Ming Dynasty Achievements: Art & Technology

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  • 0:01 Return of the Chinese Emperors
  • 2:01 Art in Ming China
  • 3:02 Technology in Ming China
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the art and technology of the Ming dynasty as Chinese artists and engineers rediscovered their Chinese identity. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Return of the Chinese Emperors of China

Imagine for a moment if the United States were invaded and conquered by someone elseā€¦ say, Canada. Now the president of the United States is a Canadian, and only Canadians can be president. Also, images of maple leaves replace bald eagles and the NFL is replaced by curling. To make it worse, the Canadian Empire controls most of the world and completely opens up the United States to international trade, letting foreign products become more common than local ones.

I'd imagine that in this Canadian-dominated world, you'd start to miss all things American. You and your friends may begin talking about what is truly American art, American culture, and the American government and try to get rid of everything else. Well, this is exactly what happened in Late Imperial China, a period from roughly 1271-1911. China was a thriving empire with a very sophisticated culture when it was invaded and conquered by the Mongol Empire in 1271.

The Mongols, led by the famous Genghis Khan, controlled the largest land-based empire in history, stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Black Sea. Genghis Khan's grandson, Kublai Khan, was the first emperor of the Yuan dynasty, an era when Mongol leaders ruled as emperors of China. In this time, China was opened up to the greatest era of international trade in history, and foreign influences flooded in.

When the Yuan dynasty collapsed to a series of peasant rebellions, one group of rebels defeated the others and rose to power, starting the Ming dynasty in 1368. The Ming dynasty was ruled by emperors who were ethnically Chinese, and all Mongol influences were purged. In fact, the people of Ming-era China were so shaken by a century of foreign occupation that they began trying to eliminate all sources of foreign influence in their culture and reduce Chinese society to only the purest, most authentic expressions of Chinese identity. What they created was a culture that used its past experiences to redefine modern Chinese society.

Art in Ming China

Due to the strong central state and the healthy prosperity of Ming China, the arts flourished and many artists tried to redefine truly Chinese styles. Literature, poetry, music, theater, jade carvings, and ceramics were all highly developed in this time. One of the most notable styles of art, however, was painting. During the Yuan dynasty, the ethnic Chinese intellectual artists began creating simple, harmonious scenes that used ink, called ink-brush painting. These paintings were simple and without much color because they were supposed to be the most basic expressions of pure Chinese culture in a time when Chinese culture was dominated by lots of color and excess from foreigners.

Artists in the Ming era continued the tradition of ink-brush painting, but added a few more colors for details. They carefully balanced objects like trees, mountains, and rivers to represent ideal harmony and balance. The backgrounds were simple or empty to create a sense of calm and intellectual contemplation. Ming painters also began adding calligraphy, Chinese letters written very artistically, as elements of the painting.

Technology in Ming China

Technology was a tricky subject in Ming China. The Mongol Empire highly favored intellectuals, and so scientists and engineers from across the continent were brought together to build and create. This meant that many technological innovations, including advanced clockwork, were destroyed as remnants of foreign invasion. However, for as much as the Ming were cautious of foreign influence, they now lived in a world where foreign trade was required of powerful empires, and as they continued to trade with Africa and Europe they found new ideas that interested them. Technology became a balance between respecting Chinese tradition and using new ideas from around the world.

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