Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

the flower-like wine vase shown in fig. 10, a favourite shape which is the prototype of some of the most graceful forms of Chinese porcelain and Japanese bronze. Its date is about 1000 B.C. The large wine vase shown in fig. 11 is some 400 years later. On the body appears the head of the tao-tieh, on the handles are superbly modelled serpents. The technique, which in the previous pieces was somewhat rude, has now become perfect, yet the menacing majestic feeling remains. We see it no less clearly in fig. 12, a marvellous vessel richly inlaid with gold and silver and covered with an emerald-green patina. It may date from about 500 B.C., and indicates that even in this remote epoch the Chinese were not only daring and powerful artists but also master-craftsmen in metal.

It is indeed at this period that the art reaches its climax. The monumental grandeur of the Shang specimens is often allied to clumsiness; the later work, if more elaborate, is always less powerful. Nevertheless, it is to a later period that ninety-nine out of a hundred Chinese bronzes must be referred, and the great majority belong either to the Han and succeeding dynasties (220 B.C.-A.D. 400), or to the Renaissance of the arts which culminated under the Ming dynasty a thousand years later.

The characteristics of the first of these periods is the free use of small solid figures of animals as decoration—the phoenix, the elephant, the frog, the ox, the tortoise, and occasionally men; shapes grow less austere and less significant, as a comparison between figures 11 and 13 will indicate; then towards the end of the 2nd century A.D. the influence of Buddhism is felt in the general tendency towards suavity of form (fig. 14). This vase is most delicately though sparingly inlaid with silver and a few touches of gold. Some small pieces, very richly and delicately inlaid and covered with a magnificent emerald-green patina, belonging to this period, form a connecting link between the inlaid work of the Chow dynasty and that of the Sung and Ming dynasties. The mirrors with Graeco-Bactrian designs, a conclusive proof of the external influences brought to bear upon Chinese art, are also attributed to the Han epoch.

The troubled period between A.D. 400 and A.D. 960, in spite of the interval of activity under the T‘ang dynasty, produced, it would seem, but few bronzes, and those few were of no distinct or noteworthy style. Under the Sung dynasty the arts revived, and to this time some of the most splendid specimens of inlaid work belong—pieces of workmanship and taste no less perfect than that of the Japanese, in which the gold and silver of the earlier work are occasionally reinforced with malachite and lapis-lazuli. The coming of Kublai Khan and the Yuen dynasty (1280-1367) once more brought the East into contact with the West, and to this time we may assign certain fine pieces of Persian form such as pilgrim bottles. The vessels bearing Arabic inscriptions belong to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), with which the modern history of Chinese art begins.

The work done while the Ming dynasty was still young provides the student of Chinese art with many problems, and in one or two cases even the South Kensington authorities assign to pre-Christian times pieces that are clearly of Ming workmanship. The tendency of the period was eclectic and archaistic. The products of earlier days were reproduced with perfect technical command of materials, and with admirable taste; it is indeed by an excess of these qualities that archaistic Ming work may be distinguished from the true archaic. In fig. 15 we see how the Ming bronze worker took an earlier Buddhistic form of vase and gave it a new grace that amounted almost to artifice. A parallel might be found among the products of the so-called art nouveau of to-day, in which old designs are revived with just that added suavity or profusion of curvature that robs them of character. Fig. 16 again might be mistaken almost for a piece of the Chow dynasty, were not the grandeur of its form modified by just so much harmony in the curvature of the body and neck, and by just so much finish in the details as to rob the design of the old majestic vigour and to mark it as the splendid effort of an age of culture, and not the natural product of a period of strength.

It is, however, in the inlaid pieces that the difference tells most clearly. Here we find the monstrous forms of the Shang and Chow dynasties revived by men who appreciated their spirit but could not help making the revival an excuse for the display of their own superior skill. The monstrous vases and incense-burners of the past thus appear once more, but are now decorated with a delicate embroidery of inlay, are polished and finished to perfection, but lose therewith just the rudeness of edge and outline which made the older work so gravely significant. At times even some grandly planned vessel will appear with such a festoon of pretty tracery wreathed about it that the incongruity is little short of ridiculous, and we recognize we have passed the turning-point to decline.

