China Arts and Literature


Confucianism’s emphasis on the didactic function of literature has led to the boundary between enlightenment literature and fiction of old being vague. As far more important is the boundary between the culture-promoting literature and the vulgar literature that did not meet the requirements set for “true” literature in terms of subject matter or form. The withering literature is written in a script (Wenyan), which is strongly different from the spoken language. At the same time a folk literature was developed, written in a language that was close to the spoken language (baihua). The white literature was preserved in imperial and private libraries, while much of the spoken-language literature was lost. For many centuries, these two literary currents developed side by side. Often, the white literature, especially poetry, was enriched by the influences of the spoken language literature.

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The older prose literature

“Shu” or “Shujing” (‘The Original Customers’) consists of a number of historical documents, compiled in order of time. Only those sections dealing with early Zhoutid times (1040-256 BC) have been considered historically reliable. Most notable are the speeches attributed to the Duke by Zhou, a younger brother of the dynasty’s founder. In these, descriptive prose and direct speech are woven together into a dramatically closed entity.

Philosophical works from the late Zhoutid contain sections of high literary value. The work attributed to the Confucian thinker Mencius and bearing his name reflects conversations between Mencius and contemporary princes and thinkers. They are recounted in clear prose, which was probably close to the spoken language of the time. The dialogue is characterized by faithful framing and psychological acuity. “Xun Zi” contains essays around the subjects mentioned in the titles, mainly characterized by a well-balanced outline and a rich imagery. “Zhuang Zi”, attributed to Daoist thinker Zhuang Zhou, comprises 33 chapters, of which the first seven exhibit a personal and distinctive style. These sections are characterized by poetic luminosity, unbridled imagination and humor.

The Chronicle “Zuozhuan” provides a detailed account of events and environments in the various counties during 722-468 BC. The unknown author is a sumptuous narrator. The short-cut style of narrative prose is often interrupted by lively replica exchanges, which skillfully utilize the spoken language of the time. Both “Mencius”, “Xun Zi”, “Zhuang Zi” and “Zuozhuan” have served as a style pattern up to our days.

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“Shiji” (“History Writer’s Notes”), by Sima Qian, depicts China’s history from the legendary ancient times to the author’s own time. The work, which is literary high, has served as a model for the dynastic annals. During Han (206 BC – 220 AD), history writing and the political essence became the main prose genres.

During the centuries between Han and Tang, a genre was developed that encompasses fairy tales, ghost stories, and rare legends and which the learned librarians of the time dismissed as xiaoshuo (‘small talk’). The white literature of the same era is characterized by a syntactic and semantic parallelism, which has given rise to the term pianwen (‘horse-horse prose’).

The statesman and the writer Han Yu advocated a return to the unadorned ancient prose (guwen), which he himself used in school-forming essays. He Yu and Liu Zongyuan are considered the greatest pro-stylists of the Tang era. The ancient prose also came to be used in fiction novels (chuanqi), which deal with Chevalese adventures and romantic love. The leading chuanqi writers include the bald Yuan Zhen. Tang Buddhist missionary activities helped create the genre bianw(‘miraculous legends’), as written on a mixture of verses and spoken prose directly related to the Indian Jatak literature. Eventually, non-Buddhist motifs also became the subject of bianwen works, which greatly influenced the continued development of spoken language literature. During the Song period, professional storytellers played a major role in the increasingly urbanized society. Their written helplines (huaben), which contained summaries of their repertoire, were published in pirate print and served as role models for writers of entertainment literature in the spoken language. The literary prose also flourished during Song. The great masters include Ouyang Xiu and Su Dongpo.

China Arts and Literature

In addition to pinghua, romanticized stories with historical foundations, the early-language literature contains two genres – shihua and cihua – both of which reveal strong influence from the bianwen style. Here, the narrative prose alternates with verses of regular length (shi), or with verses written to a particular melodic pattern (ci). Thereby, the Mingidene’s great speech-language novels were developed: “Stories of the Three Kingdoms”, a romanticized depiction of the Sangu period (221-280); “Records from the Journey to the West”, an allegorical depiction of Xuanzang’s pilgrimage to India in the 6th century AD; “Stories from the Swamplands” (available in Swedish translation), a novel of robbery, whose action is published in the 1120’s; Jin Ping Mei (“The Golden Lotus”), a cedar novel, which provides a frankly realistic depiction of daily life in a burgeoning merchant family during the Song era. One of the greatest literary works of the Qing Dynasty is the partly autobiographical novel “The Dream in the Red Pavilion” by Cao Xueqin. The novel is characterized by a deep understanding of the psychology of romantic love.

The older poetry

The anthology “Shi” or “Shijing” (‘The Book of Songs’) contains 305 songs and hymns, many of which date back to the beginning of the first millennium before the beginning of our era. One section contains a number of short poems, which constitute literary works of folk songs, collected from different parts of the kingdom. The rhythm of the verse is simple: each verse consists of four syllables. The even verses rhyme. The strokes are often marked by stylistically effective repetitions and typical folk songs. The Beijing songs represent the North Chinese cultural circle around Huang He’s middle race.

The second major stage in older poetry is represented by the anthology “Elegies from Chu”. Half of the poems in this collection date from the 300’s BC. With their lively rhythm and imaginative content, they break with the North Chinese literary tradition. A section of the anthology, “The Nine Songs”, constitutes a cycle of poetry intended to be performed for dance and music in connection with the Chufolket’s shamanistic cult. From the elegant verse came a poem form called fu (‘prose poem ‘). The genre was often used for panegyric portrayals of court life and developed strongly during Han. Alongside this white court poetry a folk poetry emerged, depicting the people’s life in the weekend and the quest in easy-to-understand language and in naïve images.

In the centuries following the fall of the Han Empire (220 AD), a natural lyric poem was created, which in its means of expression, the landscape painting is close by. Among the chief poets are Tao Yuanming, who in his poems expresses a pious religiosity and humility in the face of nature and life.

The beauty of the Chinese language comes to its fullest expression in the Tang Empire’s central realm. Utilizing the tonal accents of the language, the Skaldis managed to create a musical frame around their densified lyric, which defies every attempt at translation. In the tonally bound poetry, called “the new lyric”, the sentence consists of either four or eight verses. The verse is either five-letter or seven-letter. Li Bo and Du Fu are considered the new lyric’s greatest master. During the Tang period, the tonally unbound poetry, called gushi (“old verse”) also flourished. Both Du Fu and Bo Juyi used the old verse in their social protest songs.

Towards the end of the Tang period, a new lyrical form, ci (‘lyrics’), emerged, which reached its highest development during Song. The everyday language that characterizes early ci indicates a popular origin. The Ci poems had an intimate connection with the popular music of the time. Each tune was linked to a specific metric pattern, with verses of alternating length and an often intricate rhyme braid. Su Dongpo, the female poet Li Qingzhao and Xin Qiji are among the great ci poets. From the Cid poetry, a dramatic lyric (qu) developed during the Yuan period, which also served as a standalone genre (sanqu). Its chief representative was Ma Zhiyuan.

