Paper in the art of China

Paper in the art of China

“A hundred geese”. Detail of the painting on the artist’s paper Ma Feng The end of the XII century.

Paper in the art of China
Children of all countries of the world, for the first time crossing the threshold of the school, carry in their bags books and notebooks that accompany the student during all the years of his studies. In the notebook he will deduce the first letters, write down the thoughts of great people, solve complex problems. The book will reveal the diversity of life in front of him, tell about the fighters for freedom and happiness of man, ignite the thirst for knowledge, love for work, lead the bright way of building a new life.

Captured by the fascinating contents of the book, quickly turning one after another thin pages, we do not even think about what material they are made of. So usual and necessary for all of us paper.
And yet, by no means all, perhaps, it is known that the paper is one of the remarkable inventions of the Chinese people, which has become the property of all mankind.
In China, paper was invented in the II century AD. e. The entire course of the country’s historical development predetermined the need for this invention. China at that time was a feudal state with a ramified state apparatus. In the country, handicraft production and trade, science and art developed rapidly.
The paper was needed to conduct complex state affairs in the Han Empire. Paper was also needed. For merchant transactions, merchants exporting Chinese silks, varnishes, brocade not only to nearby countries, but also to the Far Roman Empire through the deserts and oases of the nowhere in Xinjiang and further through Central Asia. Paper was also needed for scientists for historical records, which had long been conducted at the court, and poets – for the creation of poetic works. In short, the paper was needed to meet the many, all the growing economic and cultural needs of the time, we needed more convenient material than bamboo plates and silk, a material on which it would be easier to reproduce hieroglyphs – complex signs of Chinese writing that appeared in China, center of culture in the Far East, for a very long time. There are ancient literary monuments – fortune-telling bones of the Yin-Shan period (XVIII-XII centuries BC), found during archaeological research among other art and culture items in Anyang, Henan Province. In this remote period, writing in China was already quite developed. It included about three thousand hieroglyphs or, more precisely, ideograms. The words “hieroglyphics” and “ideogram” are Greek, the first means “sacred letters”, the second means “writing an idea” (concepts). The second word ideogram expresses more precisely the peculiar content and form of Chinese writing.

Paper in the art of China

Production of paper

At the heart of its Chinese writing goes back to a picture-writing, when each subject was conveyed by its schematic image. So, for example, a rectangle designated a field, three triangles – mountains. Later the combination of several signs began to transmit complex concepts. Over time, the number of hieroglyphs has greatly increased, and the signs themselves have become more complicated. The number of them has reached several tens of thousands, but in practice, knowledge of 6-7 thousand characters is required. Chinese children graduating from high school know 5-6 thousand signs. To read modern newspapers, printed in large numbers in the People’s Republic of China, requires knowledge of 3.5 thousand characters-characters.
The complexity of Chinese writing is explained by the uniqueness of the Chinese language, which has many equally sounding monosyllabic and polysyllabic words requiring different signs. In addition, hieroglyphic writing is understandable to any Chinese who speaks one of the Chinese dialects. Equally sound monosyllabic words that have different meanings can be easily confused by writing them with the help of the alphabet. The very principle of a hieroglyph that only graphically reflects an object or concept, and not the words spoken aloud, makes it possible to understand the content of the phrase, pronouncing it not only in any dialect of China, but in any language. If, for example, a square divided by a cross-on-cross by two lines means a field, then we can pronounce this word in any language, so the meaning of the hieroglyph will not change. In order to read aloud a book written in hieroglyphs, one must learn the so-called “reading” of hieroglyphs. The meaning of hieroglyphs, like any conventional badges, can be understood “by sight”, without pronouncing their “reading”. Despite the complexity of hieroglyphic writing, because of its peculiarity to be understandable in any language, it has not been replaced by any other writing for three and a half millennia, serving as a common graphic writing not only for China, but for other neighboring countries – Korea, Japan, Annama, in the Middle Ages, borrowed from China hieroglyphics. At present, easy methods of memorizing hieroglyphs are widely used with the help of syllabic alphabet consisting of parts of hieroglyphs and serving as an aid to the study of hieroglyphics. In connection with the reform of the Chinese written language that began in early 1955, outdated, unused hieroglyphs are being deleted, complex signs are replaced with easier forms for memorization, simplified manuscript forms developed in practice by the people themselves are introduced. The unified state language, established over the past centuries on the basis of the Peking dialect, now adopted in all schools in China, provides a solid basis for a gradual transition to alphabetical scripts.
In connection with the development of Chinese society and the early appearance of writing in the I millennium BC. e. in China used for writing various materials – bronze and stone vessels, as well as jade plates, the inscriptions on which give extremely important for the study of ancient history documents. But these materials were also not very convenient and were soon replaced by bamboo. The most ancient books in China are written on bamboo tablets with lacquer juice. These were the so-called “bamboo annals”.

