Monday, March 28, 2011

The Museum



The idea that China is a unified entity and an empire began with Ying Zheng, who defeated his competitors, took over their land and people; and established the Qin empire (221-206 BCE). He also standardised systems of writing and measurement. For the next two millennia, this concept of unity guided China through many cycles of fragmentation and re-consolidation. In the process, 

China would select and absorb elements from various cultures, peoples and territories around it. As a result, China is not monolithic,but a large melting pot of cultural variety and richness.
Although the dominant state ideology, Confucianism emphasises the basic goodness of human nature and assumes that human virtues will protect the interests of society and individuals, 

China’s governance has consistently relied on severe penal codes. Despite its humane emphasis Chinese social values put the group before the individual. As the interests of the group could be confused with the interests of rulers who were assumed to have the mandate of Heaven, such social values could be misinterpreted and abused , causing unnecessary suffering. However, it is also this patriarchal ideology that gave China the mechanism or its continuity - an important factor contributing to the preservation of its fine traditions.

Cultural assimilation is an important process in China’s development. With a pronounced literary tradition, highly-sophisticated technology (both agricultural and industrial), and a bureaucracy of talents callede nation-wide through a centralised examination system, China was able to persuade numerous non-Chinese to adopt the Chinese way of life. But this did not always happen peaceably, so military force was also used to achieve assimilation. 

China developed a powerful market economy and until the 17th century, was indeed the most dynamic global power. This economic Status was matched by its literature, arts, crafts and lifestyle. It is in these areas that the humanistic quality of Chinese civilisation is most vividly expressed. 

 Kraak dish

The name ‘Kraak’ was probably derived from the carracks that carried porcelain to Europe or the Dutch team kraken, which means fragile. A common characteristic of Kraak porcelain was widely exported from China to Southeast Asia and Europe, with imitations made in Japan and England.

  • The centre of this large Kraak dish comprises two Persian ladies of the Safavid period (16th - 18th centuries), adapted from Persian pottery, textiles and metalwork. Surrounding the centre are panels containing floral motifs alternating with scenes of a farmer at work, a scholar reading in his hut and a man on a boat. 
  • The tulip motifs in the narrow panels were possibly inspired by similar motifs on Iznik ceramic tiles. Tulips were the craze in Holland in the late 16th century, which probably made this dish more appealing to Dutch consumers. In Europe, large dishes would have been used as wash basins whilst in West Asia, they were more likely used as serving dishes.

Writing Brushes

Late Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911)
Chinese writing brushes are made up of a brush end, a handle and a finial. THey can be broadly divided into three categories - soft, stiff or combination - according to the stiffness and resilience of the brush hair. Brushes with stiff hair are suitable for writing small characters in regular and cursive script. Soft brushes are able to hold more ink and thus favour a freer wielding of the brush end. They are made of goat hair, brush bristles and the soft downy hair of newborn babies. The form and design of brushes vary according to their functions. Zhabi has a short and thick handle was a better grip when writing large characters. Doubi is suited for still larger caracters, while tibi made of pig bristles, is specially made for writing huge characters on plaques. Dajiebi is intended for big characters.

Ivory and Brass Paperweight
17th century
Chinese paperweights were usually made from brass, iron, porcelain, jade or red sandalwood the ivory paperweight here is from the late Ming dynasty and early Qing period. Its simple design draws attention to the natural beauty of the ivory grain. the low crouching lion with an alluring expression. The carving is bold and precise. So wide-ranging in style and imaginative in design were paperweights that artists saw them as a source of inspiration. 

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