Stone Age Chinese Art - Ancient China
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Stone Age Chinese Art

Banpo jar from China
Jar from Ban'po, 4800 BC

May 2016 - The earliest form of art we know from China was pottery - clay pitchers and bowls starting about 5000 BC. Most of the best early pottery comes from a place called Ban'po and it is named after that place.

People in China had already been making pottery for thousands of years before they started to make decorated pottery at Ban'po. This early pottery was handmade (not on a potter's wheel). At first the polished red pots were plain. They were probably polished to make them easier to clean, so the dirt wouldn't stick to them.

henan bowl from Stone Age China
Pottery bowl from Henan in Northern China,
about 3500 BC (Musee Guimet, Paris)

But by about 3500 BC, Chinese artists at Ban'po were beginning to make more artistic pottery. They painted clay pots with black swirling spirals and geometric shapes, and sometimes with human faces. Later on, artists in China used a brush to paint their pottery, and the designs became more sophisticated.

red pot with wavy red and black lines painted on
Pottery jar from Gansu in North-West China,
about 2500 BC (Musee Guimet, Paris)

Learn by doing: draw a pot on a piece of paper and decorate it with black paint using geometric shapes and spirals.
Go on to Shang Dynasty Chinese Art

Bibliography and further reading about Chinese art in the Stone Age:

The British Museum Book of Chinese Art, by Jessica Rawson and others (1996). Rawson is a curator at the British Museum, and she uses the collection of the British Museum to illustrate this book. Library Journal calls it "easily the best introductory overview of Chinese art to appear in years".

Art in China (Oxford History of Art Series), by Craig Clunas (1997). Not specifically , but a good introduction to the spirit of Chinese art. Warning: this one is not arranged in chronological order. Instead, it has chapters on sculpture, calligraphy, and so on.

More about China in the Stone Age
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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