Paper in the art of China

Portrait of an official Painting on paper from the town of Khara-hoto. XI-XII centuries.

Long plates of bamboo were like pages of a book and connected with each other with a silk cord. Books from many pages-plaques were cumbersome and heavy. There is a story that a scientist Mo Di, who lived in the V century. BC. e., going on a journey, had to take with him at least three carts for the transport of books.
Therefore, later, in the III century. BC. E., bamboo plates were replaced by other material, more convenient for writing: it was silk. They wrote on it with a thin hair brush and ink made of pine soot. However, silk was expensive, and the need for books was growing, which made it necessary to look for cheaper material for writing – paper.
According to information that came down to us from the old Chinese historical books, in 105 AD. e. one Tsai Lun submitted a petition to the emperor in which he proposed to make paper from the bark of a tree, hemp, paper and silk rags and fishing nets. However, more recently it became known that during the excavations that were carried out in recent years in North-Western China, a paper was found with inscriptions dating back to the years 93-98. n. e. This fact proves that paper in China was invented several years before Cai Lun, that is, until 105, as was commonly believed. It was not invented by Tsai Lun, the dignitary, but the unknown master of the people; Tsai Lun, in all probability, only improved its production. The composition of pre-Zaylun, the world’s first paper, is not yet fully known, but there is a suggestion that its composition consisted of silk wool in the form of strips that remained after the production of this cotton wool. That is why in the character of the zhi, which designates the paper, there is a part of it, meaning “thread of silk”.
Later, for making high-grade paper, young bamboo shoots also began to be used. Bamboo paper was produced mainly in the south of China, where there are a lot of bamboo groves. In addition, in the same areas began to produce paper from reeds.
In the middle of the VI. They knew how to make paper of different colors.
How was the paper made in old China?
Harvested raw materials were thoroughly and repeatedly washed, soaked and cooked with ash and lime, then again washed, after which it had to be crushed well. This part of the production process, the most time-consuming, required the greatest amount of time. In ancient China wooden hammers were used for this purpose – they beat, raw materials were crushed in manual stupas, later they were used by foot thrusts. It was a pulp-like paper mass. It was diluted with water and scooped up with a “form” – a wooden frame with a bamboo fiber or wire mesh stretched over it. From the dexterity of the master who made paper manually, the quality of the sheet of paper depended. He had to distribute the layer of pulp along the grid so that the sheet of paper came out smooth and smooth. This he achieved by uniform shaking of the frame, during which water drained through the mesh, and on the surface of it there was an even layer of mass – a future sheet of paper. The size of the sheet was equal to the size of the frame, which served as a form for it. The finished sheet of paper was pressed between the cloths and dried.
The earliest samples of paper came to us from Duihuang City (now Xinjiang Province). Dunhuang was the border city of China in the Han period. Through Dunhuang, then through the oases of Xinjiang and Central Asia, the “Great Silk Road” went west to the Roman Empire itself. Dunhuang, which belonged to China from the III century. BC. e., was a node of cultures of central, eastern and south-western Asia. There were Chinese garrisons guarding the western border. During the excavation of garrison towers, sheets of paper were found which served as a material for the commanders of the Chinese garrisons. They date back to the middle of the second century, since there were no Chinese garrisons in Dunhuang since that time; therefore, this paper came here from China soon after its invention, but was used only by the Chinese themselves.

