Chinese Art Timeline
History of Visual Arts in China (inc. Japan, India and South-East Asia).

Chinese Art Timeline (18,000 BCE - present)

Giant Buddha of Leshan (713-803)

Here is a chronological list of dates showing the development of Chinese art and civilization from the Stone Age onwards, together with the history of Korean art, its closest neighbour. Beginning with the era of prehistoric art, it includes all major art forms, such as ancient pottery, bronze casting, calligraphy, ink and wash painting, jade carving, porcelain, Buddhist sculpture and lacquerware. The cultures of China, Korea and Japan developed strong associations and affinities with each other. Cultural exchanges were initially facilitated by land bridges connecting Japan with the continent of Asia, after which Korea became the main conduit of Asian culture to Japan, in many fields of visual expression, notably metalwork, painting, and ceramics. Similar religious faiths - including Confucianism, Daoism, and Shinto - also exerted a unifying influence. Two forms of visual art were of particular importance to East Asian culture: the fashioning of clay-formed vessels and calligraphic expression through the ink-charged brush. Moreover, since Chinese painting derived in large part from calligraphy, mastery of the brush-rendered calligraphic line was essential for Chinese painters. As a result, calligraphy was of major significance in the transmission of cultural values. For the background to ancient China, see Prehistoric Art Timeline. For the evolution of Western culture, please see the list of dates in our History of Art Timeline. For the aesthetics of Far Eastern arts, see Characteristics of Traditional Chinese Art. For more about the cultural practices of East Asia, see Japanese Art.

Date Event
37,900 BCE






















30 BCE

Earliest known form of Asian art (SE Asia) - the Sulawesi Cave art in Indonesia.
Chinese pottery begins. Oldest example is the Xianrendong Cave pottery, from Jiangxi. Clay pottery is the most ancient art in China. See: Oldest Stone Age Art: Top 100 works.
Yuchanyan Cave pottery is made in the Yangzi River Basin.
Beginning of Jomon Pottery, Japan's oldest ceramics.
Amur River Basin Pottery, Russian Far East - Russia's first ceramics.
Final period of Paleolithic art and culture. Earliest known examples of Japanese pottery.
Melting of Ice Age glaciers cause the sea level around Japan to rise, flooding all land bridges to China and isolating Japan from the Asian mainland.
Jomon Period of Japanese culture, named after the rope (jo) patterns (mon) on its distinctive earthenware pots. During the mid-Jomon period of Mesolithic art in Asia, potters produce highly sculptural vessels, as well as an assortment of clay figurines. For more, see: Pottery Timeline.
Neolithic art in China grows up along the Yellow and Yangtze river valleys. Neolithic culture is noted for its ceramic art, fired in bonfires; silk-making (from the 6th millennium) and its turquoise and ivory carving, and its bone flutes (eg. Jiahu Carvings, 7000-5700 BCE). In Korea, Siberian X-ray style rock art is practised on the southeastern coast of the peninsula. Earliest known examples of Korean pottery are identified as being from the Jelmun pottery period.
Jiahu script, earliest known form of written language based on pictographs in China.
Dogs and chickens domesticated for the first time.
Yangshao Culture flourishes in Henan, Shaanxi, Shanxi. Oxen and sheep domesticated.
Earliest examples of jade carving. a major form of Neolithic art in China.
Hongshan Culture (4700-2900) evolves in Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, and Hebei in northeastern China. Noted for pig dragon jades and clay statuettes of pregnant women.
First known examples of lacquerware. Bird designs carved in bone and ivory.
Banpo script is developed. Also, invention of Chinese watercolour painting. Note: While water-based painting (rather than oils) is one of the most distinctive Chinese arts, neither sketching nor preparatory drawing are part of the tradition of Chinese painting.
Beginning of "Painted Pottery Culture" in China (ends 2000 BCE). At the same time, middle and lower Yangtze River valley cultures produce eggshell-thin goblets and bowls decorated with black or orange designs. Compare: Ancient Persian Art (from 3500 BCE).
