and literary policy after 1949. Most of those still alive during the Cultural Revolution were either purged or forced to submit to public humiliation.
The League of Left-Wing Writers was founded in 1930 and included Lu Xun in its leadership. By 1932 it had adopted the Soviet doctrine of socialist realism, that is, the insistence that art must concentrate on contemporary events in a realistic way, exposing the ills of nonsocialist society and promoting the glorious future under communism. After 1949 socialist realism, based on Mao's famous 1942 "Yan'an Talks on Literature and Art," became the uniform style of Chinese authors whose works were published. Conflict, however, soon developed between the government and the writers. The ability to satirize and expose the evils in contemporary society that had made writers useful to the Chinese Communist Party before its accession to power was no longer welcomed. Even more unwelcome to the party was the persistence among writers of what was deplored as "petty bourgeois idealism," "humanitarianism," and an insistence on freedom to choose subject matter.
At the time of the Great Leap Forward, the government increased its insistence on the use of socialist realism and combined with it so-called revolutionary realism and revolutionary romanticism. Authors were permitted to write about contemporary China, as well as other times during China's modern period - as long as it was accomplished with the desired socialist revolutionary realism. Nonetheless, the political restrictions discouraged many writers. Although authors were encouraged to write, production of literature fell off to the point that in 1962 only forty-two novels were published.
During the Cultural Revolution, the repression and intimidation led by Mao's fourth wife, Jiang Qing, succeeded in drying up all cultural activity except a few "model" operas and heroic stories. Although it has since been learned that some writers continued to produce in secret, during that period no significant literary work was published.
Literature in the Post-Mao period
The arrest of Jiang Qing and the other members of the Gang of Four in 1976, and especially the reforms initiated at the Third Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee in December 1978, led more and more older writers and some younger writers to take up their pens again. Much of the literature discussed the serious abuses of power that had taken place at both the national and the local levels during the Cultural Revolution. The writers decried the waste of time and talent during that decade and bemoaned abuses that had held China back. At the same time, the writers expressed eagerness to make a contribution to building Chinese society. This literature, often called "the literature of the wounded," contained some disquieting views of the party and the political system. Intensely patriotic, these authors wrote cynically of the political leadership that gave rise to the extreme chaos and disorder of the Cultural Revolution. Some of them extended the blame to the entire generation of leaders and to the political system itself. The political authorities were faced with a serious problem: how could they encourage writers to criticize and discredit the abuses of the Cultural Revolution without allowing that criticism to go beyond what they considered tolerable limits.
During this period, a large number of novels and short stories were published; literary magazines from before the Cultural Revolution were revived, and new ones were added to satisfy the seemingly insatiable appetite of the reading public. There was a special interest in foreign works. Linguists were commissioned to translate recently published foreign literature, often without carefully considering its interest for the Chinese reader. Literary magazines specializing in translations of foreign short stories became very popular, especially among the young.
It is not surprising that such dramatic change brought objections from some leaders in government and literary and art circles, who feared it was happening too fast. The first reaction came in 1980 with calls to combat "bourgeois liberalism," a campaign that was repeated in 1981. These two difficult periods were followed by the campaign against spiritual pollution in late 1983, but by 1986 writers were again enjoying greater creative freedom (see Chinese intellectualism).
Traditional drama, often called "Chinese opera," grew out of the zaju (variety plays) of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) and continues to exist in 368 different forms, the best known of which is Beijing Opera, which assumed its present form in the mid-nineteenth century and was extremely popular in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) court. In Beijing Opera, traditional Chinese string instrument and percussion instruments provide a strong rhythmic accompaniment to the acting. The acting is based on allusion: gestures, footwork, and other body movements express such actions as riding a horse, rowing a boat, or opening a door. Spoken dialogue is divided into recitative and Beijing colloquial speech, the former employed by serious characters and the latter by young females and clowns. Character roles are strictly defined. The traditional repertoire of Beijing Opera includes more than 1,000 works, mostly taken from historical novels about political and military struggles.
