Traditional Chinese Painting

Traditional Chinese Painting


Traditional Chinese painting is a combination in the same picture of the arts of poetry, calligraphy, painting, and seal engraving. The Chinese painting is highly regarded throughout the world for its theory, expression, and techniques.

The Chinese painting can be divided into two categories: the xieyi (water-ink painting) and the gongbi (coloured painting) .

Gongbi dominant before the 12th century by professional or craftsman painters, and the xieyi developed after the 12th century by literati painters.

Also known as “fine-stroke” paintings, colored paintings feature close attention to details and fine brushwork. Thanks to the mineral-made dyes, the original colors can be fully maintained and the paintings will not fade away as time goes by. Colored paintings, which manifest in themselves unparalleled sublime air, were widely welcomed among the painters serving in royal courts.

An example of a gongbi painting, emphasizing on the detailed strokes
An example of a gongbi painting, emphasizing on the detailed strokes

On the contrary, water-ink paintings, also called “thick-stroke” paintings, are supposed to convey spiritual resonance with strokes as simple as possible, instead of attaching much importance to the realistic subjects. Exaggerated forms, such as generalization and hyperbole as well as rich imagination, are employed in painting to display painters’ feelings. Therefore, it is relatively difficult to make a copy of a water-ink painting.

An example of xieyi landscape painting
An example of xieyi landscape painting

There is no absolute line between the two schools. No matter which school they belonged to, painters could and did compromise a little and learn from each other, giving rise to a mixed style including elements from both.

Chinese calligraphy and Chinese painting are closely related because lines are used in both. Chinese people have turned simple lines into a highly-developed form of art. Lines are used not only to draw contours but to express the artist’s concepts and feelings. For different subjects and different purposes a variety of lines are used. They may be straight or curved, hard or soft, thick or thin, pale or dark, and the ink may be dry or running. The use of lines and strokes is one of the elements that give Chinese painting its unique qualities.


To the Chinese, “painting in poetry and poetry in painting” has been one of the criteria for excellent works of art. Inscriptions and seal impressions help to explain the painter’s ideas and sentiments and also add decorative beauty to the painting. Ancient artists liked to paint pines, bamboo, and plum blossoms. For Chinese graphic art, poetry, calligraphy, painting, and seal engraving are necessary parts, which supplement and enrich one another.

Since the turn of the century, China has experienced great political, economic, and cultural changes, and the art of painting is no exception. While traditional Chinese painting still occupies an important place in the life of modern Chinese, many painters now desire to express their experience of new times. By combining new modes of expression with traditional Chinese painting techniques, they are opening up a vast, new world of artistic expression.
Traditional Chinese painting has its special materials and tools, consisting of brushes, ink and pigments, xuan paper, silk and various kinds of ink slabs. Based on different classification standards, Chinese traditional painting can be divided into several groups, as follows:

The principal forms of traditional Chinese painting are the hanging scroll, album of paintings, fan surface and long horizontal scroll. Hanging scrolls are both horizontal and vertical, usually mounted and hung on the wall. In an album of paintings the artist paints on a certain size of xuan paper and then binds a number of paintings into an album, which is convenient for storage. Folding fans and round fans made of bamboo strips with painted paper or silk pasted on the frame. The long, horizontal scroll is also called a hand scroll and is usually less than 50 centimeters high but maybe up to 100 meters long.

Traditional Chinese paintings can be classified as figure paintings, landscapes and flower-and-bird paintings. Landscapes represent a major category in traditional Chinese painting, mainly depicting the natural scenery of mountains and rivers.

The range of subject matter in figure painting was extended far beyond religious themes during the Song Dynasty (960-1127). Landscape painting had already established itself as an independent form of expression by the fourth century and gradually branched out into the two separate styles: blue-and-green landscapes using bright blue, green and red pigments; and ink-and-wash landscapes relied on vivid brushwork and inks. Flower-and-bird painting deviated from decorative art to form its own independent genre around the ninth century.

Some more painting for your viewing pleasure.



Traditional Chinese Painting

Please come back and check out the Art category for more write ups about individual kinds of paintings such as Horse, Crane, Tiger, Peony, Lotus, Fish and more.

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One Comment

  1. Vera Lúcia says:

    I am from Brazil, I will be in Xangai for 4 months, i would like to be about chinese painting.

    Eu sou do Brasil, estarei na China por 4 meses, gostaria de saber sobre pintura chinesa.

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