Fiction prose after 1900

Hu Shi, who initiated the Literary Revolution (1917-20), claimed that the classical writing language had played its part and demanded that it be replaced by a new one, based on the spoken language. The language reform movement meant that Chinese literature was launched into entirely new tracks. The novel and the essence were the leading prose genres during the 1920’s. The incomparable foremost among the writers of the 1920’s was Lu Xun, whose main fiction production is contained in the two short collections “Battle Call” (1923) and “Tvekan” (1926). He also wrote many polemical essays, characterized by irony and sarcastic humor. Many of the foremost works of the 1920’s were published in the Novel Magazine (Xiaoshuo yuebao), body of the Society for Literary Studies. The leading members of this company were Mao Dun (Shen Yanbing), Zheng Zhenduo and Ye Shaojun. Novell magazine helped to develop the realistic tradition. In 1921, the literary society was created (Chuangzaoshe), which advocated a romantic literature and whose main representatives were Guo Moruo and Yu Dafu.

Towards the end of the 1920’s, many writers joined communism. In 1930, the Association of Left Radical Writers, whose members came to dominate 1930’s literature, was founded. Among the most prominent novelists of the decade are Mao Dun, whose authorship is characterized by the experiences he made as a communist revolutionary, Lao She, best known for the novel “En ricksha in Beijing” (1939; available in Swedish translation), Ba Jin, whose trilogy “Power Swirls” depicts the contradictions between the traditional family system and the youth’s demands for emancipation, as well as Shen Congwen. The latter’s expressionist depictions of the Chinese landscape and simple country life are unparalleled. With the exception of Lao She, these writers stopped writing after 1949.

In the May 1942 talks on arts and literature in Yan’an, Mao Zedong laid down the guidelines for literary work: all literature must serve the political purposes of the Communist Party. Until the end of the 1970’s, China’s authors were forced to join the political guiding force. With few exceptions (Ding Ling, Zhao Shuli and Zhou Libo), the authors failed to create full-fledged literature on the basis of the strict Yan’an directives. The social-realist tradition was replaced by a fusion of “revolutionary realism and revolutionary romanticism” towards the end of the 1950’s, a literary line that developed into absurdum during the cultural revolution 1966-76.

After the four gangs fell, documentary writers began to settle the bill with the cultural revolutionary violence workers. The journalist Liu Binyan revealed in a number of works misconceptions in society, such as abuse of power, nepotism and corruption. Several fiction writers followed in his footsteps and wrote works that have been summarized under the title “The Literature of the Wounded” and which deserve attention more for their content than for their literary merits.

In the 1980’s appeared first writers who debuted in the 1950’s: Wang Zengqi, Lu Wenfu, Zhang Xianliang and Wang Meng, and younger writers who first started writing in the late 1970’s: Gao Xingjian, A Cheng, Han Shaogong, Moyan, Li Rui and Cao Naiqian, as well as Shen Rong, Zhang Jie, Wang Anyi and Zhang Xinxin, the last four women. Many works by women writers hostage the bureaucratic society for its ruthless exploitation of the intellectual workforce and its lack of respect for the woman. Common to the young writers is that, with varying degrees of success, they strive to acquire the various techniques of Western modernism and postmodernism. The 1980’s novel and short stories contain many echoes of mainly Kafka and Latin American magical realism. Many of the younger writers seek their roots in pre-Confucian antiquity. The main works include unmistakable depictions of the poor farmers’ harsh lives in the countryside.

1900’s poetry

The literary revolution also paved the way for a new poetry. In 1920, Hu Shi’s poetry collection “Experiment” was published, which contained fairly well-spoken spoken-language poems in free verse. Among the poets who emerged during the 1920’s are the musically responsive Wen Yiduo and Xu Zhimo, both influenced by the English romantics, Guo Moruo, influenced by both Walt Whitman and Majakovsky, as well as Dai Wangshu, who was attracted by French symbolism. Female poet Bing Xin wrote poetic short poems in Tagore’s sequel.

In the foremost 1930’s, Ai Qing, Tian Jian and Zang Kejia, the romantic flow gave way to a socially and politically engaged realism. Ai Qing’s free verse from the late 1930’s marks a highlight of China’s modern poetry.

Feng Zhi and Bian Zhilin have been described as “metaphysical” poets. Feng Zhi, a Germanist and specialist at Goethe and Rilke, debuted as early as the 1920’s. Like Wen Yiduo, Bian Zhilin has successfully experimented with metric and prosodic patterns, skillfully utilizing the musicality of the Chinese language. Two female poets who debuted in the 1940’s, Chen Jingrong and Zheng Min, both returned with full collections during the 1980’s.

China’s modern poetry is mainly written in free verse, but many classic verse measures, such as the five-letter verse of the Hantid, the tonal short sentences and the lyrical poem of the Song-era, still appear as an expression of a living literary tradition. Mao Zedong, who must be regarded as a prominent poet, strictly followed the classical metric in his poetry.

The politicization of literature after 1949 also affected poetry. During the nationwide poetry campaign in 1958, which was part of the Great Leap Forward, a great deal of poetry was produced. The fraction of it that has been published in anthologies contains anonymous works of strong poetic luminosity.

Towards the end of the 1970’s, many younger poets appeared, all of whom were the generation politically manipulated during the Cultural Revolution. During the Democracy Movement 1978-80, a number of literary journals were published, which became forums for criticism and literature that the official press had hitherto denied space. The most significant of these magazines was Today! (Jintian), edited by Bei Dao. The group around Bei Dao has not signed any common manifesto, but common to its members is that they demand the right in their works to express their own self’s perceptions of existential truths. Their free verse and modernist imagery completely breaks with the uniformed fashion that had characterized China’s official poetry after 1949. Older critics have dismissed young poetry as menglong, obscure, veiled, incomprehensible. During the campaign against ※spiritual pollution§ 1983-84, sharp criticism was directed at phenomena such as pornography, pop music and incomprehensible poetry. Modernist poetry was also criticized during the campaign against bourgeois liberalism in 1987.

As a result of political developments towards the end of the 1980’s, many of the Jintian group’s poets are in exile in the West. These include, in addition to Bei Dao, Gu Cheng, Yang Lian, Duo Duo, Yan Li and Mang Ke. These young people use their poetry as a weapon in the struggle to assert the poet’s and every individual’s right to personal integrity in a world that to themselves appears increasingly bizarre. Like many young prose writers, they also strive to de-politicize the Chinese language.

People’s Poetry

The anthology “Shijing” (“The Book of Songs”), from the first half of the 1000’s BC, contains, among other things, a number of usually short poems, which probably constitute literary works of folk songs. The rhythm of the verse is simple and each beat is carried by a single word. The even verses rhyme. The visions, which depict the lives of the people this weekend and the quest, are characterized by an excellent imagery. Often, typical folk songs appear at the end of the sentence.

Towards the end of the Han period (202 BC – 220 AD), the five-letter and the seven-letter verse arose. At the same time, folk songs, especially the ballad, were influenced by music imported from Central Asia. Remains of the folk songs and ballads of the Hantids and subsequent centuries have been preserved in early anthologies. Many folk motifs have later been made the subject of literary editing.

Throughout China’s long literary history, impulses from folk poetry have been of great importance for the development of white poetry. The Chinese folk poem is characterized by an outstanding continuity with regard to both form and motif choice. Verse measures created 2,000 years ago are still used by today’s folk poets.

People Prose Poem

The Chinese literature up to and including the 19th century, especially the vernacular, contains lots of material extracted from the oral folk tradition, but it is a difficult-to-understand material that has been analyzed to a very small extent by Western folk-poet researchers, partly because of the lack of translations.. But oral storytelling was not high in the course of formed circles, but the stories incorporated in the established literature were reworked according to prevailing taste and style. Fairy tales, tales, myths and legends from the period before the 11th century are usually written in the literary writing language. During the Song period, professional storytellers played a major role in the increasingly urbanized society. From their repertoires, which were often based on folk poetry motifs, a great novel literature was later developed.