In the early years of the People's Republic, the development of Beijing Opera was encouraged; many new operas on historical and modern themes were written, and earlier operas continued to be performed. As a popular art form, opera has usually been the first of the arts to reflect changes in Chinese policy. In the mid-1950s, for example, it was the first to benefit under the Hundred Flowers Campaign. Similarly, the attack in November 1965 on Beijing deputy mayor Wu Han and his historical play, "Hai Rui's Dismissal from Office," signaled the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution, most opera troupes were disbanded, performers and scriptwriters were persecuted, and all operas except the eight "model operas" approved by Jiang Qing and her associates were banned. After the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976, Beijing Opera enjoyed a revival and continued to be a very popular form of entertainment both in theaters and on television.
In traditional Chinese theater, no plays were performed in the vernacular or without singing. But at the turn of the twentieth century, Chinese students returning from abroad began to experiment with Western plays. Following the May Fourth Movement of 1919, a number of Western plays were staged in China, and Chinese playwrights began to imitate this form. The most notable of the new-style playwrights was Cao Yu (1910-1996). His major works - "Thunderstorm," "Sunrise," "Wilderness," and "Peking Man" - written between 1934 and 1940, have been widely read in China.
In the 1930s, theatrical productions performed by traveling Red Army cultural troupes in Communist-controlled areas were consciously used to promote party goals and political philosophy. By the 1940s theater was well-established in the Communist-controlled areas.
In the early years of the People's Republic, Western-style theater was presented mainly in the form of "socialist realism." During the Cultural Revolution, however, Western-style plays were condemned as "dead drama" and "poisonous weeds" and were not performed.
Following the Cultural Revolution, Western-style theater experienced a revival. Many new works appeared, and revised and banned plays from China and abroad were reinstated in the national repertoire. Many of the new plays strained at the limits of creative freedom and were alternately commended and condemned, depending on the political atmosphere. One of the most outspoken of the new breed of playwrights was Sha Yexin. His controversial play "The Imposter," which dealt harshly with the favoritism and perquisites accorded party members, was first produced in 1979. In early 1980 the play was roundly criticized by Secretary General Hu Yaobang - the first public intervention in the arts since the Cultural Revolution. In the campaign against bourgeois liberalism in 1981 and the anti-spiritual pollution campaign in 1983, Sha and his works were again criticized. Through it all Sha continued to write for the stage and to defend himself and his works in the press. In late 1985 Sha Yexin was accepted into the Chinese Communist Party and appointed head of the Shanghai People's Art Theater, where he continued to produce controversial plays.
[[Image:RedSunMao.png|thumb|right|200px|"The Red Sun" Album featuring young Mao Zedong on the cover. A Guoyue theme album.]] Chinese music appears to date back to the dawn of Chinese civilization, and documents and artifacts provide evidence of a well-developed musical culture as early as the Zhou dynasty (1027- 221 BCE). The Imperial Music Bureau, first established in the Qin dynasty (221-207 BCE), was greatly expanded under the Han emperor Wu Di (140-87 BCE) and charged with supervising court music and military music and determining what folk music would be officially recognized. In subsequent dynasties, the development of Chinese music was strongly influenced by foreign music, especially that of Central Asia.
Chinese vocal music has traditionally been sung in a thin, nonresonant voice or in falsetto and is usually solo rather than choral. All traditional Chinese music is melodic rather than harmonic. Instrumental music is played on solo instruments or in small ensembles of plucked and bowed stringed instruments, flutes, and various cymbals, gongs, and drums. The scale has five notes.
The New Culture Movement of the 1910s and 1920s evoked a great deal of lasting interest in Western music as a number of Chinese musicians who had studied abroad returned to perform Western classical music and to compose works of their own based on the Western musical notation system. Symphony orchestras were formed in most major cities and performed to a wide audience in the concert halls and on radio. Popular music - greatly influenced by Western music, especially that of the United States - also gained a wide audience in the 1940s. After the 1942 Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art, a large-scale campaign was launched in the Communist-controlled areas to adapt folk music to create revolutionary songs to educate the largely illiterate rural population on party goals.
After the establishment of the People's Republic, revolutionary songs continued to be performed, and much of the remainder of popular music consisted of popular songs from the Soviet Union with the lyrics translated into Chinese. Symphony orchestras flourished throughout the country, performing Western classical music and compositions by Chinese composers. Conservatories and other institutions of musical instruction were developed and expanded in the major cities. A number of orchestras from Eastern Europe performed in China, and Chinese musicians and musical groups participated in a wide variety of international festivals.