Decline indeed came rapidly, and to the latter part of the Ming epoch we must assign those countless bronzes where dragons and flowers and the stock symbols of happiness, good luck and longevity sprawl together in interminable convolutions. When once we reach this stage of contortion, of elaborate pierced and relief work, we come to the place in history of Chinese bronzes where serious study may cease, except in so far as the study of the symbols themselves throws light upon the history of Chinese procelain (see Ceramics). One class of bronze alone needs a word of notice, namely, the profusely decorated pieces which have a Tibetan origin, and are obviously no older than the end of the Ming period. Of these fig. 17 will serve as a specimen, and a comparison with fig. 9 will show how the softer rounded forms and jewelled festoons of Hindu-Greek taste enervated the grand primitive force of the earlier age, and that neither the added delicacy of texture and substance nor the vastly increased dexterity of workmanship can compensate for the vanished majesty.

 (C. J. H.) 

VII. The Chinese Language

Colloquial.—In treating of Chinese, it will be found convenient to distinguish, broadly, the spoken from the written language and to deal with each separately. This is a distinction which would be out of place if we had to do with any European, or indeed most Oriental languages. Writing, in its origin, is merely a symbolic representation of speech. But in Chinese, as we shall see, for reasons connected with the peculiar nature ot the script, the two soon began to move along independent and largely divergent lines. This division, moreover, will enable us to employ different methods of inquiry more suited to each. With regard to the colloquial, it is hardly possible to do more than consider it in the form or forms in which it exists at the present day throughout the empire of China. Although Chinese, like other living languages, must have undergone gradual changes in the past, so little can be stated with certainty about these changes that an accurate survey of its evolution is quite out of the question. Obviously a different method is required when we come to the written characters. The familiar line, “Litera scripta manet, volat irrevocabile verbum,” is truer perhaps of Chinese than of any other tongue. We have hardly any clue as to how Chinese was spoken or pronounced in any given district 2000 years ago, although there are written remains dating from long before that time; and in order to gain an insight into the structure of the characters now existing, it is necessary to trace their origin and development.

Beginning with the colloquial, then, and taking a linguistic survey of China, we find not one spoken language but a number of dialects, all clearly of a common stock, yet differing from one another as widely as the various Romance The dialects. languages in southern Europe—say, French, Italian and Spanish. Most of these dialects are found fringing the coast-line of China, and penetrating but a comparatively short way into the interior. Starting from the province of Kwang-tung in the south, where the Cantonese and farther inland the Hakka dialects are spoken, and proceeding northwards, we pass in succession the following dialects: Swatow, Amoy—these two may almost be regarded as one—Foochow, Wenchow and Ningpo. Farther north we come into the range of the great dialect popularly known as Mandarin (Kuan hua or “official language”), which sweeps round behind the narrow strip of coast occupied by the various dialects above-mentioned, and dominates a hinterland constituting nearly four-fifths of China proper. Mandarin, of which the dialect of Peking, the capital since 1421, is now the standard form, comprises a considerable number of sub-dialects, some of them so closely allied that the speakers of one are wholly intelligible to the speakers of another, while others (e.g. the vernaculars of Yangchow, Hankow or Mid-China and Ssŭ-ch‘uan) may almost be considered as separate dialects. Among all these, Cantonese is supposed to approximate most nearly to the primitive language of antiquity, whereas Pekingese perhaps has receded farthest from it. But although philologically and historically speaking Cantonese and certain other dialects may be of greater interest, for all practical purposes Mandarin, in the widest sense of the term, is by far the most important. Not only can it claim to be the native speech of the majority of Chinamen, but it is the recognized vehicle of oral communication between all Chinese officials, even in cases where they come from the same part of the country and speak the same patois. For