Saturday, December 30, 2017

Chinese Arts & Crafts - China Silk

"A silkworm spins all its silk till its death and a candle won't stop its tears until it is fully burnt." This Tang poem accurately describes the property of the silkworm. Despite technological development, a silkworm can only produce a certain amount of silk - 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) in its lifespan of 28 days. The rarity of the raw material is the deciding factor of both the value and the mystery of China silk.


Legend has it that in ancient times, Lei Zu, the wife of Huang Di , taught people how to raise silkworms and how to extract the silk.

The Warring States Period, the beginning of feudalist society in Chinese history, witnessed a prosperous time. The development of productivity popularized silk and it was no longer a luxury just for aristocrats.  The pattern, weaving, embroidery and dyeing skills were all improved as they were influenced by the free ideology of the time, while the silk designs had sense of a free and bold air about them.

The silk products excavated from 
Mawangdui Han Tomb are proof of the advanced skill and artistry of silk at this time.

Silk production peaked during the Han Dynasty when the manufactured goods were transported as far away as Rome from Chang'an (today's Xian). The overland trade route was to become famously known as the 
Silk Road. However, there was also a Marine Silk Road extending from Xuwen, Guangdong or Hepu, Guangxi to Vietnam. An outward bound voyage lasting five months would arrive in Vietnam; it would take another four months to reach Thailand; while a further twenty days would carry the merchants on to Burma. Two months later they would arrive in India and Sri Lanka, from where the silk would be eventually transported to Rome via the Mediterranean. After such a long journey, the price of silk was equivalent to that of gold. Legendary as it seems, tender silk connected China to the rest of the world.

During subsequent dynasties, professional designers created novel patterns and improved the machines.

The Marine Silk Road took supremacy over the land Silk Road following the Song Dynasty extending the trade to Southeast Asia which became fully developed in the Yuan Dynasty. Besides Chinese exports, foreign businessmen also came to China to buy silk and china wares.

During the Ming and Qing Dynasties silk was transported to Europe and America from Manila and this meant that China dominated the world's silk market until 1908.

Chinese characters including the component "silk" have the intonation of silk or its implication of fine and deep. The richness of color, texture, strength and beauty of silk make it the means to imply something is fine and impeccable. A woman's raven hair is referred to as 'black silk' ; tender feelings are 'feelings of silk' and the Chinese word for a lingering and emotive feeling contains the component of "silk", and even a flavor can be silky and smooth.

Tips on Buying Silk
When coming to China, many visitors would like to buy some souvenirs. The smooth silk product is certainly the best choice. Before buying them, it is always wise to learn the common sense of the silk product including the function, identification, and maintenance.

Function of Silk

Being a natural fiber, the silk has irreplaceable uniqueness and great vitality. The silk garment has certain health care function to the human body:
First, it brings the pleasant sensation. Composed of Bazelon, the real silk has a good biocompatibility. The smooth surface makes the smallest friction coefficient of all types of riders.
Second, it has a good permeability and hygroscopicity. It contains 18 sorts of amino acid. It is regarded as the "Queen of Fiber" due to its good permeability and light absorbing ability.
Third, it has excellent qualities of acoustic absorption, dust absorption and strongly heat-resistant.Fourth, it has the function of anti-ultraviolet radiation. The fibroin in it can well absorb the ultraviolet radiation. But after absorbing the ultraviolet radiation, the chemical changes will make it yellowing from daylighting.

Identification of Real Silk

The most common methods to identify real silk are handling, eye observation, inflammation and chemical coloring.
The methods of Handling and Eye Observation
Observe the length and uniformity of fiber: silk is slim and long; cotton fiber is short; fleece is longer and more curled than cotton fiber; the long chemical fiver is long, and the short chemical fiber is short and trim.
Observe the handling and strength of fiver: the handling of silk is moderate; terylene, nylon yarn and viscose feel very similar to silk; The flax and cotton are hard and the fleece is soft.
Observe from the appearance: silk fiber has special sheen, bright but not harsh glare; chemical fiber does not have this property.
By Inflammation, burn the fiber and observe the changes to determine its kind.

Touch the Flame
Away from the Flame
Smell When Burns
Feature of the Leftovers
Curl, melt, flame up
Burn slowly, extinguish sometimes
Hair burning
Crisp, loose and black granule
Flame up instantly
Inflame instantly
Paper burning
Soft, fine, grayish black downy leftovers
Flame up instantly
Inflame instantly
Paper burning
Soft, fine, hoar downy leftovers
Curl, melt, flame up
Burn slowly, extinguish sometimes
Hair burning
Crisp, loose and black hard coke
Burn slowly with noise
Hair burning
Crisp, loose and black beadlike

Washing and Maintenance of Real Silk
1. Hand washing is recommended with the silk clothes inside out. The water temperature should be under 86The silk would be softer and smoother if soaked in the water with several drops of vinegar before washing.
2. Neither alkaline detergents nor soap should be used to wash your silk clothes. Neutral detergents would be the best.
3. It should be dried in a well-ventilated place and should avoid the direct sunlight.
4. Don’t hang the silk products onto sharp or metal hook to avoid unintentional damage.
5. If hygroscopic agent is put together with the silk products, it would enjoy a better preservation. Or just put away them in a dry environment.
6. A lining cloth is necessary when ironing the silk clothes. The ironing temperature 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Chinese Arts & Crafts - Chinese Shadow Puppetry

Shadow puppetry, or Shadow Play, was very popular during the Tang (618 - 907) and Song (960 - 1279) dynasties in many parts of China. Shadow puppets were first made of paper sculpture, later from the leather of donkeys or oxen. That's why their Chinese name is pi ying, which means shadows of leather.

History of Shadow Puppets

More than 2,000 years ago, a favorite concubine of Wu Emperor of the Han Dynasty died of illness; the emperor missed her so much that he lost his desire to reign. One day, a minister happened to see children playing with dolls where the shadows on the floor were vivid. Inspired by this scene, the smart minister hit upon an idea. He made a cotton puppet of the concubine and painted it. As night fell, he invited the emperor to watch a rear-illuminated puppet show behind a curtain. The emperor was delighted and took to it from then on. This story recorded in the official history book is believed to be the origin of shadow puppetry.

Shadow puppetry was related to politics. In Beijing, for example, during the reign of Emperor Kangxi, this folk art was so popular that there were eight generously paid puppeteers in one prince's mansion. When the Manchu rulers spread their rule to various parts of China, they brought the puppet show with them to make up for the fact that they could not appreciate local entertainment due to language barriers. From 1796 to 1800, the government forbade the public showing of puppet shows to prevent the spreading of peasant uprising at the time. It was not until 1821 that shadow puppet shows gained some vigor.

Today, the show faces extinction like other traditional art forms such as Nuo Drama.

Features of Shadow Puppet Show

Shadow puppetry wins the heart of an audience by its lingering music, exquisite sculpture, brisk color and lively performance.

