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2.5: Qing Dynasty (1636 - 1911)

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    When the Manchus from the northern part of China descended into the south, they overtook the Ming dynasty, starting the Qing dynasty with a set of rulers that endeared for almost three hundred years. Earlier, the Mongols continually tried to overtake the Han Chinese until the Manchu defeated the Mongols. In 1636, as the Manchu khan controlled much of China, the Great Wall remained the barrier to stop the invasion before reaching Beijing and the ocean. The central gate in the wall at Shanhaiguan was constructed as the most important military position, located between the mountains and sea. The pass served as a primary transportation corridor from the sea routes into other parts of China, was heavily guarded, and stopped earlier armies.

    In 1644, with the Manchu located outside the Great Wall, the Ming lost in the continual local rebellions. Instead of launching an attack against the rebels, the Ming general opened the gate and let the Manchu through the gate as they swept across the rest of China and conquered Beijing. They did not annihilate Beijing and slaughter the people, the usual practice; instead, the leaders surrendered. The new emperors started a new, prosperous period from 1661 to 1722, considered the Qing golden age. They instituted new rules to control external trade, the population grew, and literary achievements created classical Chinese literature. From 1661 to 1722 was considered the Qing golden age; new rules controlled external trade, the population grew, and literary achievements created some of the classical documents.

    During this period, the traditional Chinese arts and customs were expanded and supported by the court. Three artists' styles grew from the court's patronage; the official court artists, the traditionalists who painted the seventeenth-century type of past standards, and the individualists who ignored the standards, painting their ideas, frequently politically based.    

    The Traditionalists

    The theories of Dong Qichang influenced the court and elites of the Manchu. He studied the old masters and defined the new traditional styles that should be followed, especially the standards for landscape painting. Dong declared, "If one considers the wonders of nature, then painting cannot rival landscape. But if one considers the wonders of brushwork, then landscape cannot equal painting."[1] One of the early converts to these dictates was Wang Shimin, who, along with Wang Jian, established the school of orthodox painting. Their most famous student was Wang Hui, who combined the landscapes from the Song dynasty with the calligraphy of the Yuan dynasty. Wang Yuanqi, the grandson of Wang Shimin, was also one of the noted artists of the style and, combined, were called the Four Wangs.

    The emperor Kangxi wanted to tour the land and help establish himself as the ruler of the people. He climbed Mount Tai, examined water projects on the major rivers, and visited all cultural centers. When he returned to the capital, he wanted the noted artist, Wang Hui, to record and commemorate the extensive tour.


    Wang Hui

    Wang Hui (1632-1717) used ink and color on silk to paint twelve large scrolls; the third scroll was The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour: Ji'nan to Mount Tai (2.5.1). Wang had not seen the site and had to rely on maps, old prints, and verbal descriptions. The looming mountains dominate the scene, demonstrating the beauty and grandeur of nature. At the same time, the emperor's entourage along the pathway is small, showing the strength of the emperor to ascend the mighty mountain.    


    A mountainous scene with people in the valley
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour, Scroll Three: Ji'nan to Mount Tai (ca 1698, ink, color on silk, 67.9 x 1393.8 cm) Public Domain


    Wang Jian

    Wang Jian (1598-1677) was a master of painting landscapes and one of the Four Wangs, following the standards of the traditionalists yet establishing his style. His grandfather was a collector of the old master painters, and Wang Jian used the images to inspire his work. The Album of eighteen leaves (2.5.2) was a set of paintings made in ink and color on paper; the images for each leaf were based on the work of eight past masters. The image demonstrates his proficiency with brushstrokes to create inspiring mountains.  


    A mountain scene on the sea with a small house
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Album of eighteen leaves (17th century, ink, color on paper, 29.8 x 31.4 cm) Public Domain


    Wang Shimin

    Wang Shimin (1592-1680), the oldest of the Four Wangs, spent much of his life studying the work of Huang Gongwang, a painter from the fourteenth century. He developed a method of painting rocks and filling them with textual brushstrokes of straight lines and horizontal dots. On the hanging scroll (2.5.3), Wang creates the mountains that appear to be rising or falling; movement flows across the painting representing nature's continual change.  