Missionaries and other Westerners made a lot of collections during the 19th century, but what they then recorded was mostly booklore (tradition inspired by the printed word). It took until the end of the 1910’s before an interest in the authentic prose poetry arose among the intellectuals in the “literary revolution” and then with the West as an obvious source of inspiration. An initial period of purposeful fundraising, combined with, among other things, the publication of several short-lived folkloric journals, took place in 1927-37 and resulted in just over 3,000 saga records. The attitude to the folk tradition was not only positive from the central authorities – the publication of local traditions,

Following the victory of the Communists, the new political power holders actualized the prose folk poem, collection was resumed and the years 1955-56 meant another period of intensified collection. Several collections of sago and fairy tales as well as text analyzes saw the light of day, not least a number of monographs on Chinese sub-genotypes. Chinese prose folk poetry research was intensified again in the 1960’s, often turning to, for example, Western diffusionist methods, which were criticized for taking too little account of the social background and social-critical nature of the sagas.

Drama and theater

Both profanity and religious theater in China have roots that probably date back to shaman performances 5,000 years ago. Sketchy scenes, acrobatics, music and dance, often performed on mobile wagons, were combined with juggling, stilt arts and animal drawings at the beginning of our era. At the beginning of the 11th century, a text was improvised, but it was only during the Yuand dynasty (1271-1368) that the written drama emerged. The time is called the “golden age of drama” and produced works that are still being erected in China, including “The Room to the West” by Wang Shifu (13th century) and “Injustice against Dou E” by Guan Hanqing (c. 1220 – 1300). The theatrical form developed simultaneously and adapted to the regular drama. Detailed instructions indicated the design of suits, masks, props, movement patterns and music.

Traditional theater

can be grouped into kunqu (based on melodies from Jiangsu Province), difangxi (local theater plays), jingju (capital theater, sometimes called “Beijing opera”) and quyi (melody art, theatrical performances of storytelling). In addition, puppet and puppet shows. Common to the different styles of the traditional theater is the composite stage form, where song, music, recitation, dance, acrobatics and movements work together. – See also separate article on jingju.

Kunqu. From the end of the 16th century, the southern theater form was dominated by kunqu, where soft, poetic form was emphasized by flute and stringed instruments. Kunqu became the norm-giving entertainment, a position it maintained until the late 18th century when its popularity came to be overshadowed by jingju.

Difangxi. In China, there are more than 350 local theater forms with different conventions on dramatic topics, music, costume and role management. These difangxi originated mainly during the Qing Dynasty, in the 17th and 18th centuries, and in each area a theater of distinctive character emerged. Above all, the different styles are characterized by the Chinese dialect they are performed on, as well as by the adaptation to the area’s musical traditions, which are often closely associated with the singing and dancing associated with the festivities of the rural population and peasants in connection with sowing and harvesting.

Jingju. Through a fusion of northern and southern theater conventions, during the first decades of the nineteenth century, a theater style was developed called “capital theater” or jingju. The audience had long favored the roles of women who had dominated the theater for centuries. At the same time as jingju was gaining more and more appreciation, the women’s roles, with themes around home, family and love, gained competition from strong heroes who acted in combat scenes and controlled military battalions. Jingju combines southern and northern musical and thematic traditions and fuses actor art, song and costume from large parts of the country. Certain types of roles interact with prescribed music and song sections, symbolic make-up and meaningful colors in suits, hats and loose beards. A foreground figure in jingju was Mei Lanfang,

Quyi encompasses different kinds of storytelling art as well as comic dialogues and epic songs performed by one or two people for music accompaniment. Often stories are told from Chinese history or recounted current events, not infrequently with a comic undertone or disguised social criticism.

During the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, the traditional theater was banned in its classical form and it was decided that all theater art should be based on seven designs: five “revolutionary modern jingju” and two “revolutionary modern dance dramas”. The ideology of pattern-like role models would thus support the class struggle.

Modern theater

Since the beginning of the 20th century there is also a living theater tradition (huaju), introduced via Japan but with designs from European modern theater as it appeared at the turn of the century. The first pieces that were erected were “The Camellia Lady” and “Uncle Tom’s Cottage”, and these were soon followed by both domestic theater pieces and Western classics in Chinese translation. Ibsen’s drama became a particularly important inspiration for the modern Chinese theater, where men acted in women’s roles according to traditional usage well into the 20th century. The theater was used as a tool for political campaigns and was also used for information to the rural population during the struggle between nationalists and communists.

In addition to the Cultural Revolution’s pattern theater, Stanislavsky and Brecht have been significant role models for modern Chinese theater.

Important Chinese foreground figures in modern speech theater include Ouyang Yuqian (1889-1962), Guo Moruo (1892-1978), Hong Shen (1894-1955), Xia Yan (1900-95), Li Jianwu (1906-82), Lao She (1899-1966), Tian Han (1898-1968) and Cao Yu (1910-96). In recent times, Chinese modern drama has Gao Xingjian also translated into Swedish. Western genres such as opera and ballet, as well as mixed forms such as geju (song drama), wuju (dance drama) and gewuju (song and dance drama), occur sparingly in the country’s largest cities.


The first film screening in China was held on August 11, 1896 in Shanghai. In 1905, the first film was recorded, a staged performance of the Beijing opera “The Battle of Dingjunshan”. After 1910, a film industry in Shanghai was formed in Mandarin dialect, at the same time as Hong Kong’s Cantonese-speaking film industry was established. Up until the breakthrough of the audio film in 1930, production was divided into many short-lived companies, and the market share was only about 10%. Subsequently, the popularity of domestic films increased, but in return, the film industry ended up in the 1930’s power struggle between Chiang Kai-shek’s ruling Guomingdang Party and Mao Zedong’s rebellious Communist movement. Some left-wing smaller companies were therefore affected by both state censorship and the damage done by right-wing militia groups. After the Japanese invasion of 1937, virtually all film production in Shanghai ceased. Some companies moved to the other Chinese film city, the British crown colony Hong Kong, where production was made more difficult when the Japanese entered the city in 1941. At the end of the war in 1945, the film industry flourished again in Shanghai at companies such as Lianhua and Wenhua. Then Fei Mu (1906-51) classics such as ※When Spring Came to the Village§ (1948); newly recorded in 2002 by Tian Zhuangzhuang. Other significant directors were Zheng Junli (1911-69; ※Crows and Sparrows§, 1949) and Shen Fu (1905-94; ※The Lights from Ten Thousand Homes§, 1948).

When the Communist Party Red Army finally won in 1949, the film industry was immediately nationalized in Shanghai, and in 1952 most of the production was moved to newly built studios in Beijing. With the separation of the island of Taiwan, a new Chinese film industry arose around the capital, Taipei, in close cooperation with the film companies in the re-British controlled Hong Kong. The new film production in Mainland China was under both ideological and artistic control; The model was taken from the Soviet social realism’s idealization of life on collective agriculture, in factories and as a soldier in the front line against the enemies of communism. Chinese directors were sent to film school and studios in Moscow for education before Beijing’s film school opened in 1956. An early example of the new production is Shi Huis (1915-57) “My Life” (1950), which depicts a policeman’s service under various regimes. Since there were a total of only 650 movie theaters in the country in 1949, and then aimed at the middle class of the big cities, the Communist Party built a network of 15,000 mobile cinemas for the countryside in ten years, as exemplified by the Soviet Revolution’s agitated train. Bio-visits thus increased during the period from 47 million to just over 4 billion.