The oldest example of Chinese silk - found in Henan province. Later silks from the Liangzhu culture site at Qianshanyang, Zhejiang, date to about 2570 BCE.
Pit-Comb Ware culture in Korea; start of the Middle Jeulmun pottery period.
Liangzhu Culture produces first known examples of the "cong" and "bi" jades. Compare Liangzhu culture with Egyptian Art (3100 onwards).
Indus Valley Civilization which developed along the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra rivers in India (also known as Harappan Civilization after the type site Harappa, in the Punjab). Start of Indian sculpture in bronze.
Beginning of Chinese Bronze Age.
Majiayao Culture in China. First bronze objects found.
Longshan Culture emerges in the central and lower Yellow River region. Longshan artists are famous for polished, black, thin-walled egg-shell pottery and for their sericulture (silk production). The Buffalo is domesticated; ploughs are used.
Acupuncture already being used in Chinese medicine.
Xia Culture begins (ends 1600 BCE).
India ink first made in China. Some scholars disagree, saying it was first produced after the Han Dynasty (c.220 CE).
Bronze casting established on a large scale at Erlitou, first major metalworking centre in China. Invention of Chinese calligraphy also occurs about now.
Era of Shang Dynasty art begins (ends 1050 BCE), noted for its ceremonial bronze vessels with zoomorphic and abstract ornamentation.
Beginning of the Korean Mumun pottery period.
Sanxingdui bronze sculpture made. These Sanxingdui bronzes, excavated near Nanxing Township in Sichuan, reveal an advanced culture which evolved independently of other Yellow River cultures. Largely figurative, they depict heads of humans, animals and birds.
Use of images of tigers, wolves, eagles, antelopes becomes common in Chinese art.
Era of Zhou Dynasty art begins (ends 221 BCE).
Korean metalworkers influenced by Siberian designs produced bronze daggers and mirrors similar to those used by the Scythian peoples of the Eurasian steppe. Compare these with: Hallstatt Celtic Culture. Korean jade carvings also appear.
Beginning of the Liaoning bronze dagger culture in Korea.
Birth of Confucius (551-479).
First reference to the Chinese board game Weiqi, known as Go in Japan.
Warring States Period begins (ends 221 BCE). Cast iron, made from melting pig iron, is developed. First iron ploughs appear. During the Warring States Period Chinese painters first produce representational art, as they begin to represent the world around them. Until now most paintings have been decorative.
Approximate date of the earliest example of silk embroidery in China, found in a tomb at Mashan in Hubei province. Most Chinese embroideries are made in silk, and production peaked in the 14th century under the Mings. The four most important regional styles are: Hunan embroidery (Xiang Xiu), Suzhou embroidery (Su Xiu), Sichuan embroidery (Shu Xiu), and Guangdong embroidery (Yue Xiu).
Tomb of Yi, Marquis of Zeng, built in Suizhou, Hubei.
Earliest examples of the art of silk painting.
Laozi's Daodejing inspires the founding of the Chinese philosophy of Daoism. First Chinese dictionary produced. Beginning of the Yayoi culture in Japan (ends 300 CE), noted for elegant, painted or burnished pottery. Bronze casting techniques imported from Korea lead to the production of bronze implements and dotaku bells.
Era of Qin Dynasty art begins (ends 206 BCE).
Completion of Terracotta Army Warriors, the greatest ever hoard of terracotta sculpture.
Era of Han Dynasty art begins (ends 220 CE). Noted for "jade suits" for deceased nobles (eg. Prince Liu Shen, his wife Princess Dou Wan, Prince Zhao Mo) to ward off evil spirits in the afterlife. Han culture is also exemplified by exquisite jewellery art made from opal, amber, quartz, gold, and silver. Han Dynasty painters are the first to focus on figure painting, known mainly from burial sites, where paintings are executed on silk banners and tomb walls. First decorations appear in the Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra, Western India: see Classical Indian Painting (Up to 1150 CE).
