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The Culture of China:Music and Arts

Music

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 BCE – 256 BCE). 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.

Arts

A Tang Dynasty tri-color Chinese glazed horse circa 700 CE

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, 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.

Culture of China:Chinese Language and Literature

The Culture of China

Language


Chinese calligraphy written by Song Dynasty (1051-1108 CE) poet Mi Fu

The first 4,000 years of Spoken Chinese encompassed both Old Chinese and Middle Chinese, after which it began to split into various dialects and languages about 1,000 years ago. 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[7]. 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 Luohan, one of the spiritual figures shared between Chinese and Indian culture across different types of Buddhism.

Chinese religion was originally oriented to worshipping the supreme god Shang Di during the Xia and Shang dynasties, with the king and diviners acting as priests and using oracle bones. The Zhou dynasty oriented it to worshipping the broader concept of heaven. 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.

Literature

Sūn Wùkōng in Journey to the West
Chinese literature began with record keeping and divination on Oracle Bones. The extensive collection of books that have been preserved since the Zhou Dynasty demonstrate just how advanced the intellectuals were 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 are 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 classes have made significant contributions to and 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 Culture of China

The Culture of China (simplified Chinese: 中国文化; traditional Chinese: 中國文化; pinyin: Zhōngguó wénhuà) is one of the world’s oldest and most complex cultures[1][2]. The area in which the culture is dominant covers a large geographical region in eastern Asia with customs and traditions varying greatly between towns, cities and provinces.

People in the culture

People in imperial China during silk production – Qing dynasty
Identity
Today there are 56 distinct recognized ethnic groups in China.[3] In terms of 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.
Regional
Main article: Three ancestral treasures
Traditional Chinese Culture covers large geographical territories, where each region is usually divided into distinct sub-cultures. Each region is often represented by three ancestral items. For example Guangdong is represented by chenpi, aged ginger and hay.[4][5] Others include ancient cities like Lin’an (Hangzhou), which include tea leaf, bamboo shoot trunk and hickory nut.[6]. Such distinctions give rise to the old Chinese proverb: “十里不同風,百里不同俗/十里不同风,百里不同俗” (Shí lǐ bùtóng fēng, bǎi lǐ bùtóng sú), literally “the wind varies within ten li, customs vary within a hundred li.”

Society

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Gold detailing on a throne used by the Qianlong Emperor. The Chinese dragon was a symbol reserved for the Emperor of China or high level imperial families during the Qing Dynasty
Structure

Since the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors period, some form of Chinese monarch has been the main ruler above all. Different periods of history have different names for the various positions within society. Conceptually each imperial or feudal period is similar, with the government and military officials ranking high in the hierarchy, and the rest of the population under regular Chinese law.[7] From the late Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE) onwards, traditional Chinese society was organized into a hierarchic system of socio-economic classes known as the four occupations. However, this system did not cover all social groups while the distinctions between all groups became blurred ever since the commercialization of Chinese culture in the Song Dynasty (960–1279 CE). Ancient Chinese education also has a long history; ever since the Sui Dynasty (581–618 CE) educated candidates prepared for the Imperial examinations which and made people get drafted exam graduates into government as scholar-bureaucrats. Trades and crafts were usually taught by a shifu. The female historian Ban Zhao wrote the Lessons for Women in the Han Dynasty and outlined the four virtues women must abide to, while scholars such as Zhu Xi and Cheng Yi would expand upon this. Chinese marriage and Taoist sexual practices are some of the customs and rituals found in society.
Values

Most social values are derived from Confucianism and Taoism. The subject of which school was the most influential is always debated as many concepts such as Neo-Confucianism, Buddhism and many others have come about. Reincarnation and other rebirth concept is a reminder of the connection between real-life

References

  1. ^ “Chinese Dynasty Guide – The Art of Asia – History & Maps”. Minneapolis Institute of Art. Retrieved 10 October 2008.
  2. ^ “Guggenheim Museum – China: 5,000 years”. Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation & Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. 6 February 1998 to 1998-06-03. Retrieved 10 October 2008.
  3. ^ Chinatraveldepot.com. “Chinatraveldepot.com.” Fifty-six Ethnic Groups in China 1 June 2009.
  4. ^ Huaxia.com. “Huaxia.com.” 廣東三寶之一 禾稈草. Retrieved on 20 June 2009.
  5. ^ RTHK. “RTHK.org.” 1/4/2008 three treasures. Retrieved on 20 June 2009.
  6. ^ Xinhuanet.com. “Xinhuanet.com.” 說三與三寶. Retrieved on 20 June 2009.
  7. ^ a b Mente, Boye De. [2000] (2000). The Chinese Have a Word for it: The Complete Guide to Chinese thought and Culture. McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 0-658-01078-6
  8. ^ Alon, Ilan, ed. (2003), Chinese Culture, Organizational Behavior, and International Business Management, Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers.
  9. ^ a b Kong, Foong, Ling. [2002] (2002). The Food of Asia. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-7946-0146-4

For contemporary culture after 1949, see Culture of the People’s Republic of China.