China : One Hundred Treasures

by Kong Xiangxing, Director, Art Exhibitions China

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China is an ancient country with a long, uninterrupted history, whose many accomplishments have contributed much to mankind. With the accelerated archaeological excavations of the last half-century, untold treasures have been revealed, casting new light on the life and thought of one of the oldest civilizations in existence.

Scroll painting

To better acquaint the world with China and promote an understanding of its culture, Chinese treasures have been exhibited in many countries. Marking the new millennium, the exhibition China: One Hundred Treasures, opening in Jerusalem, is a milestone in China-Israel cultural relations, demonstrating the growing friendship between the two peoples. The exhibition traces the continuous renewal and refinement of Chinese culture, each object reflecting a sense of era and regional characteristics. Every period has its own great accomplishments - from the pottery wares of Yangshao culture, dating 6,000 years ago, to the paintings of the last feudal dynasty only 200 years ago. These cultural relics come from Shaanxi, Gansu, Zhejiang, Henan, Inner Mongolia, Sichuan, Liaoning, Anhui, Hunan, Hubei, Hebei, and Jiangsu - over ten provinces, cities, and autonomous regions, from north to south and east to west. Each object in the exhibition represents the quintessence of the cultural relics unearthed in this vast, expansive land.

In texture and type, the exhibition includes articles of clay, pottery, jade, stone, bronze, gold, silver, and paintings, used as offerings to gods or ancestors, for ritual purposes, in daily life, or as decoration, tools, weapons, or funerary objects. Lustrous jade, heavy and mystical bronze wares, powerful and magnificent Qin terra-cotta figurines, drizzling ceramics - all attest to the wisdom and creativity of ancient China.



Bronze ceremonial vessels are undoubtedly the most striking relics of ancient China. Bronze is a compound of copper and tin or copper and lead, melted at a temperature of 700-900 degrees C. China entered the Bronze Age as early as the 21st century BCE. The early stage was equal to the Xia period (2Ist -16th century BCE), the middle stage was from the Shang dynasty to the early period of Western Zhou (16th -10th century BCE), while the later stage extended from the later period of the Western Zhou to the Spring and Autumn period (9th-5th century BCE). From the later period of the Shang dynasty to the early Western Zhou period, China's Bronze Age reached its peak, as casting techniques were perfected. Large quantities of bronze sacrificial vessels, food containers, weapons, tools, chariots, and horses from this time have been excavated, some of them cast with long inscriptions. As one of the major features of the Shang and Zhou periods, bronze wares contain important significance for studying the history, culture, and art of that time.

Mythical animal

With their fine modeling, many bronze wares are works of art and craftsmanship, excelling in their decoration. Often, bronze vessels were shaped as animals, particularly in the late Shang Dynasty and early Western Zhou. Dragons in many forms are a popular motif in bronze decoration, as are birds and other animals, as well as geometric patterns and animal faces (taotie).

Inscriptions on bronze wares are called Jin Wen or Zhong Ding Wen. From the Shang dynasty to the Spring and Autumn period, most inscriptions were cast, and later on, engraved. lnscriptions such as names and clan symbols first appeared during the early Shang dynasty. They grew lengthier in the Western Zhou period, when they became documents conveying all kinds of information, including poetic descriptions of ceremonial offerings, military and civil orders, and records of events such as the awarding of hereditary titles, territories, and slaves to nobility. Writing changed from pictograms into ideograms, and a more standardized, simple script evolved. From the Spring and Autumn period to the Warring States period, regional characteristics were reflected by the script.