Completion of famous tomb of Han Emperor Liu Sheng.
China creates first colonies in northern Korea, including Nangnang, near Pyongyang, which becomes a centre of Chinese ceramics, bronze sculpture and metalwork.
Three Kingdoms Period (57 BCE – 668 CE) in Korea. Country is ruled by three differing cultures: the Goguryeo (Koguryo) kingdom (c.37 BCE–668 CE) (capital Pyongyang); the Baekje (Paekche) kingdom (c.18 BCE–660 CE); and the kingdom of Silla (57 BCE–668 CE) (capital Gongju [Kyongju]). Later in this period, Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism are introduced into Korea from China.
First ever reference to the wheelbarrow.

25 CE






























The earliest examples of celadon are reportedly discovered during tomb excavations in Zhejiang, dating to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 CE). Other experts claim that celadon was not created until the start of the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127).
Arrival of Buddhism in China (sponsored by Liu Ying, son of Emperor Guangwu) (not widely practised until about 300). This convincing universalist system of belief, inspires numerous forms of Buddhist religious art (notably stone sculpture and mural painting) celebrating the life and ideology of Siddhartha Gautama, worshipped as Buddha.
The White Horse Temple, the first Buddhist temple in China, is built.
Invention of paper. This had a huge impact on art, including printing. First true Chinese porcelain reportedly made at Zhejiang during late Han Dynasty (100-200 CE).
Arts of the Six Dynasties begin (ends 618 CE).
Beginning of Kofun culture in Japan (ends 552), noted for its tumuli, or grave mounds, built for the elite and furnished with ceramics, bronze mirrors, and stone jewellery, as well as clay sculptures (haniwa) in the form of shamans, warriors, animals and birds. In addition, calligraphy is introduced to Korea from China.
Monumental sculpture begins to appear from the 4th century onwards - nearly all of it Buddhist and modelled on Greco-Buddhist figures imported via the Silk Road.
Classical Chinese landscape painting supposedly begun by Gu Kaizhi (344-406).
Buddhism introduced into Goguryeo from China. Becomes a major influence on Korean designs for Buddhist temples; plastic art, particularly Buddhist statues, jades and ivory carving.
First appearance of shan shui ("mountain-water") paintings, during the 5th century Liu Song Dynasty (420-479). This form of Chinese painting depicts natural landscapes, using a brush and ink rather than more conventional types of paint.
Dhan Buddhism, a variant of Mahayana Buddhism, appears in China during the 6th century before spreading to Vietnam, Korea and Japan (where it is known as Zen Buddhism).
Construction of 130-foot high Songyue Pagoda, the first pagoda in China to be built out of brick.
Tomb art flourishes on the Korean peninsula: see the tomb of King Munyong in Kongju.
Asuka culture begins in Japan (ends 645), noted for the introduction of Buddhism (552), a parallel ideology to the native set of beliefs known as Shinto, or Way of the Gods. (Note: In Shintoism, the believer worships spirits believed to inhabit natural phenomena like trees, rocks, waterfalls, mountains.) Buddhist monasteries became major art patrons.
The Lashaosi Dafo Gautama Buddhist statue was carved into the mountain in Wushan County, Gansu.
Invention of Chinese papercutting (jianzhi), the art of cutting paper designs, often seen during celebrations for the Chinese New Year. Earliest known example is found in Xinjiang.
The Xishan Dafo Buddha Amitabha statue was erected at Taiyuan, Shanxi.
Era of Sui Dynasty art begins (ends 618).
Completion of the Grand Canal of China.
Era of Tang Dynasty art begins (ends 906). Noted for monumental Buddhist stone sculpture. Also famous for the development of Chinese porcelain (notably Sancai) and for exquisite goldsmithing. Like Han Dynasty artists, Tang painters focus on the human figure. Indeed elegant realism in figurative painting reaches new heights at the court of the Southern Tang (937-975). Other important forms of painting developed under the Tangs include ink and wash painting, as well as shan shui landscapes.
First Christian missionaries (Nestorian monks) arrive in China.
Nara culture begins in Japan (ends 794), noted for the growth of Buddhist architecture and sculpture. Temples are built and filled with statues of Buddhist deities, sculpted in bronze, wood, clay and lacquer. The gigantic bronze Buddha (Daibutsu) of Todai-ji temple is erected. Nara-era paintings and sculpture are modelled closely on those of the Chinese Tang dynasty.
Invention of woodblock printing. First recorded example, unearthed from a Tang tomb near Xian, is a single-sheet Dharani Sutra printed in Sanskrit on hemp paper (650-670 CE).
The Silla Period begins in Korea (ends 935). Witnesses a golden age of ancient Korean art including the zenith of Korean naturalism in sculpture. Buddhist statues, bronze bells and ceramic urns were other Silla specialities.
Emperor Xuanzong rules over a classical period of Chinese visual arts and literature, which sets the standards for future generations.
The Leshan Giant Buddha (completed 803), the largest Chinese Buddhist sculpture, is carved in rock in Sichuan province.
First examples of Chinese ink and wash painting, by Wang Wei (699-759).
Heian culture begins in Japan (ends 1185), noted for the transfer (794) of the capital from Nara to Heian-kyo. New forms of Buddhism enter Japan from Korea and China. By 1000, Esoteric Buddhism is eclipsed by Amida Buddha, leading to elegant architectural designs and a new idyllic style of paintings and sculpture. Japanese scholar-artists and other members of the elite develop distinctive styles of Japanese calligraphy and painting.
Chinese woodblock printers produce The Diamond Sutra, the world's first regular-size, full-length book complete with illustrations.
Start of the Great Age of Chinese landscape painting (ends 1127).
In Korea, Goryeo Dynasty culture (918-1392) becomes noted for its superb glazed celadon, marked by its sanggam inlaid decoration, by Goryeo ink and wash painting and by its mastery of goldsmithing and precious metal designs. In addition, Buddhism becomes the state religion.
Era of Song Dynasty art begins (ends 1279). Neo-Confucianism becomes dominant ideology. Later, dhan philosophy (Japanese Zen) influences painting, calligraphy and pottery. Song porcelain is famous for its Jian Tea Wares (known in Japan as tenmoku wares) made in Jianyang, Fujian. It is also famous for its Longquan Celadon, made in the southern province of Zhejiang. Song Emperor Huizong is the leading patron of the arts.
Northern Song culture (960-1127) is noted for its Ding ware - the first porcelain officially adopted by the Emperor - its undecorated and understated Ru ware, and its Jun Ware, made at Yuzhou, in Henan Province. The Chinese art of paper folding, or zhezhi is invented around the 10th century.
Kandariya Mahadeva Hindu Temple (Khajuraho) built in Madhya Pradesh, India.
Movable type printing invented by Bi Sheng.
The camera obscura is first described by Shen Kuo.
Chinese painting and the Imperial Painting Academy (founded in the 10th century) flourishes under Song Emperor Huizong (ruled 1100-26). The most popular bases are paper and silk, while finished works are typically mounted on scrolls, album sheets, walls, lacquerware, and folding screens.
The northern third of China is overrun by Manchurian Jurchens under the Jin Dynasty. Beginning of Southern Song culture (1127-1279), noted for its Guan ware, manufactured as a replacement for Ru ware, and for its Qingbai ("clear blue-white") porcelains, produced at Jingdezhen and at various other locations in the south of China.
Angkor Wat Khmer Temple built in Cambodia.
Completion of Samguk sagi (The Histories of the Three Kingdoms), the earliest surviving history of Korea.
Start of Kamakura culture in Japan (ends 1333), noted for its temple designs, and realistic style of sculpture and painting.
Era of Yuan Dynasty art begins under Kublai Khan (ends 1368). The Yuan Mongols offer no encouragement to indigenous artists in China.
Marco Polo becomes first European to visit Chinese imperial court.
Neo-Confucianism introduced into Korea by the Yuan Emperors.
Completion of the Korean Samguk yusa (History and Legends of the Three Kingdoms), the second-oldest history chronicle of Korea.
Wang Zhen enhances movable type printing by using the first wooden type characters.
Fonthill Vase (made c.1330) is first item of Chinese porcelain to arrive in Europe. Start of the era of Post-Classical Indian Painting (14th-16th Century).






























Era of Ming Dynasty art begins (ends 1644). Noted for its exports of blue-and-white Ming ware (known as kraak porcelain), made in Jingdezhen. Technical improvements were made in the use of cobalt for underglaze blue decoration during the reign of the Xuande Emperor (1425–35). Under the Chenghua Emperor (1464–87) similar advances were made in enamelling and metalwork. Other Ming designs influenced by Islamic art (notably metalwork), and by the art of Ancient Persia. Blanc de Chine porcelains were first made under the Mings at Dehua in Fujian province.
Joseon Dynasty culture begins in Korea. Buddhism is replaced by Neo-Confucianism as the official Korean ideology. This leads to a new elite class, the Neo-Confucian literati, dominating the governing bureaucracy. It also stimulates the production of white porcelain, which is seen as embodying the Neo-Confucian ideals of purity. Muromachi culture begins in Japan (ends 1573), under the Ashikaga shoguns, noted for its cultural exchanges with China, the development of its Zen monasteries - where painter-monks produced Japan's first ink paintings.
Construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing starts.
The huge Yongle Encyclopedia is finished.
The Forbidden City is completed in Beijing. The Yongle Emperor announces Beijing is the new capital; Nanjing is demoted.
Buddhist "Porcelain Pagoda" (Temple of Gratitude) finished in Nanjing.
The Korean ruler, King Sejong the Great, oversees a number of cultural advances, including the creation of the Hangul alphabet, Korea's system of writing. In addition, during the period 1400-1600, Korean porcelain is created for the wealthy, and buncheong ware for the less well-off. Buncheong pottery was then discontinued in Korea, although it endured in Japan where it was a popular feature of the tea ceremony.
Ming Emperors begin major restoration of The Great Wall of China.
First Portuguese explorers - Jorge Alvares and Rafael Perestrello - arrive in China.
Portuguese traders return from China with samples of kaolin clay, which they correctly understood to be an essential ingredient in porcelain production. But European scientists fail to replicate Chinese wares. Beginning of Mughal painting and Rajput painting in India.
Beginning of Momoyama culture in Japan (ends 1615), noted for its castle architecture, its textile and lacquerware designs.
Italian Jesuit priest arrives in Beijing to introduce Western science to court. In Korea, a new form of folk art, known as minhwa, flourishes. Origami (ori means "folding", kami means "paper") the traditional Japanese art of paper folding begins in the 17th century.
Dutch East India Company exports 6 million items of Chinese porcelain to Europe over the following eight decades.
Japanese style of kabuki theatrical art first seen in Kyoto.
Start of the Japanese Edo culture (ends 1868), noted for its several schools of painting, as well as its decorative arts including ceramics, lacquering, textiles, and metalwork.
Manchus capture Beijing; era of Qing Dynasty art begins (ends 1911). Henceforth Korea regards itself as the centre of Confucian civilization. The two greatest Qing patrons of the arts are the Kangxi Emperor (1661–1722), and the Qianlong Emperor (1735–1796).
Manchus force Chinese men to wear hair in a long queue or plait.
Taj Mahal completed in India by Mughal architects and builders.
Kangxi Emperor ushers in golden age of Qing culture.
First examples of Japanese Edo-period Ukiyo-e Woodblock Prints (c.1670-1900). This new type of graphic art is created for urban inhabitants. Through mass-produced woodblock prints, inexpensive art becomes available to all. Famous exponents include Harunobu (1724-1770), Hiroshige (1797-1858), Hokusai (1760-1849), and Utamaro (c.1753-1806). The genre will have an important impact on the history of poster art in Europe.
Taiwan overrun by Qings.
During the 18th-century, Korean painters developed a nationalist genre known as jingyeong sansu (true-view landscape), featuring Korean scenery rather than the usual idealized Chinese-style landscapes. The century also saw the rise of a light-hearted style of Korean genre painting.
Papal diplomat Charles-Thomas Maillard De Tournon arrives in China.
German Meissen scientist Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus (1651-1708) finally succeeds in producing the hard, white, translucent Chinese-style porcelain.
British East India Company establishes an office in Guangzhou.
Chinese porcelain-making secrets revealed by the French Jesuit Francois Xavier d'Entrecolles (1664-1741).
Catholicism is introduced into Korea from China. In 2010 one in three South Koreans are Christian (13 million).
Until the Qing Dynasty, Chinese jades are made of nephrite (or bowenite), known as white jade. In 1800, merchants import a new vivid green variety of jadeite from Burma, known as Feicui, which becomes the favourite of the Manchu court.
Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary arrives in China.
The Bible is published in Chinese.
First Opium War.
Treaty of Nanjing.
Second Opium War.
Japonism flourishes. This late-19th century European craze for Japanese decorative art, encompasses fans, screens, lacquers, silks, porcelains and woodblock prints.
In Japan, the western-oriented Technological Art School opens in Tokyo. Japanese painting develops out of a dualism of western and eastern styles, featuring Yoga (Western-style painting) and Nihonga (Japanese painting).
First Sino-Japanese War.
Chinese Boxer Rebellion.
Korea is overrun by the Japanese Empire which closes schools of Korean art, and forces the remaining artists to paint Japanese subjects in Japanese styles.
The nationalist Chinese group, the Kuomintang, under Chiang Kai-shek, attack Chinese communists under Mao Zedong, who undertake the Long March.
Second Sino-Japanese War.
Allies occupy and rule Japan.
Japan adopts a new liberal democratic constitution.
Korea partitioned into independent states, North and South.
People's Republic of China (PRC) is founded by Mao Zedong. All Chinese arts are politicized: socialist realism becomes the dominant idiom of cultural propaganda.
Japan's unique contribution to 20th century art spans creative activities in graphic art, as well as animation, video game graphics and concept art: distinctive forms include anime and manga stories.
Korean War between North and South Korea.
Treaty of San Francisco ends Allied occupation of Japan.
Chinese Cultural Revolution unleashes period of great turmoil throughout China. Posters and poster art become important methods of communication.
After Mao's death and the arrest of the Gang of Four, Deng Xiaoping becomes paramount leader of China.
Tiananmen Square demonstrations.
Emergence of Cynical Realism, a contemporary painting movement that uses humour and Surrealist imagery to express the fear and uncertainty in China, following Tiananmen Square. Famous contemporary artists involved include Zhang Xiaogang (b.1958), Zeng Fanzhi (b.1964) and Yue Minjun (b.1962). Cynical Realism is associated with Political Pop - another Chinese contemporary movement - and the pop artist Wang Guangyi (b.1957).
700-ton Grand Buddha of Longshan erected in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province.
The Guanyin of the South China Sea Buddhist statue erected at Foshan, Guangdong.
Shanghai Biennial Arts Festival. Chinese art now embraces a wide range of contemporary as well as traditional forms. These include film, video art and photography, as well as installation and performance art, as well as revived versions of traditional pottery, jade carving and lacquerwork.
The Spring Temple Buddha, the tallest statue in the history of sculpture, is built in Lushan County, Henan.
The Guanyin of the South Sea of Sanya Buddhist statue is erected on the south coast of China's island province of Hainan.
The Guishan Guanyin of the Thousand Hands and Eyes is made at Changsha, Hunan.
The Guan Yu of Yuncheng Guan Buddhist statue is erected at Yu Yuncheng, Shanxi.

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