During the height of the Cultural Revolution, musical composition and performance were greatly restricted. After the Cultural Revolution, musical institutions were reinstated and musical composition and performance revived. In 1980 the Chinese Musicians' Association was formally elected to the International Musicological Society. Chinese musical groups toured foreign countries, and foreign musical organizations performed in China. In the mid-1980s popular ballads and Western folk and classical music still drew the greatest audiences, but other kinds of music, including previously banned Western jazz and rock and roll, were being performed and were receiving increasing acceptance, especially among young people.
Painting and calligraphy
In imperial times, 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. In ancient times, writing, as well as painting, was done on silk. But after the invention of paper in the first century CE, 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.
Painting in the traditional style involves essentially the same techniques as calligraphy and is done with a brush dipped in black or colored ink; oils are not used. As with calligraphy, the most popular materials on which paintings are made are paper and silk. The finished work is then mounted on scrolls, which can be hung or rolled up. Traditional painting also is done in albums and on walls, lacquerwork, and other media.
Beginning in the Tang dynasty (CE 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. In Song dynasty (960-1279) times, 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 (see Hundred Schools of Thought).
Beginning in the thirteenth century, there developed a tradition of painting simple subjects - a branch with fruit, a few flowers, or one or two horses. Narrative painting, with a wider color range and a much busier composition than the Song painting, was immensely popular at the time of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).
During the Ming period, the first books illustrated with colored woodcuts appeared. 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.
In the early years of the People's Republic, artists were encouraged to employ socialist realism. Some Soviet 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.
During the Cultural Revolution, art schools were closed, and publication of art journals and major art exhibitions ceased. Nevertheless, amateur art continued to flourish throughout this period.
Following the Cultural Revolution, art schools and professional organizations were reinstated. Exchanges were set up with groups of foreign artists, and Chinese artists began to experiment with new subjects and techniques.
Contemporary performing arts
Motion pictures were introduced to China in 1896, but the film industry was not started until 1917. During the 1920s film technicians from the United States trained Chinese technicians in Shanghai, an early filmmaking center, and American influence continued to be felt there for the next two decades. In the 1930s and 1940s, several socially and politically important films were produced.
The film industry continued to develop after 1949. In the 17 years between the founding of the People's Republic and the Cultural Revolution, 603 feature films and 8,342 reels of documentaries and newsreels were produced. The first wide-screen film was produced in 1960. Animated films using a variety of folk arts, such as papercuts, shadow plays, puppetry, and traditional paintings, also were very popular for entertaining and educating children.
During the Cultural Revolution, the film industry was severely restricted. Most previous films were banned, and only a few new ones were produced. In the years immediately following the Cultural Revolution, the film industry again flourished as a medium of popular entertainment. Domestically produced films played to large audiences, and tickets for foreign film festivals sold quickly.
In the 1980s the film industry fell on hard times, faced with the dual problems of competition from other forms of entertainment and concern on the part of the authorities that many of the popular thriller and martial arts films were socially unacceptable. In January 1986 the film industry was transferred from the Ministry of Culture to the newly formed Ministry of Radio, Cinema, and Television to bring it under "stricter control and management" and to "strengthen supervision over production."
Radio and television
Radio and television expanded rapidly in the 1980s as important means of mass communication and popular entertainment (see Communications in China). By 1985 radio reached 75 percent of the population through 167 radio stations, 215 million radios, and a vast wired loudspeaker system. Television, growing at an even more rapid rate, reached two-thirds of the population through more than 104 stations (up from 52 in 1984 and 44 in 1983); an estimated 85 percent of the urban population had access to television. As radio and television stations grew, the content of the programming changed drastically from the political lectures and statistical lists of the previous period. Typical radio listening included soap operas based on popular novels and a variety of Chinese and foreign music. Most television shows were entertainment, including feature films, sports, drama, music, dance, and children's programming. In 1985 a survey of a typical week of television programming made by the Shanghai publication Wuxiandian Yu Dianshi (Journal of Radio and Television) revealed that more than half of the programming could be termed entertainment; education made up 24 percent of the remainder of the programming and news 15 percent. A wide cross section of international news was presented each evening. Most news broadcasts had been borrowed from foreign news organizations, and a Chinese summary was dubbed over. China Central Television also contracted with several foreign broadcasters for entertainment programs. Between 1982 and 1985, six United States television companies signed agreements to provide American programs to China.