The thawing weather in the Soviet Union had repercussions during two liberalization periods for Chinese films 1956-57 and 1960-66. Color films, lavish studio environments and an interest in both China’s history before the revolution and ethnic minorities became prominent in films such as Sang House (1916-2004) drama ※The New Year Victory§ (1956), Xie Jin*s (1923-2008) ※Basketball Player no. 5 §(1957), Li Jun’s Tibetan portrayal of” Thralls “(1963) and Liu Qiongs (1913-2002) musical “Ashima” (1964). With the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, film production was curtailed to a few individual films per year and the film school closed. Most directors were forced to do other work, often on collective farms. Some of them – like Zheng Junli – died from their hardships. Then this period also ended with films that mixed ideological education with entertainment.

In 1978, Beijing’s film school reopened, and in 1982 the first new batch of film workers, the so-called fifth generation, was examined. With Chen Kaige’s “The Yellow Earth” (1984), the mainland Chinese film reached a world audience for the first time, and then with a form-experimental imagery that was in sharp contrast to the previously offered social realism. Success continued with Zhang Yimou’s “The Red Field” (1987), which won the Golden Bear the following year in Berlin. In 1992, Zhang Yimou received the Gold Lion in Venice for the “Story of Qiu Ju”, and in 1993 Chen Kaige’s “Farewell, my concubine” was three times Oscar nominated. Other directors of the same generation are Tian Zhuangzhuang (born 1952; “The Blue Dragon”, 1993) and Huang Jianxin (born 1954; “The Black Cannon Accident”, 1986).

During the 1980’s, the various state film companies became more independent and financially responsible. The directors were no longer assigned to a workplace but could move between the companies and the artistic freedom became greater. Production increased to 200 films per year. The massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989, however, led to a renewed ideological censorship, something that affected eg. Chen Kaige’s “The Emperor and the Killer” (1999). As a result, several directors went into exile – Chen Kaige to the US, Huang Jianxin to Australia – and production dropped. With the incorporation of Hong Kong in 1997, China gained access to an entertainment film and entertainment brand. However, several of the most famous film workers, such as director John Woo and star Jackie Chan, chose to work in the United States. But in 2000, the big bet was ※Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon §is a historically groundbreaking co-production between China, Taiwan and the United States. Directed by Taiwanese Ang Lee, it made international success, and the mainland Chinese film industry quickly followed up with the ideologically justified but less successful story bag “Hero” (2002) and “Flying Daggers” (2004). Both were directed by Zhang Yimou, who was also behind the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The stricter film policy along with the new and cheap digital film technology in the 1990’s gave rise to a new generation of filmmakers – sometimes called the sixth generation – who are inspired by French new wave and American independent films and who often finance their productions with foreign capital. Some names that are usually included in this group name are Lou Ye (born 1965; “Mermaid in Shanghai”, 2000), Li Yang (born 1959; “Blind Tunnel”, 2003) and Jia Zhang Ke (born 1970; “Still Life”, 2006). In the popular movie, star Stephen Chow (born 1962) became a new poster name with internationally acclaimed action comedies such as “Shaolin Soccer” (2001) and “Kung Fu Hustle” (2005).

After the turn of the millennium, production turned upwards again to 212 films in 2003, 330 films in 2006 and ticket revenues increased dramatically. During the 2000’s, American and Western entertainment films have built up a new market in the strong China. Warner Bros. in 2004 signed a cooperation agreement with the state film and television industry for joint productions. A new and more open time seemed to stand at the door. At the same time, the political censorship of the media and the internet is stricter and more effective than ever.

Compare Hong Kong (Film) and Taiwan (Film).


China has a very long and strong art tradition, which, due to the geographical conditions, has been relatively unaffected from the outside and which has therefore been able to continuously develop a unique characteristic among the world’s high cultures. The major works include poetry, calligraphy (shufa) including seal cutting (zhuanke) and painting (hua). The sculpture, which, with few exceptions, was previously made to order by anonymous craftsmen, has, on the other hand, been regarded as a craft. It was not until the latter part of the 20th century that sculpture, under Western and Russian influence, was taken up as a special subject in art schools and academies. Common to all visual arts, however, is that its content has been deeply rooted in ethics (Confucianism and Daoism), religion (Buddhism), classical literature and poetry and, more recently, politics (socialism and communism).


Chinese writing has been considered a fine art for over 2,000 years. The characters are made up of a certain number of lines and points that are handwritten with brush and ink on paper or silk. All characters are carriers of visual experiences in the rhythmic interaction between thick and thin lines, between points and dashes, between left and right, between top and bottom, between emptiness and shape, and between unexpected simplifications and resolutions. When the fiction writer has succeeded in solving the composition’s problems and has written down the form, the characters represent an experience of abstract beauty, which leads the mind away from the literary meaning. It is the visual power of the painterly abstractions that primarily captures the viewer.

Calligraphy is a distinct line art, where rhythmic movements determine both the form and the expression as well as the harmonic asymmetry and the uniform style. The art of mastering the ink line educates man in aesthetic sensitivity and technical sophistication and is the basis of all visual art in East Asia. Painting ink bamboo is a natural transitional form between calligraphy and painting because the different parts of the bamboo resemble the most characteristic brushstrokes of the different calligraphic basic styles: seal, formal, normal, semi-italic and italic. The scribes ‘Four taxes’ are ink, brush, paper and tearstones, ie. the stone on which the ink bar is rubbed in water to obtain liquid ink. A particularly famous calligraphic work of art is a manuscript written 354 AD. by “The Prince of Calligraphers” Wang Xizhi. Copies of this masterpiece, in the form of relaxations (frottage) from stone inscriptions, has served as a role model for all literary experts since the 700’s. Other great masters who still exert great influence are Yan Zhenqing (709-785), Huang Tingjian (1050-1110), Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322), Zhang Ruitu (1569-1644), and Deng Shiru (1743-1805). Major calligraphers after 1949 are Sha Menghai (1900-92) in Hangzhou, Lin Sanzhi (1896-1989) in Nanjing, and Fei Xinwo (1904-92) in Suzhou. The Hangzhou Seal Academy (Xiling Yinshe) is an important center for the study of calligraphy and seal cutting. Zhang Ruitu (1569-1644) and Deng Shiru (1743-1805). Major calligraphers after 1949 are Sha Menghai (1900-92) in Hangzhou, Lin Sanzhi (1896-1989) in Nanjing, and Fei Xinwo (1904-92) in Suzhou. The Hangzhou Seal Academy (Xiling Yinshe) is an important center for the study of calligraphy and seal cutting. Zhang Ruitu (1569-1644) and Deng Shiru (1743-1805). Major calligraphers after 1949 are Sha Menghai (1900-92) in Hangzhou, Lin Sanzhi (1896-1989) in Nanjing, and Fei Xinwo (1904-92) in Suzhou. The Hangzhou Seal Academy (Xiling Yinshe) is an important center for the study of calligraphy and seal cutting.


The Chinese painting is a distinct line painting, where the brush stitch (bichu), ie. the calligraphic gesture, constitutes the essence. Bimo (‘brush and ink’) often represents the concept of art. The content has been firmly rooted in literature and poetry, often with symbolic, ambiguous undertones.

