EASTERN ZHOU Anonymous (aka Eastern Chou Anonymous; Zhou (Eastern) Anonymous)
6th-5th c BCE Chinese Zhou (Eastern) Applied Arts
(771 BCE - 256 BCE)
c. 600 BCE-400 BCE
6th-5th c BCE
Washington D.C. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
In many American cities one can see a twisting dragon leading the parade to welcome the Chinese New Year. While DRAGONS in the west were considered malevolent creatures whose major function was to be slain by heroes, dragons in the east had a very different symbolism. In Chinese mythology dragons helped both gods and human beings in their ceaseless struggle with the malevolent powers of nature. The different meanings attributed to dragons in the East and in the West emphasize the need to consider symbols within their own cultural contexts. These much-loved creatures were connected with rivers, oceans, and clouds. So-called "dragon jades" like this one were used in praying for rain. The power of the dragon to stir the clouds and produce rain indicated that the symbol developed in an agricultural setting, where human survival depended upon the yield of the crops. JADE itself had magical powers which prevented corruption and helped to insure a long life.
We will find the reverence for jade and the love of dragons continuing throughout the long history of China. The dragon has been a central image in Chinese art from the earliest prehistoric times until the modern day. Images of the dragon appeared five to six thousand years ago on pottery in several different parts of China, and were carved in jade and other stones, cast in gold, and embroidered on robes like the one depicted in the opening image of this lesson. This elegant jade dragon was buried in a tomb sometime during the 7th to the 5th century BCE. (BCE stands for "Before the Common Era," a designation that is replacing BC, which means "Before Christ".)
The earliest Chinese myths show great reverence for a creator pair, Nu Wa and Fu Xi, both of whom are described as having a snake's body and a human head. Nu Wa was the creator and benefactor of humanity. "She created man with clay," and "patched the sky with five colored stone." Her brother Fu Xi "communicated with the gods, tied ropes into nets and taught human beings how to farm and fish." The legends of Nu Wa and Fu Xi are considered as symbolizing the shift from a matriarchal to a patriarchal society. Traditional Chinese society was definitely patriarchal and highly structured.
China has the longest continuing history of any world culture. In the course of this lesson we will examine a few of the works of art produced during that long period and some of the ideas that helped shape them. There is no way that a single lesson can give anything but a superficial introduction to this rich and complex culture, but at least we will be able to consider it in the framework of other great cultures of the past.
In the course of this lesson we will briefly consider the art and ideas produced during the following dynasties:
SHANG: c. 1550-1050 BCE
ZHOU (also spelled Chou): c. 1050-221 BCE
QIN (Ch'in): 2221-206 BCE
HAN: 206 BCE-221
SONG (Sung): 960-1279
YUAN : 1260-1368 (Mongols)
QIN (Ch'ing): 1644-1911 (Manchus)
EASTERN ZHOU | Dragon. | | Chinese | Zhou (Eastern)