Folk and variety arts
Folk and variety arts have a long history in China. One of the oldest forms of folk art is puppetry. Puppeteers use various kinds of puppets, including marionettes, rod puppets, cloth puppets, and wire puppets in performances incorporating folk songs and dances and some dialogues. The subject matter is derived mainly from children's stories and fables. The shadow play is a form of puppetry that is performed by moving figures made of animal skins or cardboard held behind a screen lit by lamplight. The subject matter and singing style in shadow plays are closely related to local opera. Another popular folk art is the quyi, which consists of various kinds of storytelling and comic monologues and dialogues, often to the accompaniment of clappers, drums, or stringed instruments.
Variety arts, including tightrope walking, acrobatics, animal acts, and sleight of hand date back at least as far as the Han dynasty (206 BCE-CE 220) and were very popular in the imperial court. Later, many of these feats were incorporated into the traditional theater, and they continued to be performed by itinerant troupes. As these troupes traveled around the countryside, they developed and enriched their repertoire. Since 1949 these art forms have gained new respectability. Troupes have been established in the provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities, and theaters specifically dedicated to the variety arts have been built in major cities. Some troupes have become world famous, playing to packed houses at home and on foreign tours.
Publishing in China dates from the invention of woodblock printing around the eighth century CE and was greatly expanded with the invention of movable clay type in the eleventh century. From the tenth to the twelfth century, Kaifeng, Meishan, Hangzhou, and Jianyang were major printing centers. In the nineteenth century, China acquired movable lead type and photogravure printing plates and entered the age of modern book and magazine printing. The largest of the early publishing houses were the Commercial Press (Shangwu Yinshuguan), established in 1897, and the China Publishing House (Zhonghua Shuju), established in 1912, both of which were still operating in 1987. Following the May Fourth Movement of 1919, publishers, especially those associated with various groups of intellectuals, proliferated. During the Chinese civil war, New China Booksellers (Xinhua Shudian) published a large amount of Marxist literature and educational materials in the communist-controlled areas. On the eve of the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, there were over 700 New China Booksellers offices.
Between 1949 and 1952, the New China Booksellers offices scattered throughout the country were nationalized and given responsibility publishing, printing, and distribution. Also, several small private publishers were brought under joint stateprivate ownership, and by 1956 all private publishers had been nationalized. After a brief flourishing during the Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1956-57, the publishing industry came under strong political pressure in the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957. The industry had not fully recovered from this campaign when it was plunged into the Cultural Revolution, a period in which publishing was severely curtailed and limited mainly to political tracts supporting various campaigns. Following the Cultural Revolution, publishing again flourished in unprecedented ways. In 1982 the China National Publishing Administration, the umbrella organization of Chinese publishers, was placed under the Ministry of Culture, but actual management of the industry was directed through four systems of administration: direct state administration; administration by committees or organizations of the State Council or the party Central Committee; armed forces administration; and administration by provinces, autonomous regions, or special municipalities.
In 1984 statistics showed that 17 of the country's 418 publishing establishments were in Shanghai, whereas Beijing was home to 160 publishers. In 1985 plans were announced to foster the growth of the publishing industry in Chongqing, Xi'an, Wuhan, and Shenyang to take some of the workload from Beijing and Shanghai.
Different publishers were assigned to specific kinds of publications. For example, the People's Publishing House was responsible for publishing works on politics, philosophy, and the social sciences; the People's Literature Publishing House produced ancient and modern Chinese and foreign literature and literary history and theory; the China Publishing House had the principal responsibility for collating and publishing Chinese classical literary, historical, and philosophical works; and the Commercial Press was the principal publisher of Chinese-to-foreign-language reference works and translations of foreign works in the social sciences. Other publishers dealt with works in specialized fields of science.
In addition to the routine method of distributing books to bookstores in major cities, other methods of distribution were devised to meet the special needs of readers in urban and rural areas throughout the country. Mobile bookshops made regular visits to factories, mines, rural villages, and People's Liberation Army units, and service was provided in those locations through which individuals could request books. Arrangements were made with the libraries of educational institutions and enterprises to supply them with the books that they required, and books specifically applicable to certain industries were systematically recommended and provided to the departments concerned. Also, book fairs and exhibits frequently were provided at meetings and in public parks on holidays and other special occasions.
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- "China: Folk and Variety Arts". Library of Congress - Country Studies. Accessed: 26 December, 2007.
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