Painting can most easily be summarized as conceptual, calligraphic lyricism. “Conceptual” means that it is based on an idea, “calligraphic”, that the form emanates from the calligraphy’s technology, “lyricism” that its content is poetically rooted. There are basically two basic styles. One, which is detailed and slow in execution, is called the gong bee (‘the laborious brush’). The other, performed with the spontaneity of the writing, is called xieyi (‘to write down the thought’). The brush is held firmly with a special finger grip, usually vertically against the paper with the tip in the middle. The requirement for natural connections between motifs and details in a painting meant that the painting was divided into different categories such as tusk bamboo (mozhu), people and things (renwu), flowers and birds (huaniao) and landscape (shanshui). The motifs are repeated in thematic variations, where each artist contributes their own personal interpretations. A painting is composed according to the principle of contrast between nature’s complementary opposites yin and yang such as emptiness and form, likeness and inequality, wet and dry, long and short, slow and fast, open and closed, small and large, thick and narrow, close and distant, high and low, white and black. In the combination of these “ambiguities” the images get their movement and vitality.

Art Theory’s basic “Six Principles” were formulated by Xie He in the 500’s. The first and most important was qiyun shengdong (‘vital harmony and life movement’), ie. a painting would be a spiritual interpretation of reality, not a realistic copy. Each brush stroke would be a transitional form to the next in a never-ending flow until the entire painting, the whole, was formulated. In a remarkable writing, the painter Shitao (1641-1717) called this “yihua”, which can be interpreted both as ‘a dash’ and as ‘uniform painting’. More recently, Li Keran has emphasized yijing, a term that means ‘concrete idea’ and which describes a state of emotion through an idea content rather than a concrete conception of reality. Li Keran felt that the artist should choose and would like to exaggerate some characteristic details in the subject so that it nevertheless,

Teaching has traditionally been communicated from master to student. In the latter part of the 20th century, art schools were opened in most large cities; central art academies are now located in Beijing, Hangzhou and Guangzhou. There, she teaches oil painting, graphic techniques, calligraphy, ink painting and sculpture as well as art theory and the history of art. Almost anything is allowed to avoid clean images. For example, the flower or bird should is permeated by what is called “the equality of non-equality”. The most important thing is to manifest “the flower’s flower” or “the bird’s birdlike”. The artist can choose which color he wants, without regard to representative similarities, to enhance the expression in a given context. In the past, they were sparse with color effects, as they believed that the ink’s grayscale could represent all colors. But colors have become increasingly important after being influenced by eg. Western art and Chinese folk art. Although the Chinese knew about the central perspective already under Tang, they chose to use an aerial perspective, where the viewer’s eye is the moving focus that determines the spatial illusion.

The Chinese painting is not bound to the architectural space. Paintings and calligraphies are usually mounted on vertical or horizontal rolls, on solar springs or as album sheets. They are produced on special occasions.

Thanks to the fact that the scribes, usually as amateurs, were the only performing artists in China until the 20th century, the history of Chinese painting is well documented in the literature. But few original works are preserved before Song. The legendary painter Gu Kaizhi’s (c. 344 – c. 406) and other painter’s styles can be studied in copies. During Tang, Wang Wei (699-759), poet and painter, who is traditionally the first literary painter to appear. A little later, Jing Hao (c. 900-960) withdrew as hermit in the mountains and wrote an essay on art, in which he emphasizes the balance between “external equality and inner reality” in painting. These two have been ideal for artists of recent times. Guo Xi (c. 1020-90) wrote an important essay on the ink’s possibilities for painting features, which are still cited. Among the innovators are the “pointilist” and calligrapher Mi Fu (1051-1107), Li Longmian (c. 1070-1106), who painted horses and people with the help of fine contour lines, and Wen Tong (dead 1079), the brilliant painter of ink bamboo. Emperor Huizong (reign 1101-25) was a prominent calligrapher and painter of flowers and birds in the realistic style. One of the foremost theorists was the poet, calligrapher and painter Su Dongpo (1036-1101), who pleaded for a painting to be an image of the artist’s enlightened and noble character. During Song, the cultural climate was strongly influenced by neoconfucianism, Daoism and Buddhism, especially Chan Buddhism (which in Japan is called Zen), whose followers acquired the inner knowledge and far-sighted life-style taught in temples and monasteries.

The “truth” was revealed in a sudden insight and conveyed through a few quick brush strokes, combined with some lavender and “ink splashes”. The results are often sketchy, spontaneous memorial images of universally valid motifs, where the details of nature are reduced and purified to an level of abstraction that sometimes borders on the non-figurative and where the empty surfaces often give the images their deepest content. Muqi and Liang Kai (both active in the 13th century) are among the foremost Chan painters. The ink painting is the result of a deep insight, an idea that was written down spontaneously and directly, such as a carefully practiced body movement or dance. An oft-quoted adage reads: “The brush sings – the tusk dances”.

Landscape painters Ma Yuan and Xia Gui founded the so-called Ma-Xia School of Chinese Landscape Painting. During the Yuan, special emphasis was placed on emotional expressions, while it became increasingly common to combine calligraphy and painting in the same composition. Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322) joined the Mongols, while e.g. Ni Zan (1301-74), mainly chose to go his own way. The latter is especially highly regarded as the advocate of the literate artist ideal. “The painting of the literatures” has exerted great influence on painting all the way into modern times. Under Ming, it becomes an academic ideal. Masters include Shen Zhou (1427-1509), Wen Zhengming (1470-1559) and Tang Yin (1470-1523).

Dong Qichang (1555-1636) was an influential eclectic whose theory of a northern and southern school in landscape painting became of great importance. Handbooks in painting, such as “The Studio of the Ten Bamboo Grasses” (1633) and “Senapskornsträdgården” (1679), became very popular and have been distributed in many editions right into modern times. In these, you could learn how different motifs could be painted and composed according to specific style patterns. As counterpoints to this gradual concept, which culminates during Qing, appear eccentric innovators such as Xu Wei (1521-93), the Badashan (1626 – c. 1705) and Shitao (1641-1717), whose individual creative ability and advanced theories of art are still studied and cited.

In the mid-18th century, more and more studies and copies of writings that were engraved on ancient bronze and eroded stones (jinshixue) began to be studied, which revolutionized the ink line and painting from within (compare Yangzhou Baguai). During the 19th century, people continued to seek inspiration far back in time. Emphasizing the old seal’s potential for artistic renewal was a patriotic act that strengthened the cultural identity in the fight against foreign colonialism. A new school in painting, the so-called Shanghai school became a guide. The forerunners include the calligrapher and painter Zhao Zhiqian (1829-84), the painter Xugu (1824-96), the painter Ren Bonian (1840-96), the calligrapher and the painter Wu Changshuo (1844-1927), the painter Huang Binhong (1864-1955)) and the poet, calligrapher and painter Qi Baishi (1865-1957).

The 1900’s and 2000’s

The most influential schools of the 20th century are the traditional literary style, the Shanghai school, the Linganan school in Guangzhou, the socialist style and the semi-abstract style.

In 1942 Mao Zedong gave his famous speech in Yan’an, in which he presented a political view of the role of art and literature in the struggle for liberation. The woodcut art, eagerly encouraged by the author Lu Xun (1881-1936), became an effective weapon in the political struggle. Among the champions is the legendary Li Hua. After the liberation in 1949, many traditional artists such as Xu Beihong (1895-1953), Fu Baoshi (1904-65), Jiang Zhaohe (1904-85), Li Keran (1909-89), Shi Lu (1918-82), and Lin Fengmian (1900-91) first solidarity with the new requirements. Others such as Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) and Ding Yanyong (1904-79) chose to move to Taiwan and Hong Kong. When China was isolated politically and culturally from the Western world, Soviet social realism gained a strong foothold, culminating in the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. Art would then only be a vehicle in the fight for political goals and encourage the people to collective sacrifice. Amateurs – workers and peasants – were encouraged to portray their own everyday lives in highly naïve and colorful “peasant paintings”. Those who painted in the traditional style were harassed, beaten or even killed, so for example. Pan Tianshou (1898-1971).

