Art and Ornament in Early China

In the early twentieth century Western collectors adopted from their Chinese counterparts a canon of collectable early Chinese antiquities. It includes the most refined material remains found in Bronze-Age tombs—bronze and lacquer utensils, ornamental fittings for weapons, chariot parts, and furniture, funerary painting and sculpture. This material was considered early Chinese art and 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 a vibrant interdisciplinary testing ground 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 China (Shang to Qin, 1600-200 BCE) as revealed by archaeological discoveries. Emphasis will be placed on ritual, political, and societal functions of artifacts in light of their regional idiosyncrasies. 3 credits. Satisfies the non-Western or pre-1800 requirement.