Human-like head

The capital Shang was called Yin, near today's city of Anyang in Henan Province. There, the remains of large imperial tombs and a bronze casting workshop were found. In 1976, the tomb of Fu Hao, wife of Wu Ding, the 23rd ruler of the Shang dynasty, was discovered in this area. Altogether; 460 pieces of bronze wares were excavated from the tomb, among which 210 were sacrificial vessels, including rare examples, five of which are in the exhibition. Most of these bronze sacrificial vessels are massive and heavy, and their decoration complex. The owner of the Shang tomb in Subutun, Yidu County, Shandong Province was perhaps a lord, second only to the Shang ruler. Discovery of the sacrificial pit of the ancient Shu state in Sanxingdui, Guanghan, Sichuan Province, caused a sensation throughout the country and the world. The modeling of the standing bronze figures and bronze masks is of a type completely different from other known bronze wares.

wine container

The art and craft of bronze developed greatly during the Spring and Autumn period. New mines were opened and metallurgy reached a high standard, and step-by-step casting, lost-wax casting, and other advanced techniques were employed. With the introduction of metal inlay, incised design, engraving, and gilding, bronze wares glittered and the patterns looked resplendent and colorful. Wine containers, which had been popular in the Shang dynasty and Western Zhou period were gradually replaced by ceremonial cooking utensils and food receptacles, whose number increased in accordance with the ruler's status. Local characteristics are apparent on the bronze wares. Bronze wares found in the tomb of nobility of the mid and late Spring and Autumn period in Xichuan county, Henan Province, demonstrate the high level of casting at that time. One method, lost-wax casting, makes possible multi-layers of fine and transparent openwork and filigree of great beauty. With the appearance of iron smelting and it popularization, the manufacture of bronze gradually declined after the Warring States period.



The Chinese word for jade, yu, encompasses many hard stones, such as nephrite, jadeite crystal, and chalcedony. The earliest jade articles in China appeared 7,000 years ago, during the Neolithic period, and continued to the Ming and Qing dynasties, each with its clear-cut artistic style.


Jade, favored by the Chinese for its pleasant feel and its subtle and lovely gloss, is also a symbol of moral man. From the Warring States period to the Han dynasty, the use and wearing of jade vessels and pendants was subjected to the same highly regulated system as the bronzes before them. For instance, the saying ''six auspicious things'' or "six vessels" means that jade is made into six kinds of vessels as offerings to heaven and earth and the four directions: north, south, east, and west. Bluish jades are offerings the heavens and yellowish jades are offerings to the earth. The jade pendant system uses groups and sets of jade to symbolize the status and rank of their wearers, expressing their morality and restraining their behavior.

During China's Jade period, great strides were made in the art of jade carving. The shape of the bluish and yellowish jade objects of the Liangzhu culture in the south are intricate, while images of animals are simple and not fully developed. Many new creations in the art of jade carving appeared during the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Over 750 jade objects were discovered in the tomb of Fu Hao in Anyang, Henan Province. All the articles are in relief and carved in the round. Varied in modeling and with smooth decoration, these jade articles are the essence of Shang dynasty jade art.

Most ancient Chinese jades served a ritual function, such as the sewn funerary jade pieces and jade suit shown here. The deceased were dressed in jade to preserve the body for the afterlife. Jade suits used as garments for deceased Han emperors and nobility were fitted to the wearer's shape, with hundreds of jade pieces sewn together with metaI wire and silk thread to fit the various parts of the body. In the Eastern Han period, a system gradually developed where jade suits were sewn according to three grades - gold thread, silver thread, and bronze thread. When the emperor died he was arrayed in a jade suit sewn with gold thread, and dukes wore jade suits sewn with silver thread. However, in the Western Han period the system was not as yet practiced strictly, sometimes yielding to local custom. For instance, the jade suit of Duke Zhongshanjing, excavated in Mancheng county, Hebei Province, was sewn with gold thread. But the jade suit of Duke Nanyue, excavated in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, was sewn with red silk thread. In the Tang and Song dynasties, high-quality jade was no longer limited to ritual purposes and jade objets were produced in abundance during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. Especially in the time of the Qing emperor Qianlong, the artistic demands of the emperor, the Court, and the well-to-do supported the increase of jade production. Manufacturing skills were exquisite, reaching a level of great sophistication and unsurpassed refinement.



The earliest ceramic shards in China were found in the remains of cave dwellings dating to 9,000-10,000 years ago. Large quantities of pottery - mainly utensils for daily use - were unearthed in Neolithic archaeological sites.

