Han Dynasty Chinese Art – Ancient China – Han Art History

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cloth with woven woman wearing a pearl necklace: Han art

Han art: A Chinese boddhisatva (on cloth) wearing a pearl necklace

When was the Han Dynasty?

There were two big changes in Chinese art in the Han Dynasty. Both of these changes happened about the same time, in the 100s AD, about the time of Jesus in West Asia or Caligula in Europe.

a monster made of bronze: Han art

Han art: Chimera, Musee Guimet, Paris

Buddhism and Han art

The first big change was that many people in China converted to a new religion, Buddhism. Buddhism got started in India, and the Indian religious men who told Chinese people about Buddhism also showed Chinese artists Buddhist art. Many Chinese artists began to draw pictures of the Buddha and his holy followers, the boddhisatvas, and carve sculptures of them. The style of these Buddhist paintings and sculptures was a lot like Indian art styles.

Paper and Chinese drawing

The other big change was that Chinese scientists invented paper. Instead of painting on silk the way they had in the Zhou and Qin Dynasties, Chinese artists started about this time to use paper (but they still used silk too).

Most of the time, Han painters didn’t use colors in their paintings. They did line drawings instead. They used thick and thin lines to show what was closer and what was farther away.

A clay statue of a girl wearing a robe wrapped across her front: Han art

Han art: Servant, Musee Guimet, Paris

On the other hand, by the end of the Han Dynasty the old sacrificial bronzes that began in the Shang Dynasty seem to have been losing popularity – artists kept making them, but in the same old shapes, without any new experiments or new ideas.

Small clay figurines in Han art

Han Dynasty artists did make a lot of very lively small clay figures, both people and animals.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about Han art? Let us know in the comments.

Learn by doing: make a small figure out of clay
Go on to Three Kingdoms period art

Bibliography and further reading about Han Dynasty art:

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.

Chinese Buddhist Art, by Patricia Eichenbaum Karetzky (2003) .

Three Kingdoms period art
More on China in the Han Dynasty
Ancient China
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By |2018-04-18T09:53:28+00:00June 5th, 2017|Art, China|4 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Han Dynasty Chinese Art – Ancient China – Han Art History. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 5, 2017. Web. January 20, 2019.

About the Author:

Dr. 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, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. Joseph Settineri May 26, 2018 at 10:30 pm - Reply

    I have recently purchased a Han dynasty clay figure of a seated robed man, in white, red and grey in colours. The base and sides is squared with a chris cross design to form triangles. I have been looking online to find something similar but am unable to. would you be able to confirm if it sounds familiar to artifacts you have seen?

    • Karen Carr May 26, 2018 at 10:58 pm

      Hi Joseph,
      Sorry, but I can’t do appraisals – I don’t know enough about it, and also I think antiquities belong in museums where we can all enjoy them. But an antiques dealer who specializes in Han China would be able to answer your question.

  2. poie May 18, 2018 at 9:24 am - Reply

    woah very cool thank you for letting me know all of this goodstuff really good like that suger stuuf its real good

    • Karen Carr May 18, 2018 at 10:28 am

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked it! Come back anytime!

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