    A mountain scene with trees
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Hanging scroll landscape (1666, ink on paper, 134.6 x 56.5 cm) Public Domain


    Wang Yuanqi

    Wang Yuanqi (1642-1715) was a scholar working in the civil service, becoming an artist and painter for the emperor. One of the famous gardens from ancient China was the Wangchuan Villa, inhabited by poets and painters, all drawing inspiration from the picturesque site. Wang Wei was an early poet who wrote elegantly from the villa and inspired Wang Yuanqi to capture Wei's writing in a painting. Wang Yuanqi used the concept of dragon veins, the unseen lines that come from the sky, down the mountains, and along the ground, a type of life force. The brushstrokes in his painted scroll of the villa (2.5.4) follow the concepts of the breath force of life, the rocks flowing and turning, resembling waves of water.


    A mountain scene on a bay with boats
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Wangchuan Villa (1711, ink, color on paper, 35.6 x 545.5 cm) Public Domain


    The Individualists

    The individualists created art, not following the rigidly defined painting methods and beauty of the orthodox painters like the Four Wangs or the old masters. They tried new techniques and innovations with different types of brushstrokes, washes, colors, and the use of white space. Their paintings were considered irreverent and an insult to the worship of historical styles.   


    Bada Shanren

    Bada Shanren (1626-1705) was a prince's descendant in the Ming dynasty and was considered a childhood prodigy as an artist and poet. When the Ming dynasty fell, he became a monk, eventually leaving because of erratic actions and psychotic episodes, at times refusing to talk. As an artist, he generally used one color of ink and a sketching style with short brushstrokes. Even his subject matter was unusual; the scroll (2.5.5) of ink on paper portrayed eagles, heroic symbols of strength from the previous Ming court. The short, forceful brushstrokes form the fierce birds as though watching the new dynasty from afar. The small, quick strokes also give the illusion of the rocks and branches. 


    Two birds on branches
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Two Eagles (1702, ink on paper, 187.3 x 9.2 cm) Public Domain

    In Two Birds (2.5.6) an ink and wash scroll goose down feather washes for the bodies of the birds and sharp dark ink for the beaks and legs. Shanren inks the tree and the mountain top in the same fashion making the important parts in dark ink. 

    Two small birds on branches
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Two Birds (1650-1705, ink on paper, 31.7 x 26.3 cm) Public Domain


    Shitao (Zhu Ruoji)

    Shitao (Zhu Ruoji) (ca. 1642-1707) was also a member of Ming royalty and escaped the invaders by becoming a monk, later becoming one of the well-known individualist artists. The grotto and living spaces for an early Daoist patriarch were a frequent subject matter for artists. The Grotto (2.5.7) by Shitao is considered his top masterpiece. Using layers of color, blue, green, and salmon, he painted the grotto and surrounding hills with broad brushstrokes. Employing washes of white, he defined the open space in the sky and the opening to the grotto, making them quieter and unknown spaces in the moving landscape.   


    Mountain scene with trees
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Outing to Zhang Gong’s Grotto (ca 1700, ink, color on paper, 45.9 x 286.4 cm) Public Domain



    Pottery was always an important part of Chinese culture and artistry. During the Ming dynasty, the advanced ceramic centers at Jingdezhen produced the beautiful porcelain still treasured today. However, when the Manchu invaded the area and started the Qing dynasty, the production centers and kilns were destroyed. Fortunately, under the Kangxi emperor, a supporter of the arts, the factories were rebuilt. The Ming techniques were improved, especially the ability to fire at high temperatures and produce a better finish. Wucai or five colors became the preferred color scheme using underglaze to create the general design and overglazing with enamels of yellow, red, green, purple, and blue on the fired base.

    Another technical improvement was the development of a new and softer color enamel known as fencai. The painters were able to blend different tints of color to produce multiple shades or hues. With the opportunity to create a variety of colors, the scenes on the ceramics were more complex with floral and landscape themes. Later, many porcelains were grouped or named by color palettes based on the French term 'famille' groups, such as verte (green) or noire (black). The porcelain was highly prized in the European marketplace, and a significant amount was made for export.