One mouth tells stories of thousands of years; a pair of hands operates millions of soldiers. This is how the shadow puppeteer works. Nicknamed the business of the five, a shadow puppet troupe is made up of five people. One operates the puppets, one plays a horn, a suo-na horn, and a yu-kin, one plays banhu fiddle, one is in charge of percussion instruments, and one sings. This singer assumes all the roles in the puppet show, which of course is very difficult. That is not all; the singer also plays several of the over 20 kinds of musical instruments in a puppet show. These ancient musical instruments enhance this ancient folk art.

The stage for the play is a white cloth screen on which the shadows of flat puppets are projected. Shadow puppet looks similar to paper-cut except that their joints are connected by thread so that they can be operated freely. The scene is simple and primitive; it is the consummate performance that attracts the audience. For example, a puppet can smoke and breathe out a smoke ring ¨C with operator help. In one drama, as a maid sits in front of a mirror, her reflection matches her actions. The operator plays five puppets at the same time, each of which has three threads. Ten fingers handle 15 threads. No wonder the operator is compared to the 1000-hand Kwan-yin.

To overcome the limit imposed when only the profile of puppets can be seen, shadow puppets use exaggeration and heavy dramatization. The faces and the costumes of puppets are vivid and humorous. The flowery color, the elegant sculpting and smooth lines make the puppets not only props but also artwork. A figure takes as many as 24 procedures and more than 3,000 cuts.

The figures all have a large head and a small body, which tapers down. A man has a big head and a square face, broad forehead and a tall strong body without being too masculine. A woman has a thin face, a small mouth and slim body without being too plump. Effeminacy and tenderness are the norm for Chinese beauty. Scholars wear long robes with an elegant demeanor, while generals in martial attire bring to mind bravery and prowess.

The design of the figures follows traditional moral evaluation and aesthetics. The audience can tell a figure's character by seeing his mask. Like the masks in Beijing Opera , a red mask represents uprightness, a black mask, fidelity, and a white one, treachery. The positive figure has long narrow eyes, a small mouth and a straight bridge of nose, while the negative one has small eyes, a protruding forehead and sagging mouth. The clown has a circle around his eyes, projecting a humorous and frivolous air even before he performs any act.

Lavish background pieces including architecture, furniture, vessels and auspicious patterns are featured in shadow play. Earthy art that it is, the play impresses audiences by their vividness and refinement. A framed puppet can be a novel and pleasant souvenir.

Shadow Puppet as Artwork

Besides the figures needed in a certain drama, the shadow puppets include heroes from folklore and history, such as the four ancient beauties, Xi Shi, Wang Zhaojun, Diao Chan, and Yang Guifei ; or the Monkey King, Emperor Qin Shi Huang .

Shadow puppetry in Shaanxi is believed to be the most typical. The 
Academy Gate Cultural Street in Xian is an ideal place to choose shadow puppets as souvenirs. Here you can select from hundreds of figures in different sizes and poses, which reveal a special world with their different figures.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Chinese Arts & Crafts - Chinese Seals

When foreigners negotiate, or register in certain areas of China, they may be surprised at Chinese' special fondness and preference for seals. To Chinese, seals are an art of deep cultural roots, which combines the essence of both calligraphy and engraving and inspires generations to study, to appreciate and to collect.
It is believed that seals came out as early as 8,000 years ago after our ancestors could make pottery wares and had private property. They were assumed to make marks on their own possessions to prevent theft. When the first dynasty was established, the king began to use seals to empower and to show lordly credits. Only the king's special seal was then called 'Xi', which represented the highest authority. The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, had his 'Xi' made out of the invaluable and beautiful jade 'Heshi Bi'.
Then followed the local governments who needed seals for similar function. Simultaneously private seals were carved in a variety of auspicious characters and vivid animal patterns. Gradually the sphragistics came into being. Now many collectors' favorites are of that kind.
The heyday of seal history was during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties when the feudal arts flourished. As wash paintings thrived, artists stamped their seal on the 'xuan,' a special kind of high quality paper used for painted scrolls in order to identify themselves and to add interest. Various sects of carving were erected by noted seal cutting sculptors.
The title, "Father of Seal Engraving" definitely belongs to Wen Peng, the son of Wen Zhenming, one of China's most famous calligraphers and painters. The charm of Wen Peng's engraving lay in the dainty mellowness of the cut and the elegant, flying characters. Although a master of his craft, what makes him the 'Father of Seal Engraving' was his ingenuity in introducing a longer lasting more durable material for seals. One day, the story goes, Wen Peng met an old man selling stones for women's headdress. The man was having a difficult time selling the stones; potential buyers had all proposed unreasonably low prices. When Wen Peng saw the stones, it suddenly occurred to him that they could be used as seals. He bought the stones at a high price, helping the old man out of his predicament. When he returned home, he cut the stones with great strength, producing the most delicate of seals. The first stone seal emerged. Until that time, seals had been made of bronze or pottery.
Another noted seal engraver was He Zhen of the late Ming Dynasty. He used the graver steadily and neatly with strength and vigor, and the curves of each character were quite clear and harmonious. His works stopped the vogue of affectation and influenced the engravers of the Qing Dynasty.
The genre of seal is greatly determined by the strength and speed of wrist and hand. Seals, like a person's character, are distinctive from each other. A sanguine seal engraver makes deft and buoyant strokes while a sober person makes careful and neat ones.
Seal carving also requires choice materials like metal, jade, animal teeth and horns, pottery, bamboo, fruit-pits, and stones. A good material should feel slippery, smooth, cool at first but warm after a second; when cut, it should have certain flexibility. Qingtian stone, Tianhuang stone, Balin stone and 'chicken's blood stone' (Jixue shi) are all first-class materials among stones used for seal cutting. Tianhuang stone features its translucency; 'chicken's blood stone, the red dapples.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Chinese Arts & Crafts - Chinese Pottery

Chinese Pottery may be the oldest artwork of human beings. As far back as the Neolithic Age (more than 8,000 years ago), people began mixing clay and water then baking it until it held its shape. Ancient people attached the word 'pottery' to their discovery and used it to create various vessels and tools to improve the quality of life. Over the course of thousands of years, they became dominant wares in people's daily life: used to cook, to store things, and to hold cuisine or waters as dishes.
As time passed, the technique became more and more consummate. Different kinds of pottery appeared in different times and regions. Yangshao Culture, 5,000 - 7,000 years ago to today, developed a technique for painted ceramic wares. Qujialing Culture and Longshan Culture, dating back about 4,000 years ago, were known for their black ceramic wares. During the Shang Dynasty (16th - 11th century BC) bronze vessels grew into somewhat of a status symbol; common people, though, still used traditional clay ceramic wares. Workshops of grey and white potters took the artistic features of bronze wares and decorated their articles ornately.

