Art and Ornament in Early China


In the early twentieth century Western collectors established a canon of early Chinese art that includes the most refined material remains found in Bronze-Age tombs—bronze and lacquer utensils, jewelry, dress, ornamental fittings for weapons, chariots, and furniture, funerary painting and sculpture, etc. Until the 1980s the discussion of such artifacts was primarily the domain of art historians. Nowadays, such material constitutes one of the main resources for the broader study of early Chinese culture and scholars from a great variety of academic fields (archaeology, anthropology, art history, history, literature, religious studies, linguistics, and conservation) are commenting on it. As a result early Chinese artifacts have become one of the most vibrant interdisciplinary testing grounds for disciplinary approaches and theories. The significance and meaning of ornament and decoration have been particularly controversial in this discourse. One aim of this class is to critically review this discourse on the visual qualities of ancient artifacts. A second aim is to provide an introduction to elite material culture in Bronze Age and Early Imperial China (Shang to Western Han, 1600-1 BCE) as revealed by archaeological discoveries. Emphasis will be placed on ritual, political, and societal functions of artifacts in regard to their regional idiosyncrasies. 3 credits. Satisfies the non-Western or pre-1800 requirement.