Paper in the art of China

“Mountain after the rain”. Painting on paper by the artist Gao Ko-guna Ok. 1275

In China itself, in the medieval period, when paper was produced by hand, there were several production centers in Shanxi, Henan, Hebei, Sichuan and other places. World fame deserved “Xuan Bimaga”, made in the county of Jiangshan, Xuan District, Anhui Province. This paper was made from the bark of the camphor tree, from the bark of the mulberry tree and rice straw.
Chinese paper began to penetrate into other countries. First, the paper was imported into Korea, and already in 285 the method of its production became known. The paper was brought to Japan at the end of the third century, but its development in Japan began only in 610.
It should be noted that paper production in Korea and Japan has reached such a degree of perfection that already in the period of Tang and Song (VII-XIII cc.) These countries imported paper to China, from which they borrowed the way of its production. In 707, the paper was brought by Arab merchants to the Arab countries, in 800 – to India. In the XII century. Through Baghdad, Egypt and Morocco, it reached Spain, from there it began to spread across Europe. The method of manufacturing it only in the VIII century. became known in Samarkand through captive Chinese, and from there already spread to other countries.
In Europe, paper was produced on its own in the 12th century: in Spain in 1150, in France in 1189, in Italy in 1276, in Germany in 1391 and in England in 1491.
Samples of paper taken from China to other countries were found by Soviet scientists in 1932 during excavations in Central Asia. Near the river. Zeravshan is Mount Mug. It once towered the castle of the ruler of this region. During the excavation of the castle among other things, Chinese paper was discovered, which was obviously so appreciated that it was already acquired on the one hand, since the inscriptions of both sides do not coincide. This find belongs to the VIII century. and. e.
China is home to not only paper, but also closely associated with it printing. Before the invention of book printing, the books were scrolls, fixed at both ends with bamboo sticks. On one of these sticks, which looked like a platen, rolled a scroll. These books were copied by hand by professional copyists, which required a lot of time and work.
The growth of culture, in particular the need for books, during the economic and political rise of China in the VII-IX centuries. led to the invention of printing from wooden boards.
This method was not very complicated. In order to make an imprint, a board with relief hieroglyphs carved in the opposite direction was lubricated with a coloring material. After that, a piece of paper was put on the board and carried over it with a soft, dry brush to make the print more clear and clear. After removing the finished printed page, a new sheet of paper was placed on the same board and a second copy of the same page was received. After making a few prints, they again greased the carved board with a coloring substance to get new prints. Already in the X century. books were printed with great speed for that time – on the day from one board it was made up to 1000 prints.
In the middle of the XI century. Bin Sheng invented the typeface. It consisted of clay hieroglyphs-font characters, fixed in rows on iron boards. From such matrices, prints were made on paper. A similar method in Europe was invented only in the middle of the XV century.
In 1314, instead of clay hieroglyphs began to use hieroglyphs made of wood, placed in a circular, mobile type-setting box office. Further development of printing from metal fonts. Color book printing with the use of different colors for screensavers and caps was started in China in 1340.
In the XVI-XVII centuries. the center of color printing was Usin (Zhejiang Province). With the expansion in the XVII-XVIII centuries. narrative literature – novels, novels – there was a need to illustrate books and produce color engraving for pictures.
Paper also served as a material for the first paper currency notes – banknotes, printed, like the pages of the book, from printed boards made of wood or metal.
It is interesting to note that in Western Europe, bank notes appeared only in the eighteenth century, that is, 700 years later.
A red cinnabar seal was placed on the ready banknote. The advantage of the banknotes was denoted by numbers, in addition, a bundle of coins was represented, which corresponded to the value of the banknotes. Counterfeiting was strictly prosecuted by law. On the note there was an inscription: “The fake one will be beheaded, who, as a reward, received 5 din of silver and all the property of the criminal.”
During the X-XIII centuries. book printing with engraved boards especially developed in the cities of Kaifeng (Henan Province), Hangzhou (Zhejiang Province), Meishan (Sichuan Province) and Jianyang (Fujian Province). The latter was the center of handicraft paper production. In these cultural centers there were bookshops where books on philosophy, history, medicine, mathematics, printed works on winemaking, silkworming and other issues of agriculture, collections of Chinese poetry and books of religious content were printed in considerable quantity.
In addition to printing, the paper played a big role in the development of Chinese art. It is inextricably linked with the art of engraving, which is also home to China.