From the Warring States Period through the Han Dynasty, the art and culture of pottery thrived. In addition to creating everyday pieces, ceramic beasts and warriors were created and buried with the grandees. The Terra Cotta Warriors, discovered in Xian, are the finest representatives of artworks of that time. Visitors to the Warriors are continually amazed by the grandeur and elaborate displays of the well-preserved army. During the Three Kingdoms Period (220 - 280), the forging technique of porcelain gradually replaced traditional ceramic handiwork.

Another fine example of beautifully crafted pottery is the tricolor glazed pottery of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). The pieces were created by adding various metals oxide and baking at a low temperature. The glazed pottery would appear to be light yellow, reddish brown, shamrock or light green. The most popular were those of yellow, brown and green. The sculpting of figures, animals or daily appliances was amazingly in accord with the characteristics of Tang art - graceful and lively. Preferred by many foreigners to the region, the tricolor glazed pottery had been transported all over the world.

Another choice pottery that won great reputation for hundreds of years is purple clay pottery. It is well-known for its mild color, condensed structure, high intensity and fine particles. As early as the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), people found purple clay teapots to look much more graceful than those of other materials. In the Ming and Qing Dynasties, tea developed as a simple and tasteful art. People who liked drinking tea held firm to the belief that tea in the purple clay pot smelled balmier and could retain the original quality; these teapots transferred heat slower and were more endurable of heat; after long time's use, the teapot would not fade but become more lustrous. Modern people still delight in this classic fashion ideal.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Chinese Arts & Crafts - Chinese Porcelain

Porcelain, also called 'fine china', featuring its delicate texture, pleasing color, and refined sculpture, has been one of the earliest artworks introduced to the western world through the Silk Road. The earliest one was found made of Kaolin in the Shang Dynasty (17th - 11th century BC), and possessed the common aspects of the smoothness and impervious quality of hard enamel, though pottery wares were more widely used among most of the ordinary people. Anyway it was the beginning, which afterwards in the succeeding dynasties and due to its durability and luster, rapidly became a necessity of daily life, especially in the middle and upper classes. They were made in the form of all kinds of items, such as bowls, cups, tea sets, vases, jewel cases, incense burners, musical instruments and boxes for stationary and chess, as well as pillows for traditional doctors to use to feel one's pulse.
The development of porcelain in the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220) began to accelerate and before long the artworks were introduced westward. Celadon (like the color of jade) and black porcelain wares were the dominant types at that time. Styles had formed and differed based on regions by then. The Yue Kiln in Zhejiang Province, which has enjoyed a good reputation for over 2,000 years up to now, produced delicate and hard celadon porcelain; while the De Kiln became the earliest kiln that baked black porcelain.

During the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), a large number of porcelain wares were in daily use having been substituted for the ones made of gold, silver, jade and other materials. With export, Chinese patterns on these wares also took on more exotic appeal. The Yue and De kiln of Zhejiang Province had features that were the most popular ones, and another one, Xing kiln in Hebei Province was greatly prized for its white porcelain as 'white like snow'. Kilns baking porcelain for the royalty sprang up producing elegant and dainty works.

Stepping into the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), a variety of genres of porcelain appeared and it became a fashion that people showed great interest in purchasing and collecting certain wares suitable to their tastes. Ru, Ding, Ge, Jun and the official kilns had been the representatives of that age. Official kilns advocated concise patterns of decoration; Ru kiln in Hebei Province added treasured agate into glaze so that the color and texture appeared to be uniquely daintily creamy and could be compared with jade. Henan Province had two famous kilns named Jun and Ding kilns. Since the reign of Emperor Huizong who liked art appreciation, porcelain of Jun kiln was kept exclusively for the royal family and common people had no right to collect it no matter how much money they possessed.  Since the artisans made their porcelain wares separately, there was no repetition among decorative patterns and colors. Thus this made each product more precious in its own right. Ding kiln boasted its white porcelain which has a texture as delicate as that of ivory with an adornment of black and purple glaze. Distinctive from the other four kilns which stressed color, this one was quite good at engraving and printing flower patterns. While the Ge Kiln produced articles with various grains and produced an amount of artworks greater than those of the other four.

Well developed in the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368), the blue and white porcelain (Qinghua Ci), in the main stream of porcelain, was the stylish artistic ware in the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty and promoted this period to be the most prolific in the field of feudal art. First it painted on the basic body with brush natural cobalt which would be turned blue after being in the forge. Set off by the white glaze and covered by the other level of clear glaze, the blue flowers and other patterns showed their comely charm and were widely welcomed among both refined and popular tastes. With the diversity of cobalt, theme, and style of painting, the blue and white porcelains differed constantly, each being unique.


As we know, the featureslie in texture of basic body, color of glaze, decorative pattern, shape and style, while porcelain at that time had sublimed to be at the most elegant. The famille-rose porcelain was another highlight that appeared during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1653 - 1722). The finished article appears more stereoscopic, colorful, gentle and clean. Nearly all the refined colored pigments were utilized like ancient purple, magenta, ochre, emerald, and so on.

Through the development of 4,000 years, now it is still a brilliant art that attracts many people's interest. The Porcelain Capital, Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province which has been praised for thousands of years, will be certain to satisfy your esthetic appetite.

Chinese Arts & Crafts - Chinese Paper-Cut

Paper-cut is a very distinctive visual art of Chinese handicrafts. It originated from the 6th century when women used to paste golden and silver foil cuttings onto their hair at the temples, and men used them in sacred rituals. Later, they were used during festivals to decorate gates and windows. After hundreds of years' development, now they have become a very popular means of decoration among country folk, especially women.

The main cutting tools are simple: paper and scissors or an engraving knife, but clever and deft craftspeople are remarkably good at cutting in the theme of daily life. When you look at items made in this method carefully, you will be amazed by the true to life expressions of the figure's sentiment and appearance, or portrayal of natural plants and animals' diverse gestures. Patterns of chrysanthemum display the curling petals, pied magpies show their tiny feathers and others such as a married daughter returning to her parents' home, or young people paying a New Year call to their grandparents.

Although other art forms, like painting, can also show similar scenes, paper cutting still stands out for its charm - exacting lines and ingenious patterns which are all hand-made. To make the three-dimensional scenes pop out visually from the paper, as they are usually in monochrome, engravers must exert their imagination. They must delete secondary parts and compose the main body properly, abstractly and boldly. Though simple, the color then appears charmingly bright.

It is easy to learn about cutting a piece of paper but very difficult to master it with perfection. One must grasp the knife in an upright fashion and press evenly on the paper with some strength. Flexibility is required but any hesitation or wiggling will lead to imprecision or damage the whole image. Engravers stress the cutting lines in several styles. They attempt to carve a circle like the moon, a straight line like a stem of wheat, a square like a brick, and jaggedly like the beard.

People find hope and comfort in expressing wishes with paper cuttings. For example: for a wedding ceremony, red paper cuttings are a traditional and required decoration on the tea set, the dressing table glass, and on other furniture. A big red paper character 'Xi' (happiness) is a traditional must on the newlywed's door. Upon the birthday party of a senior, the character 'Shou' represents longevity and will add delight to the whole celebration; while a pattern of plump children cuddling fish signifies that every year they will be abundant in wealth.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Chinese Arts & Crafts - Chinese Painting

The tools used in traditional Chinese painting are paintbrush, ink, traditional paint and special paper or silk. It developed and was classified by theme into three genres: figures, landscapes, and birds-and-flowers.