After the Cultural Revolution, a cultural-political renaissance took place in China in 1977, and innovators and stylists in the traditional painting (guohua) such as Li Kuchan (1896-1984), Zhu Qizhan (1892-1996), Lu Yanshao (1909-93), Cui Zifan (1915). -2011), Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010) and Cheng Shifa (1922-2007) have received international recognition. In response to traditional painting and the domination of the older masters, protest groups were formed, such as the “Stars” (Xingxing Huahui), whose members demanded the total freedom of the arts and increased contact with the West. Many artists, after major re-evaluations and changes, have chosen international, modernist designs. In the 1980’s, a period began to be considered one of the most innovative and experimental in Chinese art history.


In China, the craftsmanship plays as much role as visual art and architecture. Important areas are ceramics, bronze casting, jade grinding, silk weaving, varnishing and carvings in various materials. For a description of the ceramics, jewelery art and varnish works in China, see these encyclopedias. Compare Chinese.

Bronze Casting

Casting of bronze was developed in China during the second millennium BC. and then reached a high technical and aesthetic level, with no equivalent in any other older bronze culture. The idea for the alloy of copper and tin may have come from outside, while the casting technique with compound clay molds is the Chinese’s own invention, as well as the rich mold world and pattern decor. Bronze vessels, whose forms had been developed with ceramic vessels as role models, were used in the sacrifices to the spirits of the ancestors during the period about 1500-221 BC. The designs consisted of animal motifs in a mixed style of realism and geometric stylization, which in the future became the norm for the decorative art in China. While the bronze vessels and weapons represented the wealth of the upper class, the precious metals did not play a corresponding role in Bronze Age China.

Jade grinding

Jade began to be processed in China by grinding as early as the Stone Age and was attributed magical powers early on. Cult objects, amulets and jewelery were produced in the form of mythical animals but also animals of the same type that existed in the bronze art. In general, the products followed the general style development in the arts. Nowadays there is an extensive manufacture of jade ornaments for export.

Silk Weaving

The Chinese were the first in the world to utilize the thin and strong thread of the silk mask for textile manufacture. Patterned silk fabric was made already during the Bronze Age. Weaving technology developed rapidly, and Chinese silk soon became a sought after export commodity. Thus, an intricate damask weave existed already during the Han period, and during Song the tapestry technique was fully developed. Both the simple silk fabric and richly patterned silk were exported from Han. For the Italian silk industry, the Chinese designs became the impetus, and Chinese silk came from the Middle Ages onwards for use in churches throughout the West. A large import of Chinese silk into Sweden took place through the East India trading companies during the 18th century. It was used, among other things. for suits and upholstery.


Bamboo has played an important role for Chinese crafts. It has been used as a material for buildings, furniture and utensils, as well as for artistic processing, among other things. small sculptures for the learned man’s table, such as shafts, supports and brushes. Bamboo has probably been used since the Stone Age, but the oldest preserved objects are from the Tang period. Bamboo furniture was exported to Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries, where they were also imitated in other types of wood. Other materials traditionally used in China for artistic processing are ivory, buffalo and rhino horn, to name but a few.


City Planning

The location in the landscape of buildings, villages, cities, gardens and tombs has been determined in China since ancient times according to feng shui, the doctrine of winds and water (see cosmology). In principle, the oldest Chinese villages and cities were built with a square or rectangular plan, enclosed by a defensive wall of stamped earth covered with brick or carved stone. The wall was evenly pierced by gates. The cities were generally oriented along a north-south axis. The square surface was divided by straight north-southbound and east-westbound thoroughfares into large square blocks. The neighborhood was traversed by smaller alleys, which led to the various families’ walled building complexes. If the city was large enough, some blocks in each district were left undeveloped as a marketplace for grocery shopping. The first official building was placed during the Tang period (618-907) at the city’s northern section inside or immediately outside the city wall and from the Ming period (1368-1644) in the center.

Traditional architecture

The traditional Chinese houses are erected on a platform of stamped earth, which, like the city walls, is clad with brick or carved stone. In the platform, a stone pedestal is submerged as the base for the supporting pillars. The base is fitted with a chopped round bead to prevent the pillar from moving sideways. The pedestal also serves as insulation against soil moisture and prevents rot in the supporting wood pillar. In order to shorten the beams themselves, but at the same time increase the distance between the supporting pillars, a complicated bracket system was developed at the main end of the columns. A lower, continuous bracket supported a higher and longer bracket so that the weight of the roof and floor joist was distributed over a larger portion of the pillar. In this way, the actual distance that the ceiling beam had to bridge was only the distance between the outer ends of two pillars’ top brackets.

While the western roofs generally consist of two mutually inclined planes resting on a fixed triangular roof chair, the Chinese houses have a different roof chair construction, which enabled the “curved” roofs. The transverse ceiling beams resting on the pillar’s bracket system carry, via spacer blocks, higher connecting beams, the outer ends of which in staircase form form fastening points for the roof rafters. A ridge is placed in the middle of the upper tie beam, which in turn carries the outer roof shaft. In this way, both the slope of the roof and the “turn” could be regulated.

The original roofing material was straw or split bamboo that was wrapped in parallel “mouth rows” and “nunneries” from the roof to the roof foot. After switching to bricks as roofing material, the original form was retained, where the “nun tiles” came to function as gutters which, via the often large roof overhangs, led the rainwater away from the fragile screen walls. This was especially important as the window openings were usually not covered with glass but with paper.

As the Chinese families traditionally lived in large households with several generations together, the walled families came to consist of a number of individual houses gathered around an open courtyard. The main building was north of the open courtyard, with the entrance facing south and with two or more grand buildings facing the courtyard east and west of this. If necessary, this pattern was repeated in a symmetrical system.

Religious architecture

In the traditional Chinese architecture, the houses usually consisted of low one-story buildings. One exception for China (and later Japan) is the pagodas. This exclusively Buddhist wooden, brick or multi-storey Buddhist tower building on a square, round or multi-sided bottom surface is a combination of India’s semi-spherical stupa, a kind of Buddhist tomb monument, and the indigenous lou, a guard tower that also served as a hosting chamber.

Another specific Chinese structure is pailou, a memorial or memorial sport erected in wood or stone next to a tomb, at the entrance to a village or at the beginning of a procession road. A pailou consists of at least four round or square pillars on a stone plinth as well as interconnecting transverse staircases. The space between the pillars and the transverse walls above the doorways themselves is filled with stone or wooden plates with inscriptions. Above the top transverse bar in each field is a miniature roof.


With the arrival of Western building materials and technology in the early 1900’s, the architecture of China changed mainly in the major cities of Shanghai, Nanjing and Tianjin, with the greatest influence of the Western. Banks, large companies and hotels had the construction of palace-like buildings in stone and concrete in a heavy and pompous style. For the state government offices, in Nanjing in the 1920’s and 1930’s, a number of monumental buildings were erected in concrete, which, through curved ceilings, etc., externally gave a Chinese mark. During this period, Beijing maintained its old appearance with walled low houses, winding alleys and the dominant former imperial winter palace in the center as well as the city framing the mighty city walls. Before the ten-year anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1959, parts of Beijing’s older buildings were demolished, and ten colossal buildings, partly in Soviet-inspired style, erected. The largest and most prime example of these monumental buildings is the House of the People’s Congress at Tiananmen Square in central Beijing. In the outer areas of the major cities, multi-family houses were built in several floors in gray or red brick to accommodate the fast-growing industry workers and their families.

