Lots of archaic bronze vessels were used for sacrifices for God and spirits. These were believed to help the standard of life of the people, if the rituals were performed correctly. In earlier times, art was considered a means of moral or social function.
There were many wall paintings that showed sages, emperors, ministers, generals and of course the villains of the stories. These were portrayed as examples of how not to live.
Another interesting thing was the portrait painting that had a moral function and which depicted the characteristics of people, their character and role. Lots of court painters had a lot of success because they were asked to paint memorable happenings and events.
The religious art is quite foreign to China. It is interesting to discover that folk religion was not so much an inspiration to the high works of art, and the almighty Buddhism was nothing but a foreign import.
China always appreciated the human relationships, and it is a normal thing to discover paintings that embody gentlemen who enjoyed romantic pursuits or who went to reunions that helped them travel across the entire country.
The traditional Chinese art doesn’t include themes as violence, death, nudity or war. Inanimate things are painted, but they are never painted just to be painted. Every rock is meant to be felt alive, the forces of the universe have to manifest themselves.
The Chinese art doesn’t accept themes that are not noble, fresh, inspiring or charming. Not to mention that the Chinese tradition is also keen on combining both content and form – you cannot have one without the other, it is not enough!
The traditional art in China is meant to be symbolic because every little thing that is being painted has to reflect some sort of totality, and the painter has to be aware of that.
As it was mentioned above, Chinese art is filled with symbols of different types and which can have multiple meanings. For instance, Bamboo claims that the spirit of the scholar can be bent by different circumstances, but it cannot be broken. Next to this, jade means indestructibility and purity. On the other hand, the dragon (also alligator and rain deity) can stand for a powerful and mighty emperor. The mandarin duck is the equivalent of wedding fidelity, while the crane stands for long life. Other popular symbols are the orchid, which is the Confucian equivalent of loyalty and purity. The winter plum is the one that blossoms in the snow, and it means purity, either spiritually or politically. All these symbols have a distinct significance which should be taken into account when talking about Chinese art.