The birds-and-flowers genre has its roots in the decorative patterns engraved on pottery and bronze ware by early artists. Among the common subjects in this genre, which reached its peak during the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), are flowers, bamboo, birds, insects, and stones. The genre flourished under Emperor Huizong (1082 - 1135), who was an artist himself and excelled at both calligraphy and traditional painting, especially paintings of exquisite flowers and birds.

Painters who specialized in figures included images of immortals, emperors, court ladies, and common people in their works. 

Through their depictions of such scenes and activities as feasts, worship and street scenes, these artists reflected the appearance, expressions, ideals, and religious beliefs of the people. Chinese figure painting prominently features verve. The portrayal of figures saw its heyday during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). The master of painting, Wu Daozi (about 685 - 758), created many Buddhist murals and other landscape paintings that are marked by variety and vigor. One of his best known works is a depiction of the Heaven King holding his newborn son Sakyamuni to receive the worship of the immortals.

As far back as the Northern and Southern Dynasties (386 - 589), landscape painting separated from the figure genre and continued to enjoy popularity through the Tang Dynasty. This style reflected people's fondness for nature. The artist's use of ink and brush to paint a landscape changed, depending on the scenery itself, the weather (sunny or rainy day), the time of day (morning or night), and the season. The earliest known landscape painting was the Spring Outing by Zhan Ziqian of the Sui Dynasty (581 - 618). It shows an enchanting spring scene with people enjoying popular activities: gentlemen riding and ladies boating. A waterfall behind a bridge, near slopes and distant mountains are drawn with clear, fluent lines.

During the Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qing (1644 - 1911) Dynasties, innovation was stressed, and delicate seal marks, calligraphy, poems and frames increased the elegance and beauty of the paintings.

Much skill is required of the Chinese painter, who must wield the soft brush with strength and dexterity to create a wide variety of lines--thick, thin, dense, light, long, short, dry, wet, etc. Depending on his skills, he might specialize in detailed and delicate line drawing (Gongbi) or abstract, impressionistic (Xieyi) paintings. Line drawing is the basic training of a painter, who must learn it well before moving on to the delicate details of realistic scenes or the more abstract spirit of impressionism. Another special skill worthy of mention is painting with fingers instead of a brush, which creates a very different effect.

No matter what the subject or the style, traditional Chinese painting should be infused with imagination and soul. A traditional story that captures the Chinese view of painting tells about the establishment of a royal college of painting during the reign of Emperor Huizong. Examinations were held to recruit the best painters. Examinees were asked to draw a picture that reflected the joy of people who had just returned from a spring outing, an outing that had been so pleasant that even the horseshoes seemed fragrant. Many endeavored to depict this bright scene but only one work was chosen; the painter simply drew a horse's hoof followed by butterflies which were in graceful flight. This painter had managed to capture the essential spirit and beauty of the scene.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Chinese Arts & Crafts - Chinese opera

Chinese opera together with Greece tragic-comedy and Indian Sanskrit Opera are the three oldest dramatic art forms in the world. During the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), the Emperor Taizong established an opera school with the poetic name Liyuan (Pear Garden). From that time on, performers of Chinese opera were referred to as 'disciples of the pear garden'. Since the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368) it has been encouraged by court officials and emperors and has become a traditional art form. During the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), it became fashionable among ordinary people. Performances were watched in tearooms, restaurants, and even around makeshift stages.

It evolved from folk songs, dances, talking, antimasque, and especially distinctive dialectical music. Gradually it combined music, art and literature into one performance on the stage. Accompanied by traditional musical instruments like the Erhu, the gong, and the lute, actors present unique melodies - which may sound strange to foreigners - as well as dialogues which are beautifully written and of high literary value. These dialogs also promoted the development of distinct literary styles, such as Zaju in the Yuan Dynasty. For Chinese, especially older folks, to listen to this kind of opera is a real pleasure.

What appeals to foreigners most might be the different styles of facial make-up, which is one of the highlights and requires distinctive techniques of painting. Exaggerated designs are painted on each performer's face to symbolize a character's personality, role, and fate. This technique may have originated from ancient religions and dance. Audiences who are familiar with opera can know the story by observing the facial painting as well as the costumes. Generally, a red face represents loyalty and bravery; a black face, valor; yellow and white faces, duplicity; and golden and silver faces, mystery.

Besides color, lines also function as symbols. For example, a figure can be painted either all white on his face, or just around the nose. The larger the white area painted, the more viperous the role.
Another technique that fascinates people is the marvelous acrobatics. Players can make fire spray out of their mouths when they act as spirits, or can gallop while squatting to act as a dwarf.
This reflects a saying among actors: 'One minute's performance on the stage takes ten years' practice behind the scenes.'

Over the past 800 years, Chinese opera has evolved into many different regional varieties based on local traits and accents. Today, there are over 300 dazzling regional opera styles. Kun opera, which originated around Jiangsu Province, is a typical ancient opera style and features gentleness and clearness. This enabled it to be ranked among the World Oral and Intangible Heritages. Qinqiang opera from Shaanxi, known for its loudness and wildness, and Yu opera, Yue opera, and Huangmei Opera are all very enjoyable. Beijing Opera , the best-known Chinese opera style, was formed from the mingling of these regional styles.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Chinese Arts & Crafts - Chinese Music


Traditional Chinese music can be traced back 7,000 - 8,000 years based on the discovery of a bone flute made in the Neolithic Age. In the Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties, only royal families and dignitary officials enjoyed music, which was made on chimes and bells. During the Tang Dynasty, dancing and singing entered the mainstream, spreading from the royal court to the common people. With the introduction of foreign religions such as Buddhism and Islam, exotic and religious melodies were absorbed into Chinese music and were enjoyed by the Chinese people at fairs organized by religious temples.
In the Song Dynasty, original opera such as Zaju and Nanxi was performed in tearooms, theatres, and showplaces. Writers and artists liked it so much that Ci, a new type of literature resembling lyrics, thrived. During the Yuan Dynasty, qu, another type of literature based on music became popular. This was also a period when many traditional musical instruments were developed such as the pipa, the flute, and the zither.
During the Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qing Dynasties (1644 - 1911), the art of traditional opera developed rapidly and diversely in different regions. When these distinctive opera styles were performed at the capital (now called Beijing), artists combined the essence of the different styles and created Beijing opera, one of three cornerstones of Chinese culture (the other two being Chinese medicine and traditional Chinese painting) which continue to be appreciated even in modern times.
Besides these types, Chinese peasants were clever enough to compose folk songs, which also developed independently with local flavor. Folk songs described working and daily life such as fishing, farming, and herding and were very popular among the common people.

Traditional Musical Instruments

They can be divided into four categories: stringed instruments, percussion instruments, plucked instruments, and wind instruments. The following are just a few of them:

Horse-Headed Fiddle

The Horse-headed fiddle is a bowed stringed-instrument with a scroll carved like a horse's head. It is popular in Mongolian music. With a history of over 1,300 years, it even influenced European string music when Marco Polo brought one back from his travels through Asia. Its wide tonal range and deep, hazy tone color express the joy or pathos of a melody to its fullest.
The Mongolian people bestowed upon their beloved horse-headed fiddle a fantastic legend: during horse-racing at the Nadam Fair -- their featured grand festival--a hero, Su He, and his white horse ran the fastest, which incurred the envy and wrath of the duke. The cruel duke shot the horse dead, and Su He grieved so much that he met his horse in a dream. In the dream, the horse told Su He to make a fiddle from wood and the hair of a horse's tail, and to carve the head of the fiddle in the shape of a horse's head. The lad followed the horse's advice and when he finished, the fiddle produced an extremely vivid sound. From then on, people loved this instrument and composed many songs for it.

Lute (Pipa)

Originally named after the loquat fruit, the earliest pipa known was found to have been made in the Qin Dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC). By the the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), the pipa had reached its summit. It was loved by everyone--from the royal court to the common folk--and it occupied the predominant place in the orchestra. Many well known writers and poets created poems and mentioned it in their works. Bai Juyi, the master poet, vividly depicted the performance like this: rapid and soft notes mingled were just like big and small pearls dropping onto the jade plates.
Afterwards, the pipa underwent improvement in playing techniques and structure. Players then changed from holding the pipa transversely to holding it vertically, and from using a pick to using the fingers to pluck the strngs directly. In modern times, the volume and resonance has also been improved. The traditional work 'Spring Moonlight on the Flowers by the River', which has a history of over one hundred years, has brought harmony and a sense of beauty to untold numbers of people.


The Erhu, also called 'Huqin', was introduced from the western region during the Tang Dynasty. During the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), it was refined and improved and new variations appeared. It was also an important instrument for playing the melody of Beijing Opera.
When playing, the player usually stands the Erhu on his lap, and moves the bow across the vertical strings. The well-known music 'Two Springs Reflect the Moon' was created by the blind folk artist Liu Yanjun, also named A Bing by the people. Though he could not see anything of the world, he played his Erhu using his heart and imagination. This melody conjures up a poetic night scene under the moonlight and expresses the composer's desolation and hope.


The earliest flute was made from bone over 7,000 years ago. In the times since then, most flutes were made of bamboo, which allowed even common people to play it. By covering the holes and blowing through the side hole while moving the fingers flexibly between the six holes, a sound will be produced that is leisurely and mellifluous like sound from far away. This always reminds people of a pastoral picture of a farmer riding on a bull while playing a flute.

Chinese Arts & Crafts - Chinese Lanterns

Paper lanterns, originating from Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), mainly were used as lamps in ancient China. A variety of crafts  were used in their making such as Chinese paintings, paper-cutting, and pricking and seaming and many kinds of materials such as bamboo, wood, wheat-straw and metal were used in their manufacture. Paper and silk were the major materials.

Originally, monks used lanterns on the twelfth day of the first lunar month in their worship of the Buddha. During the Eastern Han Dynasty, the Emperor Liu Zhuang was a Buddhist and he ordered the inhabitants of the imperial palace and citizens to light lanterns to worship the Buddha just as the monks did. Later, this custom gradually became a grand festival among common people. During the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), people made lanterns to celebrate their peaceful life while the splendid illuminations symbolized and celebrated the prosperous, strong and powerful country. From then on, lighting lanterns became popular in the country.

Once used for lighting before the introduction of gas and then electricity, lanterns are now merely decorative or more significantly used during of the yearly Lantern Festival.
Ancient Types
Palace Lantern
It was mainly used in palaces in ancient time. It is famous for the delicate craftsmanship, graceful and dignified pictures as well as the courtly features. Fine wood was used to make the frames that were covered in silk or glass when making palace lanterns. Different kinds of patterns were drawn on the covers. With dragon and phoenix patterns on them, these lanterns were not only used as lamps but also as decorations in palaces. Their shapes were diverse, such as octagonal, hexagonal and even diametric.

Gauze Lantern
Gauze was used to cover the lantern. Bamboo was used to make frames but wire is used now, while the candles are replaced by bulbs. Among these lanterns, red ones are recognized the most throughout the world. Red gauze was used when making them. In Chinese culture, the red lantern is the symbol of booming life and prosperous business, so they are always hung on important festivals such as Lantern Festival, Chinese New Year and Chinese National Day in parks or along main streets. In some famous Chinatowns abroad, you can see red lanterns all the year round. They have become a symbol of Chinese culture worldwide.

Shadow-picture Lantern
1,000 years ago, this kind of lantern appeared in China, which was usually used for entertainment. The shape is much like that of the palace lanterns and there were two layers of covers. Paper-cuts are pasted or pictures are drawn on the inner layer. When lit, the heat causes a paper wheel inside the lantern to rotate so that moving pictures appear on the outer cover.

There were other kinds such as lanterns with Chinese characters or auspicious words on them. Those with characters were always used in officials’ houses, because the characters were often the surnames of the officials’ families. The lucky lanterns would bear the name of a deity or have a picture of a deity on them.

Today's Lanterns
Now more types of lanterns appear in festivals apart from the traditional ones. More modern technology is used on making lanterns, so people can see lanterns with music, with colorful bulbs inside and so on. The shapes of the modern lanterns have changed a lot too. These shapes can be cartoon characters, Chinese zodiac animals and the makers can even involve the computer games, which give visitors a different new and fresh impression.

For common people, lanterns are hung up from the eve of Spring Festival (Dec. 29th of lunar year) and not removed until the Lantern Festival (Jan. 15th of lunar New Year). The Lantern Show is an attractive activity around the day of Lantern Festival in many cities. If you want to see the lantern fairs, Beijing, Nanjing, Xian, Shanghai and Hangzhou have their unique shows during the festival.

On the lantern show, many people love the ‘lantern riddles’ most. Anyone who knows the answer to the riddles on the lanterns will get a small gift as award. The activity attracts people because of the riddle itself rather than the gift. The interesting riddles make the colorful lantern shows more interesting.

Before the Lantern Festival, all kinds of lanterns are sold along the street and these beautiful lanterns light the dark nights. In Chinese culture, an uncle needs to buy his nephew (under 12 years old) a lantern before the festival. It is the happiest time for children to playing with their companions outside the houses. The red lanterns stand for the best wishes uncles have for their nephews, hoping their nephews grow up happily and are as healthy as last year.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Chinese Arts & Crafts - Chinese Lacquer Ware

Radiating a serene luster, lacquer ware is an exquisite Chinese craft. As the earliest users, the Chinese have enjoyed its beauty since the Neolithic Age. During the past hundreds of years, it has played an important role in the development of Chinese arts and crafts as well as having a large influence on the world’s art. A wood-based red bowl made 6,000 - 7,000 years ago unveiled the history of lacquer techniques.

The original Chinese ancient lacquer ware was made using a natural lacquer obtained from sumac. The sumac should be about 10 years old. The liquid lacquer should curdle under damp conditions then become firm and resistant to heat, acid and alkali. As a whole, the manufacture process is very complex.

A Red-Paint Wood Bowl and a Red-Paint Vase were unearthed at the Hemudu Culture Site of Yuzhao, Zhejiang Province in 1978, which were evidence that the Chinese had started to make lacquer ware in the Neolithic Age. The ware turned out later to be made from natural lacquer. Early pieces were in simple red and black. During the Xia Dynasty (21st - 17th centuries BC) and Warring States Period (476 - 221 BC), the variety increased a lot and the industry lasted for about five centuries. At that time, it was used for furniture, such as containers, musical instruments, and funeral implements.

In the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220), the major lacquer ware was also in red and black. However, it was more widely used for plates, caskets, ear rings, crates, board games and other daily necessities or decoration accessories. Besides, the manufacturing craft became more delicate, such as using colorful paint, needle etching, inlay craft, decoration with gold rings, etc. During the Warring States Period, the ware was popular due to its exquisite techniques and vivid patterns depicting animals and clouds. Lacquer relics excavated in the Mawangdui Han Tombs, which are over 2,000 years old, amaze visitors with their pearl-like sheen. The Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties were also prosperous periods during which more than 400 varieties were used as common implements and as ornaments.

Nowadays, China lacquer ware has become more delicate, spreading in Beijing, Yangzhou, Shanghai, Fujian and other areas. Distinctive features are well reflected in various lacquer ware: Those produced in Beijing is of sumptuous style; Fujian’s is light, high-temperature-proof, corrosion-free and waterproof; Sichuan’s is delicately carved and is famous for its rubbing patterns. Besides, pieces made in Yangzhou are well-known for their elegance, delicacy and a unique creative technique: whorl filling (Dianluo in Chinese) which uses shells as material, processes them into sheets as thin as cicada wings, and pastes them carefully onto lacquer objects. With this process, people even insert treasures like crystal, jade, pearls and coral onto lacquer furniture, tea wares, and calligraphy brushes. Lacquer ware produced in Pingyao Ancient City of Shanxi Province features a luster polished by the craftsmen’s palms. This is considered to be the most refined because of its simple but radiant artwork.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Chinese Arts & Crafts - Chinese Kites

In ancient China the kite was known as 'Zhiyuan' (paper glede). Originally regarded as a technology, it also featured prominently in many art collections, and was considered to have unique artistic value.
It first appeared in the wars of the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC - 476 BC). According to historical records, the prominent ideologist Mo Zi spent three years constructing a wooden kite which failed after one day's flight. One book noted that the master carpenter Lu Ban also made some which were flown high to spy on the situation of the enemy.
The technology evolved further during the famous historical Chu-Han War of 203 - 202 BC. The general of the Han troops Zhang Liang ordered his soldiers to fly kites in the heavy fog around the Chu troops led by Xiang Yu. Children sitting in the large kites played tunes of Chu (the present Hubei Province) on flutes. Hearing the melodies, the Chu soldiers began to miss their homes and scattered without fighting in the war. Xiang Yu, who had been so powerful and renowned for a time, cut his throat. Another use during this period was to deliver urgent messages.
During the prosperous Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), when amusements thrived with the development of culture and economy, kites became the cossets of the people of both court and country. Every Pure Brightness, people took time not just to worship their ancestors but also to take a walk in the countryside to enjoy pastoral life. Making and flying various kites reflected the pleasing mood of the spring. Kite-flying is now believed to be good for the health.
The delicate making procedure can be divided into three parts. Firstly, pare and flex bamboo into thin strips for the frame, making full use of the tenacity of the bamboo. According to taste, they can have shapes as diverse as that of a dragonfly, swallow, centipede or butterfly. Secondly, paste paper onto the framework. The paper is required to be tough and thin with even and long fibers. Some high quality ones are even covered with thin silk. Finally, decorate them with colorful chiffon, ribbons and paintings.
While the basic procedure remains the same, styles of kite-making vary in different regions. These in the 'World Kite Capital' of Weifang 潍坊 in Shandong Province are well known for their exquisite craftsmanship, materials, painting, sculpture and flexible flying movement. One of these kites, which was over 300 meters (984 feet) long and in the shape of a centipede with a dragon's head, won first place in the International Kite Festival held in Italy. It is now housed in the Weifang Kite Museum. Every year, the festival will be held there and is expected to draw many fans with a passion for flying kites.
Swallow-shaped kites are quite popular in Beijing. Craftsmen fashion them in many different ways. Some are strewed with peonies, bats and other auspicious patterns to bring the owner good fortune. These made in Nantong are usually flown with whistles and rings. When they are flying in the sky, they vividly resemble a bevy of birds. Tianjin boasts the large variety of kites. With many different unique and novel shapes, a larger one can measure hundreds of meters while the smallest can be put in an envelope. These with soft wings in the shape of insects, goldfish, clouds and even a swallow linked with dozens of little swallows are all available, and each of these attractive kites reflect the consummate skill of the craftsman.
If you are interested in flying a kite, you should choose a sunny and windy day so you can enjoy the open air, and take care to avoid electric wires and cars. You could take more than one with you and fly them according to the change of wind. The string on a kite wheel needs to be tough and durable. If your kite breaks off, make sure you retrieve all the stray thread in order not to harm others. And of course, a pair of sunglasses may prove useful in protect your eyes from bright sunshine.

Chinese Arts & Crafts - Chinese Folk Toys

As an indispensable part of traditional folk art, toys are a unique expression of the long and uninterrupted Chinese history. Religious beliefs, world view, taste, classical works and local customs, especially festivals and the 'Four Great Classical Chinese Literatures', are all represented by the use of various techniques requiring an artisans' deepest wisdom and creativity. The advantage is that the greater majority of people can enjoy the pleasure of toys that are easier to make and more widely available than other artistic works such as jade or silver wares, as they tend to utilize common articles that are readily available, such as cloth, grass, straw, clay, paper, and so on. Even so, it should be noted that these toys are not of a coarse manufacture, but of rustic simplicity and vivacity.
Generally, the diverse variety of folk toys can act as decorations to be appreciated or as knickknacks to be played with. As such, the two categories are those for festival decoration and those for daily enjoyment.
Festival Toys
Those during festivals are quite flowery and customary. In the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), people use firecrackers and fireworks; in the Lantern Festival, there are lanterns in the shape of lotus, monkeys, dragons, etc; in the Pure Brightness kites will be flown in the blue sky; and during the Dragon Boat Festival, people will take sachet with them. Old people's sachet looks like a peach, symbolizing longevity while children's sachets are of lovely patterns, with fragrant herbs inside to ward off evil spirits. In ancient time
s, they were also a token of love that a girl would give to her beloved.
For Appreciation
Those for appreciation and decoration stresses artistic conception. Carvings on root, stone and nut, painted eggshell, modeling with clay, porcelain and wax are all exquisite, especially those of figurines with their natural beauty.
Cloth paste pictures (collages) are interesting and distinctive. Most of its artisans are women who are good at needlecraft. Up until quite recently, almost every girl was able to make clothes and shoes out of cloth, with the off-cuts being used as convenient materials for collages. Choosing a large piece of cloth on which to sew or collage into the basic pattern, then adorn it with small pieces of lace. Utilizing color and texture and finished off with butterflies, tigers, children and real flowers are very appealing.
The Hairy Monkey was probably invented in Beijing during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). By sticking many shaggy magnolia flower buds color resembles a monkey's fur, the lively posture of a monkey can be presented. As these materials are not readily available, this folk art is a lot rarer.
During the very early period of Chinese cultural development, the ancestors had worshiped the immortals. Rope, pronounced as 'Sheng', shared a similar pronunciation with the word for gods ('Shen' in Chinese), and when written, it looked like a dragon, an auspicious animal in Chinese culture; knots, in Chinese 'jie' means vigor, harmony, and unification, Therefore, this unique Chinese knots artwork has been a popular gift for thousands of years and embodies best wishes. People wore it in the beginning as a decorative addition to clothing, and later, used it to decorate their houses. Though the weaving techniques are complicated, ropes, in hands of a deft craftsman appear effortless moving the shuttle in between the rows of ropes. A Chinese knot is usually symmetrical in structure and colorful with jade or porcelain beads. This no doubt adds more jubilation to any festive atmosphere.

Euphonious Toys
Sounds can increase the amusement of toys. The main ones are whistles made of clay, porcelain, and bamboo. The simplest way is to blow directly along the edge of a leaf or blade of grass. Shadow puppets, displayed on the screen and steered by people behind, and the rattle-drum which can make the rattling sound by shaken are also favorites amongst children.
Play with Wisdom
For Chinese who attach a great importance to the development of children's wisdom, jigsaw puzzle ('Qiqiaoban') might be the most ideal choice. Composed of 7 pieces in a certain shape, this toy requires one's brain exertion to join those pieces into a given pattern without leaving any gaps. The puzzle ring is another well-known game. It is said to originate from the Warring States Period (476–221 BC). Appearing to be one of the most incomprehensible games in the human history, it even aroused the attention of Western mathematicians. To separate the nine rings which are buckled together or to join separated nine rings together is quite intricate indeed.

Practical Toys
Besides being for play, they can also be of practical use, as part of finery, bedding and foodstuff. Children love animal-shaped pillows or hats. Today, the mascot of Olympic Games 2008 in Beijing is the lovely panda hat to numerous zealots. For the foodstuff, flour's plasticity helps people's imagination come true. In Shanxi Province, people are still experts at steaming flour figures. Suppose how pleasant they will be when seeing vivid edible flour rabbits and pigs!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Chinese Arts & Crafts - Chinese Embroidery

Embroidery is a brilliant pearl in Chinese art. From the magnificent Dragon Robe worn by Emperors to the popular embroidery seen in today's fashions, it adds so much pleasure to our life and our culture.

The oldest embroidered product in China on record dates from the Shang Dynasty. Embroidery in this period symbolized social status. It was not until later on, as the national economy developed, that embroidered products entered the lives of the common people.

Through progress over Zhou Dynasty, the Han Dynasty witnessed a leap in embroidery in both technique and art style. Court embroidery was set and specialization came into being. The patternscovered a larger range, from sun, moon, stars, mountains, dragons, and phoenix to tiger, flower and grass, clouds and geometric patterns. Auspicious words were also fashionable. Both historic records and products of the time proved this. According to the records, all the women in the capital of Qi (today's Linzi, Shandong) were able to embroider, even the stupid were adept at it! They saw and practiced it everyday so naturally they became good at it. The royal family and aristocrats had everything covered with embroidery-even their rooms were decorated with so many embroidered ornaments that the walls could not be seen! Embroidered products flooded their homes, from mattresses to beddings, from clothes worn in life time to burial articles.
The authentic embroideries found in Mawangdui Han Tomb are best evidence of this unprecedented proliferation of embroidery. Meanwhile, unearthed embroideries from Mogao Caves in Dunhuang , the Astana-Karakhoja Ancient Tombs in Turpan and northern Inner Mongolia further strengthen this observation.

During the following Three Kingdoms Period, one notable figure in the development of embroidery was the wife of Sun Quan, King of Wu. She was also the first female painter recorded in Chinese painting history. She was good at calligraphy, painting and embroidery. Sun Quan wanted a map of China and she drew one for him and even presented him embroidered map of China. She was reputed as the Master of Weaving, Needle and Silk. Portraits also appeared on embroidered things during this time.

As Buddhism boomed in China during the Wei, Jin, Sui and Tang Dynasties, embroidery was widely used to show honor to Buddha statues. Lu Meiniang, a court maiden in the Tang Dynasty, embroidered seven chapters of Buddhist sutra on a tiny piece of silk! New skill in stitching emerged during this period. Besides Buddhist figures, the subjects of Chinese painting such as mountains, waters, flowers, birds, pavilions and people all became themes of embroidery, making it into a unique art.

The Song Dynasty saw a peak of development of embroidery in both quantity and quality. It developed into an art by combining calligraphy and painting. New tools and skills were invented. The Wenxiu Department was in charge of embroidery in the Song court. During the reign of Emperor Hui Zong, they divided it into four categories: mountains and waters, pavilions, people, and flower and birds. During this period, the art of embroidery came to its zenith and reputed workers popped up. Even intellects joined this activity, and it was divided into two functions: art for daily use and art for art's sake.

The religious touch of embroidery was strengthened by the rulers of Yuan Dynasty who believed in Lamaism. Embroidery was much more applied in Buddha statues, sutras and prayer flags. One product of this time is kept in Potala Palace.

As the sprout of capitalism emerged in Ming Dynasty, Chinese society saw a substantial flourish in many industries. Embroidery showed new features, too. Traditional auspicious patterns were widely used to symbolize popular themes: Mandarin ducks for love; pomegranates for fertility; pines, bamboos and plums for integrity; peonies for riches and honor; and cranes for longevity. The famous Gu Embroidery is typical of this time.

The Qing Dynasty inherited the features of the Ming Dynasty and absorbed new ingredients from Japanese embroidery and even Western art. New materials such as gilded cobber and silvery threads emerged. According to The Dream of the Red Chamber, a popular Chinese novel set during the Qing Dynasty, peacock feathers were also used. Notably, the first book on embroidery technique theory was dictated by Shen Shou and recorded by Zhang Jian.

The first book of Chinese embroidery technique was dictated by an accomplished embroiderer, Shen Shou and recorded by Zhang Jian. Shen's original name was Xue Jun with Xue Huan as her alias. Shou was bestowed by Empress Dowager Cixi when she presented the Empress with the embroidered tapestry, Eight Immortals Celebrating Birthday. In 1911 she presented an embroidered portrait to the Italian Empress as a national gift. In 1915 her artwork of the portrait of Jesus won the first award at the Panama Expo. Shen excelled in embroidery and devoted herself to teaching and training.

Zhang Jian was an outstanding industrialist in modern Chinese history. He set up one of the earliest textile factories, the first normal school, the first textile school and the first museum. He was passionate in art and culture; therefore, when he knew about Shen, he decided that her master skill must be preserved. Since Shen suffered from poor health and spent most her time in bed, Zhang volunteered to record every word. Thus, the cooperation between an old man of 60 and a lady in her 40s led to the birth of Xue Huan Xiu Pu (Embroidery Book by Xue Huan) in 1918. This anecdote should be very beautiful, especially in China, few men would humble themselves to act as a secretary for women. Because of their dedication, the world has valuable data about Chinese embroidery.

The Chinese word for embroidery is xiu, a picture or embroidery of five colors. It implies beautiful and magnificent. For example, name for 'Splendid China' in Shenzhen, Guangdong was Jin Xiu Zhonghua. 'Jin' is brocade; 'Xiu' is embroidery; 'Zhonghua' is China. 'Xiu' is also a part of phrases such as xiu lou (embroidery building) and xiu qiu (embroidered ball). Embroidery was an elegant task for fair ladies who were forbidden to go out of their home. It  was also a good pastime to which they might devote their intelligence and passion. Imagine a beautiful young lady embroidering a dainty pouch. Stitch by stitch, she embroiders a pair of love birds for her lover. It's a cold winter day and the room is filled with the aroma of incense. What a touching and beautiful picture!

Major Styles
It has four major traditional styles: Su, Shu, Xiang, and Yue.
Su Embroidery
Su is the short name for Suzhou. A typical southern water town, Suzhou and everything from it reflects tranquility, refinement, and elegance. So does Su Embroidery. Embroidery with fish on one side and kitty on the other side is a representative of this style.
Favored with the advantaged climate, Suzhou with its surrounding areas is suitable for raising silk and planting mulberry trees. As early as the Song Dynasty, Su Embroidery was already well known for its elegance and vividness. In the Ming Dynasty, influenced by the Wu School of painting, it began to rival painting and calligraphy in its artistry.
The above mentioned wife of Sun Quan, King of Wu of the Three Kingdoms and Shen Shou of Qing Dynasty were both masters from this area.
In history, Su Embroidery dominated the royal wardrobe and walls. Even today, it occupies a large share of the market in China as well as in the world.

Shu Embroidery
Originated from Shu, the short name for Sichuan , Shu Embroidery, influenced by its geographic environment and local customs, is characterized by a refined and brisk style. The earliest record of Shu Embroidery was during the Western Han Dynasty. At that time, embroidered products was a luxury enjoyed only by the royal family and was strictly controlled by the government. During the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms, Shu Embroidery and Shu Brocade were exchanged for horses and used to settle debts.
In the Qing Dynasty, Shu Embroidery entered the market and an industry was formed. Workshops and governmental bureaus were fully devoted to it, promoting the development of the industry. It became more elegant and covered a wider range. From the paintings by masters, to patterns by designers, to landscape, flowers and birds, dragons and phoenix, tiles and ancient coins, it seemed all could be the topic of embroidery. Folk stories like the Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea, Kylin presenting a Son and other auspicious patterns such as magpie on plum and mandarin ducks playing on the water were also favorite topics. Patterns with strong local features were very popular among foreigners at that time. These local features included lotus and carp, bamboo forest and pandas. Some bought embroidered skirts and used them as curtains!

Xiang Embroidery
As art from Hunan, it was a witness of the ancient Xiang (Hunan) and Chu (Hubei) culture. It was a gift to the royal family during the Spring and Autumn Period. The most persuasive evidence is the articles unearthed in Mawangdui Han Tomb.
Developing over two thousands years, Xiang Embroidery became a special branch of the local art. It gained popularity day by day. Besides the common topics seen in other styles, it absorbed elements from calligraphy, painting and inscription.
Its uniqueness is that it is patterned after a painting draft, but is not limited by it. Perhaps because of this technique, a flower seems to send off fragrance, a bird seems to sing, a tiger seems to run, and a person seems to breathe.

Yue Embroidery
It, which encompasses Embroidery of Guangzhou and Chaozhou, has the same origin as Li Brocade. People generally agree that it started from Tang Dynasty since Lu Meiniang, who embroidered seven chapters of Buddhist sutra, was from Guangdong. Portrait and flowers and birds are the most popular themes as the subtropical climate favors the area with abundant these plants that are rarely seen in central China. In addition, it uses rich colors for strong contrast and a magnificent and bustling effect.
Since Cantonese take to fortunes in an almost superstitious attitude, attaching a lucky implication to everything, red and green, and auspicious patterns are widely used. The most famous piece is hundreds of Birds Worshiping Phoenix. Fish, lobsters, bergamots and lychee are also common patterns.

Gu Embroidery distinguishes itself from other local styles by the fact it originated from Gu Mingshi's family during the Ming Dynasty in Shanghai , instead of from a certain place. It is also known as Lu Xiang Yuan Embroidery. Lu Xiang Yuan, Dew Fragrance Garden in Chinese, was where the Gu Family lived. From the start, it was different from other styles as it specialized in painting and calligraphy. The inventor was a concubine of Gu Mingshi's first son, Gu Huihai. Later, Han Ximeng, the wife of the second grandson of Gu Mingshi developed the skill and was reputed as "Saint Needle". Some of her masterpieces are kept in the Forbidden City. Today it has become a special local product in Shanghai.

Styles Facing Extinction
Bian Embroidery was regarded as a National Treasure during the Northern Song Dynasty. Bian refers to the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty, Bianliang, today's Kaifeng. It was mainly used by the royal family so it was also known as Court or Official Embroidery. The style was exquisite, precise and elegant to match the demeanor of the royal family. However, with the collapse of the dynasty, this technique collapsed, too.
Han Embroidery originated from Chu (Hubei Province) and flew to Wuhan from Jingzhou and Shashi. Tinted by the Chu Culture, it is characterized by a rich and gaudy color with bold patterns and exaggerated techniques. It came to its heyday in the middle and later Qing Dynasty and obtained golden medals in international expos and competitions. Embroidery Street was formed in Daxing Road, Hankou, with nearly 40 workshops engaged in it. Bombing by the American planes of a Japanese magazine nearby destroyed the street as weavers fled.

Embroidery by Ethnic Groups
Among ethnic groups, Bai , Bouyei and Miao people are also adept at embroidery. Their embroidered products uses sharp contrast of color and primitive design to express a mysterious flavor while embroidered Thangka by Tibetans shows their passion in religion.