The last few decades have been marked by a huge expansion of the housing stock, especially in the form of high-rise buildings in the big cities. The newly built residential houses – and, above all, a growing number of luxury hotels for mainly foreign tourists – are often erected in an international style; in many cases, they are designed by foreign architects with a sometimes rich use of glass and aluminum as facade material. In some provincial cities, some buildings have been experimented with in an almost futuristic style.


China’s garden tradition has been developed as an integral part of urban building art. The cities have been constructed in a straight line after the four winds, while gardens have generally been planned irregularly, but like the cities according to feng shui, the doctrine of winds and water (see cosmology). The irregularly landscaped gardens can generally be divided into two main categories: first, the large imperial nature parks, which were used for hunting, amusement and ceremonies, and the smaller, intimate so-called literary gardens, which were used for study and literary gatherings. Both categories are made up of two main components, rock and water, which together form the art-theoretical concept of landscape, shanshui.

Grand imperial nature parks probably existed as early as 2000 BC. In Shanglin Park (221 BC – 8 AD), Daoist paradise stories of three mountainous islands were staged, where people who have attained eternal life lived in harmony with nature. The park, with its extensive dust systems, islands, terraces and countless palace buildings became the style formation for late imperial parks. The oldest preserved imperial park is the Beijing Park in Beijing (commenced in 1163, unchanged from 1368 to 1644). The largest of the preserved imperial parks is located in Chengde (1703-90). Like other imperial parks, it is characterized by large dust systems, landscaped hills and several palace complexes in different styles. In Beijing, Yiheyuan, New Summer Palace, is preserved from the same time. The most famous of the Imperial Summer Palace is Yuanmingyuan,

The historic meeting in 353 between poets and calligraphers in the garden at the Orchid Pavilion outside Shaoxing formed the basis for ideas for later literary gardens. In the middle of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), gardens were built with playfully designed pavilions for music, poetry, painting, etc. The buildings were linked by winding, narrow corridors, which together with the small courtyards created a maze-like system. The room sequences were planned to steer visitors in a circular motion unnoticed. Scenarios were revealed and hidden in a skilfully laid-out dramaturgy, where the culmination was a central pond with one or more islands connected by beautiful bridges. The most famous literary gardens are in Suzhou. The most bizarre, Shizilin, the Lion forest, is considered by the painter and poet Ni Zan (1301-74). The largest, Zhuozhengyuan, is attributed to the artist Wen Zhengming (1470-1559). A copy of one of Wangshiyuan’s farms, the Fisherman’s Garden, has been erected at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A miniature garden art, so-called penning, ceramic barrel landscapes, became popular in the gardens during the Tang Dynasty, as were the so-called Taihouses, whose forms were considered a concentrate of the life force, qi, which permeated nature and caused the cosmic transformations. The principles for building mountains and caves followed the ideals of painting (compare Chinese landscape painting). The composition was based on the shape, stretching, grooves, texture, shadows, dawns and color tone of the stones. Ornamental ground coverings with ceramic materials and various colored stones became common during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1912), the most expansive periods of garden art.

Chinese garden art has been crucial to the development of the English romantic park. In the latter part of the 20th century, traditional Chinese gardens have also been built in several countries; the largest in the western world is found in the botanical garden in Montreal, Canada.


Chinese music dates back at least 4,000-5,000 years. In the 1950’s, a stone play (bell-play of boomerang-shaped stones with soft sound) was found in Anyang, dating to 1500-2000 BC. In Hubei in 1978 a bronze bell game was found from the 400’s BC. It included 64 bells with a weight of 2 ½ tonnes and was chromatic, which contradicted the old view that Chinese music was based exclusively on pentatonics.

The first Chinese conservatory was founded in 1058 BC near the present Xi’an. Former rules for ritual and ceremonial music show that orchestral orchestras in China were Korean and very large. A government official was responsible for music teaching and for checking the pitch of the instruments. Scientific calculations were also made of the structure of the tones. Year 964 BC King Mu of Zhou, with over 100 musicians, made a tour of present-day Tajikistan. Such trips, as well as the traffic on the Silk Road, led to international cultural exchanges.

Emperor Shi Huangdi of the Qin Dynasty famous book fire 213 BC also hit the music, but 125 BC it had regained its status and a music ministry was set up. It administered the imperial orchestras, i.a. a huge ensemble with 938 musicians. During regular trips to remote areas, music was recorded. The oldest today deciphered notation is from the 6th century AD. The oldest Chinese art music, unlike the western one, seems to have been instrumental. The music was seen as superhuman and universal; in a world full of contrasts, it provided harmony; and it was put into a philosophical context. For example, the theory of music contained a place for the five elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth), and the music was considered to be governed by the laws of the universe, which talked about when you were allowed or not allowed to play.

Most traditional Chinese instruments have ancestry that can be counted for thousands of years. Confucius (c. 500 BC) played the “instruments of the philosophers”, the board citrine qin, and the multi-pointed mouth organ sheng. The vertically held, four-stringed lute pipe has been around for at least 1,000 years. Other typical Chinese instruments are the two-string violin, of which erhu is the best known variant, as well as the soft-sounding long flute of bamboo xiao. Traditional Chinese musicology divides the instruments into groups according to the material they are made of, such as stone, metal, bamboo, wood, silk (strings), leather and clay, or according to how they are played.

The seaweed period (618-907) was a time of prosperity for Chinese poetry. The fact that this was not usually recited but sung accelerated the emergence of a vocal music tradition. From the old dance dramas the opera emerged, and in the 700’s the opera academy “Päronträdgården” was founded. At about the same time, the Chinese ballad was developed, which, unlike the opera, is narrative. Through the usually extremely complicated act, a performance can take up to a week. The number of participants is one or two. Possibly the ballad form was introduced by Buddhist monks, who wanted to make their preaching easy to digest for the people.

At the beginning of the 1000’s, there was a richly varied music culture in the million city of Hangzhou. in a twenty cultural house (washe), which offered instrumental and vocal music including ballads and opera. This multicultural culture was preserved as far back as the 20th century. The first flowering period for Chinese opera occurred during Song (960-1279) and the following Mongol period. Here, the opera sometimes served as a camouflage for controversial texts against the censorship.

In the West, Chinese opera is often mistaken as synonymous with Beijing opera, which, like the well-known kun – and yue-operatives, only one of 300-350 Chinese operas (sometimes only separated by language). All of these have the character of a highly stylized artwork: song, declamation, pantomime, acrobatics, instrumental music. The scene is limited, but is offset by magnificent, stylized costumes and make-up. Most often, an instrumental ensemble, rarely more than 6-8 with the exception of playing musicians, is fully visible on the right side of the stage. The percussion dominates, otherwise it is usually heard combinations of violin, flute, sham, mouth organ and lute. Chorus occurs mainly in certain opera forms in Sichuan. The audience lives loudly in the act and also applauds the instrumental efforts.

Beijing opera is one of the opera types called “northern sounds” and is characterized by a loud instrumental sound. Other groups are the rhythmically vital “mountain school” from central China and the south chinese “sea school” with soft flute sounds. During the 20th century, more modern types of opera were created; partly a hybrid style, where Chinese melody has been combined with the realism and sound of a Puccini, and partly the model revolution of the Cultural Revolution, which was based on ancient Beijing operas, but with propagandistic-political content: Western and Chinese instruments are mixed in a large orchestra. In recent years, all forms of opera have begun to use electronic amplification.