Similar properties of paper determined the techniques of Chinese artists. Chinese paper requires the artist very great skill – the fidelity of the hand and eye, since the image should be applied to a sheet of paper at a time. The accuracy of the transfer is achieved by the artist through prolonged training – writing out sketches with a thorough study of nature, skilful copying (reproduction), etc.
On paper, remarkable works of art were written. So, in the collection from the excavations of the dead city of Khara-hoto in the Gobi Desert, there are drawings painted with watercolors. They depict the deities of the planets of Venus and Jupiter, which, according to the imagination of the master, are depicted respectively as a noble Chinese lady and a mandarin official. They are dressed in smart suits, they have a magnificent headdress on their heads or a complex hairdo. Another figure depicts the goddess of the imaginary planet Yue-bó: her name is associated with a legend in which a fantastic attempt is made to explain the eclipse of the moon. The evil demon, it is said in this legend, swallowed the moon, but the goddess Yue-bo noticed it in time and chopped off his head. The moon, before she could go into the demon’s stomach, came out through her severed throat and again shone in the sky.
Very naturally and truthfully transmitted on a small piece of paper running female deer. In another picture, as if alive, there is an official in a brown robe from a heavy road of cloth, girded with a red sash. The robe comes to the heels, from under him are visible white pointed shoes. On his head is a tall black cap of an official. But the main thing in this drawing is the official’s face; greedy, cruel, the face of a man deaf to complaints and pleas, scornfully and squeamishly looking at the world around him.
In medieval China, not only engravings and drawings were made on paper, but whole pictures were also written. The ancient Chinese picture is not like the modern one. It looked like a scroll and was written on paper or silk gushyo or watercolor paints.
In the heyday of medieval Chinese painting (VII-VIII centuries) in China there were many outstanding painters who were able to skillfully depict people and animals. Painting of “down and feather” was very common.
With great skill and subtle observation, the Chinese masters could show the swans floating on the lake, the hen, summoning its chickens, the heron standing in the swamp, a flock of geese flying over the lake.
There was also a painting of “flowers and birds”. Over the flowers the butterflies flutter, the still dewy droplets of dew on their petals glisten
with thin, hardly visible veins. Flowers, trees, birds, animals had in Chinese painting, a hidden, symbolic meaning. For example, the image of a deer was considered an omen of a successful career. This is explained by the fact that in Chinese the words “deer” and “luck in service” are pronounced identically, although for them there are different hieroglyphs.
But the most favorite kind of painting in ancient China was the landscape. In Chinese it was called shan-shui,
which means “mountains and waters”. It reflected the love of the Chinese people for their native nature. In the haze of fogs and clouds, the high mountains of China stand before us in these pictures. Unclearly looming in the distance, they are clearer and sharper in the foreground. On the slopes of the mountains and in the crevices of the rocks grow rare trees. Their trunks sometimes bend as if from gusts of wind. At the foot of the mountains rivers flow. On the river you can sometimes see a small boat with a person sitting in it. The picture seems to say: the nature is infinite and mighty, man is insignificant and powerless before it. So it was in the old days.
Life went differently in the new, popular China: in the pictures of modern Chinese masters a man is depicted as an active fighter for his own happiness, a builder of a new life confidently conquering nature.
The paintings, which were written on long scrolls of paper or on silk, depicted the life of notable people. They were painted by famous painters, and therefore they were very expensive and decorated only the houses of the rich.
Folk art is widely represented in China in small pictures. Expressive and simple depicted in them the national artist sketches from the surrounding reality. Such pictures are called lubok, or color engraving. Single-color engravings were also produced. The first prints were prints from one board with overlaid on separate parts with different colors. Then some parts of the engraving were engraved on different boards. Each part of the picture was covered with one paint. After that, they began to make prints from each separate part on the same piece of paper.
The content of many luboks was directed to the praise of the emperor, loyal to him generals, they depicted the lives of the rich and the landlords. Through lubok people were inspired by low-minded passions for profit and ranks. The production of lubka in the XVII centuries. becomes the business of entrepreneurs, who massively produce paper prints.
In poor peasant houses there are no glasses, they are replaced by oiled paper that does not allow moisture to pass through, and all kinds of figures are glued on it.