    The famille verte plate (2.5.8) demonstrates the detailed design using flowers and birds. The dominant color on the plate is green, so it is classified in the verte or green family. Different shades of green with accents of iron-red overglaze form the majority of the design.     


    Porcelain plate with birds in flower shrubs
    Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): Famille verte plate (1662-1722, porcelain) Public Domain     

    The famille rose plate (2.5.9) depicts a common theme of children and a woman with different household items scattered about. The major shades on the plate use pinks or rose along with other overglaze enamels.    

    Porcelain plate with a woman and her children
    Figure \(\PageIndex{9}\): Famille rose plate (mid-18th century, porcelain with overglaze polychrome enamels and gold, 3.5 x 21.3 cm) Public Domain   


    The Ming Dynasty porcelain jars (2.5.10) and vase (2.5.11) was slightly duller than the Qing porcelain. During the Ming era, the porcelain was fired at a lower temperature, and the white color was not as bright. They also generally used two colors to please the European market. 


    Ming porcelain, 2 jugs blue and white glazed painted
    Figure \(\PageIndex{10}\): Ming Porcelain, CC BY-SA 4.0 


    Ming porcelain plate with blue and white painting of a dragon
    Figure \(\PageIndex{11}\): Ming Porcelain, CC BY 1.0 

    The Qing porcelain plate (2.5.12) and bowl (2.5.13) are shinier; the glossy finish resulted from higher firing temperatures than the Ming used. In the Qing era, a wider variety of colors was used, and white was brighter. The Qing also developed better ways to transport the porcelains on the rivers, expanding the market. 

    Ming porcelain jug with a lid painted white, red, and green flowers
    Figure \(\PageIndex{12}\): Qing Porcelain, CC BY-SA 3.0 


    Ming porcelain platter painted carp in various colors
    Figure \(\PageIndex{13}\): Qing PorcelainPublic Domain  


    Jing'an Temple

    Jing'an Temple – 'Temple of Peace and Tranquility' was initially started in 247 CE and relocated during the Song Dynasty in 1216. The temple (2.5.14) still standing today in Shanghai was constructed in the Qing Dynasty. Today it remains a temple; however, during the Cultural Revolution in China, the facility was used as a plastic factory. The temple's central courtyard is enclosed by a pavilion on each side, the main hall, and in front, the entrance hall. 


    Jing'an Temple in the middle of a city which is painted gold
    Figure \(\PageIndex{14}\): Jing'an TempleCC BY-SA 4.0 

    The golden pagoda tower (2.5.15) is constructed in a small courtyard behind the main hall. The pagoda sits on a square base with seven stories, following the traditional odd number of floors. Each floor has decorative eaves overhanging the wall. On top is a decorative finial serving as a lightning rod or what some call the 'demon-arrester.'  

    View of the temple from the air showing all the gold painted roofs
    Figure \(\PageIndex{15}\): Golden PagodaCC BY 1.0 


    The main hall is devoted to one of China's largest seated Buddha statues (2.5.16), weighing about 11,000 kilograms. Also visible is the exquisite woodwork; wood was a common building material as part of the Five Elements Theory, auspicious, representing spring and life. Wood was also easy to use and withstood natural disasters like earthquakes and typhoons, repairable parts. The structures in the halls were made with immense teak pillars and carved beams. 


    Very large Buddha sitting in the great hall for people to worship
    Figure \(\PageIndex{16}\): Buddha in the Precious Hall of the Great Hero, Jing’an Temple, ShanghaiCC BY-SA 3.0 

    One of the beams (2.5.17) on the right side remains unfinished, the top of the beam resembling an elephant on one side and a lingzhi mushroom on the other side. The unique support system is based on wooden joints set in columns. Sets of brackets were carved and inserted into another carved interlocking piece, allowing multiple stacked brackets. 

    Figure \(\PageIndex{17}\): Support system, CC BY-SA 4.0 


    The Qing dynasty lasted for almost three centuries, and expanded interaction with Europeans provided an extensive outlet for Chinese art, influencing European design and art.


    [1] Hearn, Maxwell K. “The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911): The Traditionalists.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2003)

    This page titled 2.5: Qing Dynasty (1636 - 1911) is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deborah Gustlin & Zoe Gustlin (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .