Thursday, July 26, 2012


Historically, China, Korea, and Japan have been linked by powerful bonds, including Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism, as well as by the use of the Chinese character as a medium of written expression. For many centuries East Asia constituted an integrated sphere with major cultural commonalities that fostered cohesive development. Yet in the field of art historiography, as in writing itself, China was clearly the donor nation; hence the present discussion concentrates on that country.

Ancient Greece and Ancient China.
At the beginning of the previous chapter I noted a remarkable parallel: a primordial version of art history appeared in Greece during the Hellenistic period, and then began again independently in China several centuries later. Several shared formative elements help to clarify the dual birth of the discipline in these two widely separated spheres of the Old World.
The similarities between ancient Greece and ancient China were particularly marked during the so-called axial epoch (so termed by Karl Jaspers) centering about 500 BCE.i Among the parallels are state polycentrism (many competing states instead of one big empire); primacy of the political realm over the religious--though the latter remained an important adjunct to the maintenance of state power; creation of classic texts which continued to be read over the entire history of the society; the emergence of philosophy and critical thinking; the idea of progress; and the beginnings of historiographical enquiry. Taken together these features gave the two civilizations a relatively secular and this-worldly character, making them precursors of modern society and thought.ii
In both civilizations the social and intellectual foundations laid in the axial epoch had lasting significance, persisting into the succeeding imperial phase which began with the Hellenistic kingdoms (after 323 BCE) and the Chinese empires of the Qin (starting a century later) and the Han that succeeded it. The formative traits continued even after the introduction of universal religions, Christianity and Buddhism respectively.
How may these similarities be explained? Until the middle of the twentieth century, scholars tended to ascribe advances in Chinese civilization to external stimuli, especially the migration of culture traits from the West. Bronze casting and monumental sculpture--both important to art history--were favorite candidates. Yet an increasing volume of archaeological data from the territory of the People's Republic of China has made it clear that Chinese civilization was largely autonomous. Self-generating, it did not require any significant input from the outside. So the explanation of cultural similarities in terms of dependency--China borrowing from the West--has had to be abandoned. Moreover, the stability of Chinese civilization made it impervious to foreign influences for a much longer time--until the nineteenth century--than was the case in the West.
Another approach stresses not what the two realms possessed, but what they lacked: neither Greece nor China were theocratic despotisms of the sort that flourished in Egypt and, to a lesser degree, in the Ancient Near East. This absence permitted the emergence of a relatively secular mentality on both sides of the Eurasian landmass, in contrast to the theocratic organization that prevailed where Eurasia and Africa came together. But so much explanation may not be required. There is no compelling need to adopt the hypothesis of  diffusionism--that similarities are to be understood only in terms of a mechanical transmission from a single source. Instead, one is free to entertain the idea of parallel evolution which posits that similar cultural traits may arise separately in response to the presence of parallel conditioning factors which have arisen autonomously over the course of time.
This evolutionary concept is compatible with differences as well as similarities. Indeed, the parallel between the two societies must not be drawn too closely, for significant differences occurred as well. The ideogrammic script that developed in China, one of the most important unifying traits of East Asian civilization, has no counterpart in Greece. Accordingly, the art history of China focused on calligraphy as well as painting, while sculpture was the most important medium for the Greeks. Also, art history emerged in Greece almost immediately after the close of the axial epoch, while it did not develop in China until several centuries later.
Still one major theme seems fundamental. In the last analysis, the emergence of art history seems to presuppose city-state pluralism with its consequent emphasis on political organization and thought. The latter elements stimulated historiography which recorded the origin, progress and decline of state formations. It is significant that when art history revived in Europe after its occultation in the Middle Ages, it again stemmed from a city-state base with the accompanying historiographical tradition.

Origins of Chinese Civilization and Art.
Patient interpretation of archaeological evidence, much of which has come to light in recent decades in the People's Republic, has permitted the reconstruction of a number of stages of neolithic culture in China.iii As in other areas of the Old World, pottery ranked as a major hallmark of the neolithic age. Not only were ceramic vessels the universal containers of this period, but even after breaking, the shards are almost indestructible. These pots, some of which have considerable aesthetic merit, were of relatively little interest to the Chinese of later historical times. They have only come into their own in the present century and then mainly as indicators of the growth and spread of neolithic culture.
At first limited to regional clusters of villages, the neolithic cultures gradually grew and established contact with one another. Stretching over the fourth and third millennium, this process led to the emergence of a megacultural amalgam, what K. C. Chang terms the Chinese Interaction Sphere.
Then about 2200 B.C. the core area in the valley of the Yellow River in north China underwent a metamorphosis.  The bronze age-- early civilization--was characterized by metallurgy, writing, cities, palaces, temples, and social stratification, and the apparatus of state. To be sure, the emergence of the bronze age in the ancient Near East is earlier, about 3500 BCE, but the old belief that its key traits spread from this source to China no longer seems convincing, for the stages of autonomous preparation are now very well documented.iv
As noted above, this general notion that elements of a civilization can be traced to a foreign place of origin is called diffusionism. At one time, some rather crude versions of it circulated. For example, the noted Viennese art historian Franz Wickhoff sought to derive the early Chinese tao-tieh motif as found on Shang and Chou ritual bronzes from the eye device found on Greek cups; it is now known that the Chinese motif appeared centuries before its purported Greek source. Moreover, as Max Loehr showed, the tao tieh--perhaps the most outstanding marker of this early Chinese art--evolved gradually from modest beginnings, rather than erupting suddenly as one might expect of an import.v
Even if the chrono­logical relation­ships are reversed and the Chinese development occurred later, one could not be sure that diffusion was operative. It used to be thought that the neolithic communities in Kansu were influenced by influences from western Recent research convincingly shows that these village societies developed locally. Still one must not be too categorical, for some migration of art motifs cannot be ruled out; for a time, Greco-Roman sculptural ideals permeated the Gandhara region of northwestern India whence, adapted to the depiction of Buddhist figures and scenes, they eventually made their way into China near the end of the Han Dynasty (ca. 220 CE). Nonetheless, the Chinese rejoiced in an independent monumental tradition of sculpture centuries before, as recent finds have demonstrated.vii
As has been indicated, the bronze age began in China about 2200 BCE. Several centuries later in this era archaeological evidence starts to link up, tentatively, with ideas of Chinese history preserved in historical records. These texts assume three primordial dynasties. The outlines of the first of these, the Hsia Dynasty (ca. 2200-ca. 1700 BCE), remain shrouded in legend, although some archaeological sites have been cautiously, though promisingly linked to it. However, the succeeding Shang Dynasty (ca. 1700-ca. 1100 BCE) is well documented, above all by the magnificent ritual bronze vessels with their informative inscriptions. Apart from their documentary value, these pieces compell admiration through their technical proficiency and aesthetic sophistication. The production of these and other typical Shang artifacts continued to be a major concern during the Zhou Dynasty (ca. 1100-256 BCE) and thus constitute a trait linking second millennium and first millennium Chinese art and culture.
During the Shang period and the earlier Zhou centuries, animal imagery--of real animals and fantastic composites--predominated; human figures seldom appeared on the bronzes. This theriomorphic emphasis links the art of early China with the "animal style" that was, and remained a specialty of the steppe regions to the north and west. As in the steppe cultures, the imagery appears to be linked to religious beliefs, in which animal spirits were called upon to play an essential helping role in the activities of the shamans. About 500 BCE, however, vessels began to appear with incised depictions of human beings engaged in such activities as religious rites, music and dance, archery contests, and warfare.viii This imagery, probably paralleling lost paintings on silk, pointed the way for the better-known human-events scenes of the Han tombs.ix
Fascinating as they are for their subject matter and as harbingers of later art, these scenes of human beings remained a secondary element alongside animal and geometric motifs. As far as present evidence indicates, these small-scale relief depictions did not lead--in the Zhou period at least--to the creation of monumental human figures. This absence highlights a major difference between the ancient Greeks and the Chinese. During the axial epoch the Greeks used hollow bronze casting for monumental images of human figures; the contemporary Chou metallurgists rarely created human figures, and then only in connection with their major endeavor, the casting of splendid bronze vessels with their predominantly animal and abstract imagery.
These vessels were required for the ritual observances organized by the state as a way of securing and retaining divine favor. The actual character of early Chinese religion is not fully understood, but recent opinion inclines to the view that it was shamanistic. The shamans were priests with the power of traveling between earth and heaven, assisted by animal forces. This shamanistic hypothesis, supported by interpretation of artifacts and latter-day parallels from Siberia and elsewhere, is seductive; but it cannot as yet be regarded as securely established. One of its advantages, however, is the help it gives in explaining the later Chinese concern, amounting almost to an obsession, with cosmological harmony.
The Zhou people descended from the same neolithic peasants as the Shang and were fully Chinese. They originally lived in a somewhat marginal area of the Wei River in Shensi, where the Shang encour­aged them as a buffer against the western barbarians. According to tradition, the Zhou seizure of power was accomplished by a father-son team. While King Wen the Accomplished prepared for the take-over, his son King Wu the Martial actually defeated the Shang armies and installed himself as the monarch. For some three centuries, the Zhou extended their power by installing local magnates who owed allegiance through kinship ties. Gradually, however, the component regions developed a sense of local identity. Yielding to this regionalization process, the central power faded so that in 771 the capital city of Hao was overrun and sacked by northerner invaders. This period (1027-770) is known as Western Zhou.
The capital was then moved east to Loyang, initiating the Eastern Zhou era. The history of much of this period, from 722 to 481 B.C., is treated in one of the early classics of Chinese history, the Spring and Autumn Annals.x The old unity that characterized the earlier centuries of Chou could not be recaptured. Instead, the new age was characterized by sparring and diplomatic maneuvering among the various small states. During the fifth century BCE this tradition of gentlemanly sparring yielded to open warfare, which was even more evident during the Warring States era, reckoned as having begun in 403 BCE
The latter part of the Spring and Autumn Annals era witnessed the rise of the Chinese intellectual tradition par excellence. Its iconic figure, a beacon for later centuries, was Confucius (551-479 BCE).  Grappling with the manifold problems afflicting the disorderly world of his day, Confucius cloaked his program in the guise of a return to an idealized past. Under the banner of restoration of lost harmony, however, Confucius introduced a new emphasis on doctrine and enquiry. His force of character, and the relevance of his comments to real human problems, left a lasting impress on China and the civilizations of the Far East in general. Among the traditions honored by Confucius is ancestor worship with its attendant injunctions to filial piety.  In actual practice, though, Confucius and his colleagues placed even more stress on nonfamilial networks forged by interpersonal bonding. These friendships were sustained by intense self-reflection and a constant weighing of norms and values. Tellingly, Thomas F. Metzger has detected the emergence of the ideal of a "judgmental community" as portrayed in the Confucian Analects.xi This ideal of the judgmental community served as the model for later groupings of literati (shih), many of whom cultivated the arts of calligraphy and painting, both as practitioners and as collectors. The evaluation proclivity recurred later when connoisseurs took up the challenge of ranking the painters and calligraphers of the past.
By comparison with the elaborate theological systems of Europe and India, Zhou religion seems attenuated; the Chinese texts and archaeological finds reveal no developed pantheon, but only a series of culture heroes, presided over by the mysterious high god Di. Cosmology seems to have been more important than recognizing a pantheon of anthropomorphic deities--as seen, for example, in ancient Greece. To be sure, careful observation of religious ritual, as prescribed in the Book of Rites, was obligatory, yielding as its fortunate product the ritual bronzes. The Chinese of the Confucian era seem to have had no organized priesthood of the sort found in Egypt and Mesopotamia; they were served by religious entrepreneurs, characterized as shamans, charismatic individuals whose capacity to move between heaven and earth was a personal rather than institutional resource. Thus organized religion, even though it enjoyed a venerable status stemming from antiquity, was of reduced significance. 
During the last phase of the Zhou era a growing and ever more diversifed body of philosophers appeared, offering a wide assortment of advice to rulers and others; producing texts; and developing schools and "dynas­ties" (successive generations of followers).xii The work of Confucius was reinforced by his disciples Mencius and Xunzi. The opposing school of Daoism, which was destined to have a considerable influence on art, traced its origin to the shadowy figure of Lao Zi, author of the classic The Way and Its Power (Daodejing). Other schools concentrated on legalism, pacifism, and logic. The kinship of these figures with the Greek philoso­phers did not escape Voltaire and other thinkers of the French Enlightenment, and has taken its place as a recognized theme of modern comparative intellectual history.
While philosophy and the political pattern of competing states recall ancient Greece during the same period, Chinese society arose on a broad plain served by a complex river system, rather than the islands and small coastal territories that conditioned Greek particularism. Moreover China was a universe unto itself. The Greeks (despite their chauvinism) were forced to pay attention to overbearing neighbors, first the Phoenicians and then the Persians, not to mention the Egyptians with their venerable wisdom. By contrast, the Chinese of the first millennium BCE had no outside mentors.  In due course, they tutored Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, but in its formative stages their civilization could draw on no nurturing sources compara­ble to the Near Eastern ones exploited by the Greeks.
As noted above, the philosopher Karl Jaspers identified a number of striking affinities marking high cultures of the old world during the middle centuries of the first millennium BCE--what he terms the axial epoch.  In the ancient Near East, Greece, India, and China, "creative minorities" emerged adopting critical, transcendental stances toward the societies in which they lived.  This kind of "standing back" is the foundation for the growth of intellectual traditions of critical rationality.  In China, this development took the forms of Confucianism, Daoism, and Mohism.  Without seeking a definitive answer to the causal circumstances conditioning the axial epoch affinities, one can retain the concept as a useful hypothesis capable of generating further insights.
The age of Confucius took place against a backdrop of splendid work in the crafts, above all ritual bronzes and lacquers. Artists generally remained at the level of craftsmen, and the classics provide few references to the arts.  To regard the artists of this time as mere slaves, as was for a time the fashion in the People's Republic, seems to go too far, and there are indications that the skill of artisans was valued in its own right. Certainly the elite showed special concern for placing high quality objects in tombs. Still China did not seem to possess the mythological motif of the "divine artificer," the creator god who shapes humanity like a potter or sculptor--a metaphor that in Greece helped to offset the tendency to attribute a mediocre status to artists.  The foundational era in which the classics were written, the last centuries of the Zhou dynasty (roughly 500-200 BCE), did see the formation of the social category of the gentleman scholar.  After many vicissitudes, this type became associated with the cultivation of calligraphy, painting, and learned commentaries on them. Hence, in the formation of the mature Chinese tradition in the arts one must distinguish two stages: the first in which the arts were practiced, often splendidly, but without the support of the intellectual apparatus that would lead to art history; the second, that of the cultivated, art-practicing literati (shih), which remains to be described.

The Chinese Tradition of Historiography.
Among prose genres the Chinese tradition of history writing has the longest pedigree, commenting almost continuously on events from 721 B.C. to the present.xiii Two of the five classics honored by the Confucians are historical: the Book of Documents and the Spring and Autumn Annals. Like other early writings from China, these texts are characterized by a lapidary terseness that has engendered a mountain of commentary. Associated as it was with the authority of Confucius, this terseness seems to have found an echo some centuries later in the incipient genre of writing on art, as if to claim for it something of the aura of the old, officially sanctioned texts. Another characteristic of these early writings is a tendency to treat subjects in numerical categories--the five felicities, the three virtues, and the like.xiv This feature recurs in the foundation document of Chinese art theory, the Six Princi­ples of Xie he, also known as Hsieh Ho, described below.
As it has come down to us, the Book of Documents consists of twenty-eight autonomous documents, each accompanied by an editorial preface. Although these writings, which consist of pronouncements and state papers, appear in chronological order, no attempt was made to fuse them into a continuous narrative. Like much of Chinese history, the accounts seem to be chosen for their exemplary value. Not unlike Polybius and Plutarch in the West, they present role models whose achievements deserve imitation, as well as negative instances of malefactors whose transgressions should be avoided. 
The Book of Documents contains two ideas which were to have a long future in China. First, the mandate of Heaven (tien ming) ordains that rulers retain power by holding to precepts ordained from on high. As long as the rulers of a dynasty faithfully cultivate the necessary virtues they will keep the favor of Heaven. However, power corrupts: weak and unprincipled rulers will neglect the mandate of Heaven, causing the state to fall into ruin. Then the mandate is withdrawn and a new dynasty, solicitous of virtue and good kingship, takes the place of the old one. This theory incorporates a concept of decline; unlike its counterpart in the West, which generally tends to attribute decadence to larger processes, in China the rot is seen as spreading from the top downwards. Secondly, the Book of Documents contains a doctrine of cession. That is, a ruler, finding no suitable successor in his own family was entitled to choose a worthy commoner to succeed him. This notion may have influenced later ideas of schools of artists, each yielding to another after its potential was fully realized.
The other historical work of Zhou times is the Spring and Autumn Annals, which derives from the records of the state of Lu. The English rendering "annals" is apt, for the book recalls the chronicles of the ancient Near East or the medieval Anglo-Saxon chronicle. As such, it represents an advance on the Book of Documents, since it presents events in a certain narrative succession, instead of just assembling the material in a collage-like fashion. A dry and tedious work, this chronicle of Lu was, for reasons that are still not entirely clear, beloved by Confucius, who held that it contained criteria whereby the justice of human action could be tested. Consequently, later commenta­tors pored over the Spring and Autumn Annals in hopes of finding some illuminating hidden message. It may be that such arcane wisdom was not, in the last analysis, to be found there, but the practice of minute scrutiny of a text was good training for the scholar.
The preoccupation with moral exempla found in these histories made the boundary between history and philosophy fluid. To judge from a later citation, it was a Zhou philosophical writer, Feng Hu Zi, who first formulated a theory of progress based on technological advance. In the earliest age, he observed, weapons were made of stones; somewhat later they were made of jade; and then of bronze; now they are made of iron.xv This concept of advancing technological proficiency based on the handling of metals recalls a similar concept expounded by in Roman writer Lucretius (ca. 98-55 BCE), and even anticipates the nineteenth-century Scandinavian archaeological classification of the succession of stone, bronze, and iron ages.
The decaying Zhou society of local particularism and political contention was at length replaced by the centralized authoritarianism of Qin Shi Huang, known as the first emperor, who founded the powerful but ephemerl Qin dynasty (221-207 BCE). In order to remove possible sources of ideological unrest, he is reputed to have ordered the older classics destroyed. A few copies of major works escaped destruction; others were reconstructed from memory. In this way Chinese scholars thwarted the first great effort at bookburning to achieve cultural amnesia.
The surviving texts provided the basis for the work of a man who was probably China's greatest historian. Writing under the prosperous circumstances of the Han Dynasty, Sima Qian (ca. 145-ca. BCE) was the first Chinese historian whose name and period are known for certain. His enormous encyclopedic work, Records of the Historian, has 130 chapters, divided into five main sections. Avidly perusing earlier histories, Sima Qian absorbed their substance into his own work so as to make it as comprehensive as possible. In addition to its strictly historical sections, the Records offers excursuses on such subjects as rites, music, astronomy, and economics. Through such catholicity, he suggested that history is not just a record of political affairs, but reaches out potentially to embrace all the accomplishments of civilization. A special feature is the inclusion of a number of biogra­phies, an innovation in Chinese writings. The accounts are enlivened with paradigmatic anecdotes and telling dialogues. Sima Qian portrayed the lives not only of "worthies" but of such colorful figures as fortune tellers, famous assassins, and royal catamites. He made an effort to separate sections of objective reportage or those borrowed from earlier writers from his own subjective commentary, an important critical principle.
The Han Dynasty in which Sima Qian wrote saw a momentous development--the rise of the scholar-administrator as the linchpin of bureaucratic government. During Zhou times, membership in ruling circles was clan-based and hereditary, and advancement was determined by displays of physical prowess, as in archery contests.
This all changed under the Han. As Charles O. Hucker remarks, "Early imperial China is . . . famous, and deservedly so, for instituting and systematizing rational, merit-oriented techniques for the recruitment, placement, and evaluation of government officials that had no counterparts elsewhere until very recent times."xvi As early as 196 BCE local officials were asked to select "worthy and talented" men to fill positions in the emerging bureaucratic service. By the middle of the century an examination procedure--conducted by the emperor himself--was in place. Finally, about 124 BCE, promising candidates began to be assigned to study under a special college of Erudites distinguished by their special expertise in the Five Classics. Thus, a kind of imperial university arose to train cadres for government service. These distinctive features of recruitment by merit, examination, and literary training constituted the chief pillars of the "celestial bureaucracy," which was to guide Chinese civilization through the early years of the twentieth century.
The characteristic products of the system, the literati, were in time to figure as central to painting and calligraphy--as practitioners, as collectors, and as writers on aesthetics and history. These activities could be pursued during leisure hours not occupied by official duties. They also offered compensation were the literatus to find himself excluded from office. Over the centuries the "amateur ideal" of the disinterested scholar producing paintings in his spare time has been lovingly cultivated by historiographers of Chinese art. James Cahill has shown that this claim was to a certain extent a myth, in as much as many painters in fact worked for money.xvii Still the prevelance of the ideal guided the selection of painters recorded in histories and critical writings. Those who could not be made to fit the mold, such as the Zen Buddhist painters, tended to be left out.
The artistic record of the Han dynasty attests the rise of autonomous landscape painting, henceforth to play a pivotal role in Chinese art.xviii  The evidence for the rise of this branch of art is largely indirect, from wall reliefs and other durable media, since landscape paintings on silk survive only from several centuries later.

The Emergence of Chinese Art Theory
Art theory appeared in China long after it developed in Greece and Rome--at a time when ancient Mediterranean civilization was succumbing to barbarian assaults.xix  In China the period after the fall of the Han Dynasty in 220 CE was also one of turbulence, but the effects were less severe than in Europe. Culturally, this interregnum offered a "silver lining" in the guise of loosening the centralized grip of Confucian orthodoxy. New ideas, many of them stemming from Daoism and Buddhism, could ferment and rise to the surface.
In the fifth century of our era the scholar Xie he (also known as Hsieh Ho) wrote an influential treatise introducing six gnomic criteria for the judgment of quality in painting.xx  The characteristic concision of the Chinese written language makes these principles, or "touch­stones," hard to translate, and the approach of Chinese commentators themselves varied considerable over the centuries. For the purposes of discussion the following will serve a reasonable approximation:
1. Spirit resonance, which means vitality.  (This principle has attracted the most commentary and is clearly the most important of the six.)
2. None method (evidently a way of using the brush).
3. Correspondence with the object (or more generally verisim­ilitude; lifelikeness).
4. Suitability to type, which means adherence to rule.
5. Vision and planning ("composition").
6. Transmission by copying of admired models.
The first two laws are the most obscure and have provoked the greatest amount of modern commentary. The second pair, nos. 3 and 4, evidently refer to the depiction of forms and the application of colors. The fifth law concerns spacing and positioning of the compositional elements, while the sixth unproblematically stresses the value of copying.
As noted in the previous chapter, the four pivotal principles of the Greek Xenocrat­es are hard to render in modern languages. In the case of Xie he's touchstones, it is even harder. Nonspecialists cannot hope to be certain of the exact rendering. However, the essential point is that such principles were deemed necessary: they served as criteria of artistic training and aesthetic appreciation. Over the centuries Xie he's precepts were repeated by other writ­ers, some­times verbatim, and sometimes through assimilation and variation.
As will be seen, ranking of art works became a preoccupation of scholar-collectors who were glad to avail themselves of such criteria. As was noted in the discussion of Greece and Rome, ranking did not constitute a historical enterprise in and of itself, but it has played an important preparatory role.
Painting acquired prestige when it was linked with the privileged medium of poetry.xxi Again we are reminded of Greece and Rome where the "Ut pictura poesis" theme fulfilled a similar function.xxii

The Perfecting of Art History.
During the eleventh and twelfth centuries connoisseurs, basing themselves on earlier hints, affirmed a three-fold hierarchy of painters.  Writing about 1167 Deng Chun observed: "Since antiquity connoisseurs have distinguished three classes, called them the "Inspired," the "Excellent," and the "Competent."xxiii (Artists who fall below the level of competent were not ranked.) Yet not every connoisseur found these three classes sufficient. Deng Chun goes on: "Chu Ching-hsün of T'ang, when compiling the 'Record of Paintings by T'ang Worthies' . . . added the 'Untrammeled' class apart from the other three. Subsequently, Huang Hsiu-fu ... considered the 'Untrammeled' to be foremost, with the 'Inspired,' 'Excellent,' and 'Competent' following in order." Some placed the untrammeled category outside, or even below the other three, but Deng Chun preferred to rank it first. However, he notes that the twelfth-century emperor-painter Huizong--a great believer in the rules and regulations of painting--positioned it second: inspired, untrammeled, excellent, and competent.
The definition of the untrammeled varied over time.xxiv At first the chief emphasis was laid on the extravagant, often riotous and drunken lifestyle of the rare individuals identified with the mode. Then attention shifted to the style itself, which was observed to be sketchy and expressive. Finally, in Ming and Qing times the term was watered down and came simply to mean "free" or "loose."
At first sight this scheme, in the version placing the untrammeled at the top, seems to bear an almost uncanny similarity to the Hellenistic-Roman scheme of Pliny the Elder, for he, too, recognized a small group of past masters who were outside the parameters of the other three classes.  Since the cultural circumstances are so different and there is no evidence that Pliny's work was known in China, the similarity must be a coincidence.  But perhaps it is not entirely a matter of chance since the activity of connoisseurs and collectors, which flourished both in ancient Rome and in China, tends to lead almost ineluctably to ranking. 
Cross-cultural studies suggest that the human mind tends to divide things into three groups.  The positing of a supplementary fourth group or superstars stems from the intuition that there are a small number of extraordinary geniuses.  This conclusion reveals a tension, not explicit in the basic model of the rankings, between rational critiques, where principles can be enumerated and the works matched against them, and the sense that a select group of artists display an indefinable excellence which cannot be measured by rules.  In China a further motive may have been the bureaucratic system which defined successful candidates by performance in examinations.  Only the emperor and his family were exempt from this grading, so that they would form the analogue of the untram­meled class.  This parallel is only true up to a point.  Although there were some painter-emperors, they did not attain this exalted status as artists, so that the two hierarchies are homologous rather than exactly overlapping.  The practice of painting by scholars of course served to overcome lingering prejudices stemming from the manual aspects of this art. 
An important development in the stabilization of the social status of artists was the establishment of an official Academy of painting by the Northern Song ruler Huizong (ruled 1100-25).xxv After the fall of the Northern Sung this institution was reestablished in the South. The examinations conducted by the Academy helped to reinforce the ranking schemes noted above. As in Europe, however, the prestige of the Academy, with its loyalty to rules and perspicuous categorization, tended to work against spontaneity and individual genius. Hence the eventual relegation of some Ming (1368-1644) artists to a category of "heterodox" painters.xxvi
Ming art scholarship established the contrast between the Northern and Southern Schools of Sung landscape painting.xxvii The northern tradition counted as more precise and academic, the southern one more "impressionistic" and freewheeling. The ascription of stylistic contrast to regional differences occurs in many types of art historical writing. In this instance, however, one is struck by the salience of the stylistic criteria of distinction, which seem to anticipate Heinrich Wölfflin's contrast of the linear and the painterly.
Apart from the favored media of brush painting and calligraphy, modern researchers have directed attention to important categories of Buddhist art, found mainly in sculpture and religious paintings.  Insofar as these works are discussed in the old texts, it is generally in terms recalling those employed for religious icons in Byzantium. There religious efficacy was held to require careful replication of the features of the prototype.  The application of aesthetic criteria to Buddhist sculpture and the associated paintings and architecture has been mainly the work of modern scholars, some of whom have brought their own sensitivities to Greek archaic and medieval art to bear. Nonetheless, some Buddhist themes seem to have seeped into orthodox Chinese art criticism of the great imperial centuries.xxviii The idea of the succession of Buddhist sages provided a master-pupil model, while the concept of two major branches of Buddhism, the Mahayana and Theravada may have helped to promote recognition of parallel traditions.
Beginning in Song times, Chinese intellectuals devoted attention to what we would term archaeology, particularly with regard to finds from the Shang and Zhou periods,  singled out for their value in throwing light on the formative era of Chinese civilization. Lü Dalin's compilation of the of Kaogutuu in 1092 marked the beginning of the Chinese antiquarianism focusing on these precious relics from the past. This treatise provides line drawings and verbal descriptions of 210 bronze objects and 15 jades ranging in date from the Yin to the Han dynasties. The names of sixty-one Song antiquarians have been recorded. Although their work is sometimes overladen with moralizing, they established a pattern of essential categories and nomenclature for the ancient artifacts that survives to this day.xxix

Extension into Japan.
The Japanese adopted many cultural traits from China, including Confucianism and Buddhism. The former contributed the ideal of the refined gentleman, though he was less likely to be a painter.  Alongside paintings in the Chinese manner, some of them executed by Chinese, there was also a native trend (Yamato-e), which did not resemble it.  Still, with reference to Chinese paintings, the well-worn art theory made its way into 
Buddhist art was particularly important in early Japanese society, but the Chinese tradition offered no historiographical tradition for it. Serious study of Buddhist sculptures and monumental paintings has been achieved mainly by modern scholars. Japanese officials and noblemen were less likely to practice painting than their Chinese counterparts; in consequence autonomous art criticism for a long time lagged in Japan.  Most painters remained monks (especially of Zen tendency) or were classified as humble craftsmen.  The first collection of biographies of native artists is believed to be that compiled by Shigeyoshi Ikkei in the sixteenth century.  Like Roman aristocrats with their prized collections of  Greek masterpieces, refined Japanese sought out Chinese works, and some of the finest surviving ink paintings from the continent remain today in Japanese collections.  There was a downside, though, for reverence for historical Chinese artists at the expense of native ones served to retard the historiography of Japanese art.
Nonetheless, the Japanese ultimately evolved a more comprehensive understanding of their creative achievements than had the Chinese, who traditionally recognized only painting and calligraphy as arts in the truest sense. By contrast, the Japanese had no hesitation in placing the tea ceremony and flower arrangement on a high plane, while the new category of mingei (folk art) came to embrace all kinds of popular artistic expression. This universality of recognition, embracing all arts and crafts, has earned the Japanese the reputation of a highly aesthetic civilization.
During the twentieth century, Japanese scholars have produced impressive accounts of all major phases of their art, including the prehistoric ones, which have come to light through excavation. In their methodology and periodization these accounts reflect a thorough assimilation of Western concepts of art history and archaeology.

i Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History, trans. by Michael Bullock, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953. Since he wrote (the German edition of his book appeared in 1949), Jaspers' fertile, if problematic concept has commanded the allegiance of a growing number of scholars addressing the comparative study of civilizations. See, e.g., S. N. Eisenstadt, ed., Axial Age Civilizations, Albany: State University Press, 1985; and Robert N. Bellah and Hans Joas, eds., The Axial Age and Its Consequences, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012.
ii Increasingly, scholars have been essaying comparisons of ancient China and ancient Greece. The task is daunting, demanding as it does two types of specialized knowledge of sources and secondary literature. An impressive pilot study, however, is that of Lisa Raphals, Knowing Words: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of China and Greece, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992. Raphals compares the treatment of practical knowledge (Chinese zhi; Greek metis) in late Chou China and classical Greece.  See also G. E. R. Lloyd, Adversaries and Authorities: Investigations into Ancient Greek and Chinese Science, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
iii Kwang-chih Chang, The Archaeology of Ancient China, 4th ed., New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986.  A more recent synthesis is Michael Loewe and Edward E. Shaughnessy, eds., The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 B.C., Cambridge: Camrbridge University Press, 1999.
iv See Chang, Archaeology.
v See the comprehensive discussion by Ladislav Kesner, "The Taotieh Reconsidered: Meanings and Functions of Shang Theriomorphic Imagery," Artibus Asiae, 51 (1991), 29-52.
vi For a late, albeit cautious presentation of this view, see Walter A. Fairservis, Jr., The Origins of Oriental Civilization, New York: New American Library, 1959, pp. 113-14.
vii See, e.g., Ann Paludan, The Chinese Spirit Road: The Classical Tradition of Stone Tomb Statuary, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.
viii Mary H. Fong, "The Origin of Chinese Pictorial Representation of the Human Figure," Artibus Asiae, 49 (1989-90), 5-38.
ix Wu Hung, The Wu Liang Shrine: The Ideology of Early Chinese Pictorial Art, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989; Martin J. Powers, Art and Political Expression in Early China, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.
x Burton Watson, Early Chinese Literature, New York: Columbia University Press, 1962, pp. 37-44.
xi "Some Ancient Roots of Chinese Thought: This-Worldliness, Epistemological Optimism, Doctrinality, and the Emergence of Reflexivity in the Eastern Chou," Early China, 11-12 (1985-86), 61-117.
xii Benjamin J. Schwartz, The World of Thought in Ancient China, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985.
xiii The paragraphs that follow are indebted to the incisive comments of Watson, Early Chinese Literature.
xiv To be sure, these sets are found in other civilizations, as seen in our four elements, five senses, and so forth. But the accumulation of such clusters does seem to be especially characteristic of China.
xv Chang, Archaeology, p. 5.
xvi China's Imperial Past: An Introduction to Chinese History and Culture, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975, p. 156.
xvii The Painter's Practice: How Artists Lived and Worked in Traditional China, New York: Columbia Universtiy Press, 1994.
xviii Michael Sullivan, The Birth of Landscape Painting in China, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962.
xix Essential for texts and commentaries of the Chinese critical tradition is Susan Bush and Hsiao-yen Shih, eds., Early Chinese Texts on Painting, Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1985. See also Susan Bush and Christian Murck, eds., Theories of the Arts in China, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.
xx From the copious literature on this text, the following article has stood the test of time: Alexander C. Soper, "The First Two Laws of Hsieh Ho," The Far Eastern Quarterly, 8 (1949), 412-23; William R. B. Acker, Some T'ang and Pre-T'ang Texts on Chinese Painting, I, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1954, pp. xxi-xlv; Sullivan, Birth, pp. 106-07; and Bush and Shih, eds. pp. 10-17, 39-40.
xxi Alfreda Murck and Wen C. Fong, eds., Words and Images: Chinese Poetry, Calligraphy, and Painting, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991.
xxii Hans H. Fraenkel, "Poetry and Painting: Chinese and Western Views of Their Convertibility," Comparative Literature, 9 (1957), 303ff.
xxiii Cited from the rendering in Bush and Shih, eds., Early, p. 102.
xxiv Shujiro Shimada (trans. James Cahill), "Concerning the I-p'in) Style in Painting," Oriental Art, n. s., 7 (1961), 66-74; 8 (1962), 130-37; and 10 (1964), 19-26; Alexander C. Soper, "Shih-k'o and the I-p'in," Archives of Asian Art, 29 (1975-76), 6-22; and Susan Nelson, "I-p'in in Later Painting Criticism," in Bush and Murck, eds., Theories, 397-424.
xxv Bush, Chinese, pp. 74-76.
xxvi Richard Barnhart, "The 'Wild and Heterodox School' of Ming Painting," in Bush and Murck, eds., Theories, 365-96
xxvii Bush, Chinese, pp. 158-72.
xxviii Susan Bush, "Tsung Ping's Essay on Painting Landscape and the "Landscape Buddhism" of Mount Lu," in Bush and Murck, eds., Theories, 132-64.
xxix Chang, Archaeology, pp. 4-12.
xxx The original documents and modern scholarship on this development are in Japanese, and very few of these texts have been translated into Western languages. Accordingly, only the most basic features will be noted here. For a recent account of the art itself, see Penelope Mason, History of Japanese Art, New York: Abrams, 1993. Many relevant articles appear in The Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, New York: Kodansha International, 1983.

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