The Cultural Revolution was a difficult blow to traditional music, which was banned in principle. Only propagandistic music could be played: a dozen scenic works, some martial songs and the piano concerto “The Yellow River”. After 1976, the old repertoire was resumed. During the 20th century, Western music began to be played in China, where today there are ten conservatories and a growing number of symphony orchestras. The old music was composed anonymously; nowadays there are many western-influenced Chinese composers. Particularly famous are Nie Er (1912-35), composer for China’s national anthem, and ※Yellow River§ creator Xian Xinghai (1905-45).

Several of the minority people in China have their own distinctive music cultures. Traditional music in several East Asian countries, especially Korea and Japan, has been heavily influenced by China.


China’s popular music industry grew in western-influenced Shanghai from the late 1920’s, in line with the growing middle class entertainment needs. This early form of popular music, called shidaiqu, was performed by salon orchestras and popularized in the 1930’s and 1940’s through film and radio. Shidaiqu can be likened to contemporary Western drums, sung in mandarin, with pentatonic melodies and lyrics that touched the new urban man.

Central to the development of the genre was composer Li Jinhui (1891-1967), who, influenced by the early 1900’s liberal cultural movement, began to popularize folk tunes and broke the taboo wall for female stage artists by launching the song and dance troupe Mingyue Gewutuan (‘the Moonlight Ensemble’). Jinhui also collaborated with American trumpeter Buck Clayton, which influenced the music towards jazz. Among the genre’s “seven singing stars” are Zhou Xuan (1918-57) and Japanese Li Xianglan (actually Yoshiko Yamaguchi, 1920-2014).

After the Communist Party’s takeover of power in 1949, shidaiqu came to be labeled as “yellow”, immoral music; the dance palace was closed and popular musical production stopped. With the large wave of immigrants that followed, many fled from the entertainment industry to Hong Kong. Li Jinhui, like thousands of others, came under political persecution during the Cultural Revolution.

Chinese popular music development continued for several decades outside the Chinese mainland, in Hong Kong and Taiwan, at the same time as the communist regime created its own hard-headed, revolutionary “music for the masses” performed by state-funded song and dance troupes.

In the mid-1960’s, western rock and pop broke through in the then British colony of Hong Kong, which was about to be transformed into a major financial center (The Beatles came to visit in 1964). With the advent of the 1970’s TV medium followed the need for signature songs for soap operas. These songs, which initially brought features from canton opera, founded the Cantopop (Cantopop), a genre which today is characterized by simple melodies, often cover songs, performed in Cantonese in a sentimental soft rock style of synth-based arrangements. The “godfather” of the genre was Roman Tam (1945-2002); other early Kantopop-like soap opera stars were Lisa Wang (born 1947) and Adam Cheng (born 1947)). Groups like The Wynners were influenced by ABBA.

The great age of Kantopop was in the 1980’s and 1990’s as the genre’s popularity spread throughout the Chinese world. The corresponding Mandarin-speaking pop music, Mandopop, which was developed in parallel in Taiwan, also gained wide spread. One of the most popular singers of the time was Taiwanese Teresa Teng, active in canto, mando and J-pop (Japanese pop music). Until the late 1980’s, her and similar commercial music was officially banned in China, but spread through cassettes on the black market. After 1989, the communist regime became more permissive to “capitalist” music, but only scrutinized and approved (tongsu yinyue).

During the 1990’s, the cantopop was dominated by the “four kings of heaven”, Jacky Cheung (born 1961), Andy Lau (born 1961), Aaron Kwok (born 1965) and Leon Lai (born 1966), all also successful in mandopop. Some female icons were Anita Mui (1963-2003) and Wang Fei (born 1969).

Mandopop today has almost become popular in Kantopop but many in the Chinese pop world sing in two languages. The term gangtai stands for mainstream pop from both Hong Kong and Taiwan and is the typical music of the popular karaoke bars.

Among the great pop names of the 21st century are Miriam Yeung (born 1974), Joey Yung (born 1980) and the duo Twins. Many singers are recruited through idol competitions on TV and promoted through participation in films and TV. C-pop (Chinese pop music in broad sense) has not had international impact in the same way as Korean K-pop. An exception is the world music singer Dadawa (Zhu Zheqin, born 1968).

The Chinese rock (yaogun yinyue) mainly originates from Beijing, where foreign exchange students in the 1980’s brought rock cassettes and electric guitars to the universities. Front figure for the domestic rock became the singer and guitarist Cui Jian (born 1961), whose folk song “Yiwu suoyou” (“Nothing to my Name”) was sung as a protest song during the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square 1989. Cui Jian’s social satirical style has caused him heavy criticism. and restrictions, which did not hinder his great influence on the rock scene.

The early 1990’s meant a rock boom with groups like Heibao (Black Panther), the metal group Tang Chao (Tang Dynasty) and the female rock band Cobra, all of whom represented a more radical alternative for the urban youth audience than the soft pop. In the mid-1990’s, rock was banned from television and became more of an underground phenomenon. Mention can be made of folk rock artists Zhang Chu (born 1968), Zuoxiao Zuzhou (born 1970) and Dou Wei (born 1969), the female punk band Hang on the Box (formed 1998) and indie group Carsick Cars (formed 2005).

Censorship and restrictions have made Chinese artists rarely openly politically critical. However, the criticism can be found in subtitles and symbolic languages. The restrained or ambivalent criticism can also be explained by widespread patriotism. Chinese rock likes to have a national or provincial characteristic with folk musical instruments or features from traditional opera. The group Hanggai (formed in 2004) mixes Mongolian features with punk.

An important institution for modern music is the Beijing Midi School of Music (established in 1993) with a focus on popular music. The school hosts one of China’s biggest rock festivals as well as the Beijing International Jazz Festival.


Chinese dance can be categorized into dance art with ritual and religious connection, stage dance, which includes dance in traditional theater (see Drama and Theater above) as well as folk dances. Archaeological finds indicate that dance occurred in China at least five thousand years ago with the purpose of communicating with gods, spirits and ancestors, curing diseases and sia about the future.

After the beginning of our era, domestic dance tradition was confronted with the foreign kingdom’s performing arts, which gave rise to new forms of design. Along the Silk Road, where the Buddhist influence was prominent, are among others. cave paintings where costumes and dance movements show influences from countries such as India, Persia and Egypt. According to the myth, an imperial student school for dance and music is said to have originated during the Tang Dynasty. Parallel to the development of the main dance, folk dances, which reflect the different stages of life in work and party, have also been anchored in the many minority people. In large parts of China, dance with shamanistic elements is still included in the rural population’s New Year celebration.

During the 20th century, Western classical ballet and modern dance were introduced in China, but without any major spread. A foreground figure for traditional dance and theater was Mei Lanfang, who devoted himself to both conservation and innovation. Under Soviet influence, ballet schools were opened in Beijing and Shanghai, and in the 1940’s China’s first ballet group was founded by the Western-schooled Dai Ailian, while the main objective of the People’s Republic has been to develop a Chinese form of dance drama. While the limited repertoire of the Cultural Revolution used the toe-tapping technique of Western ballet, the dance movements of the idealized heroes were based on Chinese folk dances. After the end of the Cultural Revolution, the range of dance has again been broadened with Western ballet, dance drama and minority peoples’ dances.

China Arts and Literature