Covered jar

The impact of the invention of pottery on prehistoric man was enormous. Household goods were essential to sedentary life, consolidating settlement and helping to store agricultural produce. The diverse types of pottery from different periods and regions have been classified by scholars into four categories: red, gray, black, and white. In 4000-2000 BCE, the firing temperature for pottery wares of the Yangshao culture was so high that the clay burned red after firing. The Majia Kiln culture was mainly distributed in Gansu and the northeast of Qinghai. Ceramic manufacture was similar to that of the Yangshao culture, but had strong local characteristics. Painted pottery was developed, using black to paint the designs and floral decorations.

The custom of burying pottery in tombs was introduced in the Han Dynasty. Funerary models were large in variety and quantity, ranging from storehouses, stoves, wells, pigsties, and pavilions, to fields, ponds, livestock, and other features of the economic and social life of the time.

Pottery figurines used as funerary objects in ancient tombs were popular in the Qin and Han dynasties, and up to the Sui and Tang, gradually decreasing after the Northern Song. In the Shang and Western Zhou period human sacrifice was practiced. Later, figurines of men and women were entombed, gradually replacing the custom of burying people alive.

Army of the First Emperor
in Xi’an

Thousands of life-size pottery figures and horses were fired for burial in the royal tomb during the Qin dynasty, symbolizing the grandeur of the emperor. The discovery of the Qin terra-cotta warriors and horses in 1974 shook the world. Over 300 ceramic infantry, cavalry, chariots, and soldiers were excavated in the Han tomb at Yangjiawan, Zianyang, Shaanxi Province. Composition of pottery figurines remained as it was in the Sui and Tang dynasties, including figurines of heavenly kings, civil officials, guards of honor, servants, and dancers. The various groups of ceramic figurines covered with a glaze called ''three colors of the Tang" or Tang sancai are especially radiant and grandly decorated. ''Three colors'' actually refers to a wider range of colors. It denotes earthenware covered with a lead-based glaze and fired at a low temperature, using iron, copper, and manganese as coloring agents.

wine ewer

Porcelain is an invention of ancient China. Using porcelain rock or porcelain clay as the basic material, it is fired at a high temperature of 1,200 degrees C. Porcelain has a dense non-porous body and a brilliant glaze. Abundant in variety, it plays an important role in daily life. Already during the Shang and Zhou periods, firing of primitive porcelain had emerged, while in the mid and late Eastern Han period, true porcelain was developed. Porcelain kilns are distributed in Zhejiang Province and other areas south of the Yangzi River. The porcelain industry developed rapidly in the Wei period, the Jin dynasty, and the Northern and Southern dynasties, reaching high levels of craftsmanship. Celadon - stoneware with a greenish glaze -was the most popular type of porcelain ware, to which brown stippling and painted decoration were added. The Tang dynasty porcelain industry produced two main ceramic wares: ''blue of the south" and "white of the north,'' which is to say that the south produced mainly celadon and the north produced mainly white-glazed porcelain. Porcelain flourished during the Song and Yuan dynasties. Official kilns developed and folk kilns began to emerge, forming different schools, such as Ru, Guan, Ge, Ding, and Jun, honored as the five great kilns of the Song dynasty. The Ding Kiln was famous for producing white porcelain. The Jun Kiln fired red and blue glaze to achieve a purple-red blend. The Cizhou Kiln is most renowned among the folk kilns. It produced porcelain that used white as the base with designs painted in black to create lively motifs in contrasting colors. Blue-and-white ware is obtained by decorating the white porcelain body with designs in cobalt blue, covering it with a transparent glaze, and firing it at a temperature of 1,300 C. Blue-and-white ware and other high-fired porcelains matured in the Yuan dynasty, laying the foundations for the Ming dynasty city of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province to become China's porcelain producing center.

Porcelain technique advanced markedly during the Ming dynasty, when a great number of new colors and shapes emerged. Potters mastered the art of mixing metallic elements and firing them at low or high temperatures to produce precisely the colors they desired. As a result, a rich variety of fine porcelain works were amassed. This exhibition traces the evolution of Chinese porcelain art through the centuries, from its earliest stages and up to its peak of delicacy and refinement.

Kong Xiangxing
Director, Art Exhibitions China

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