Graphic Arts

Up Timeline and Maps



The invention of printing in China during the Tang dynasty led to the development of a new art form, woodblock prints.  These included both single sheet pictures intended to be pasted on a door or wall, or given away to advertise a product, as well as illustrations in books. Many book illustrations have been shown here, especially in the units on Military Technology, Homes, and Gardens.  Throughout the late imperial period, these  traditional graphic arts flourished.  There were even illustrated manuals on how to paint and illustrated catalogues on where to buy art materials. 

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the graphic arts underwent rapid changes in order to adapt to new political and commercial needs.  Chinese artists, exposed to Western art and design, incorporated elements of foreign styles into their work.  At the same time, with a growing awareness of China’s identity in the world, artists also sought to reinterpret traditional art forms and apply them to new themes.  The gradual transformation of Chinese visual culture had an impact on almost everyone in the population, as periodicals reached larger and larger audiences and posters were distributed throughout the country.  


While looking through this unit, keep the following questions in mind:  


In what ways did graphic art combine foreign and Chinese art forms and styles?

What are some changes you observe in women’s images over the course of the twentieth century? What forces might have triggered such changes?

How do the form and content of political posters reflect ideology?  How do they change with changes in official policy and political leadership? 

How are issues of class reflected in both the commercial and political imagery?   How are the different classes in Chinese society portrayed and how does that change over the course of the century?

What similarities or differences do you see between the work of commercial artists and that of government artists assigned propaganda work?