Pinyin English

Decorative Designs in Chinese Art 中国文物的纹饰

Fire Design 火纹
Previous Contents Next

Yangshao Culture 仰韶文化

The Yangshao Culture 仰韶文化 was a matriarchal Neolithic culture from the central Yellow River basin that dates from about 5,000 to 3,000 BCE. They were a very prolific pottery producing people and we know them mostly through their distinctive painted pottery, frequently including rose patterns. Yangshao was first discovered in 1921 in Mianchi County, Henan Province. Most decorative patterns are black and / or red. From their distinctive pottery the Yangshao culture has been identified with Gansu, Shaanxi, Henan at the center and also present in Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Qinghai, and Hubei.

painted pottery
仰韶文化半坡类型公元前4500〜4000上海博物馆
Painted Pottery Pot with a String Pattern
Banpo style from Yangshao Culture (4,800—3,600 BCE) Shanghai Museum

We call the kind of pottery made by Yangshao Culture people painted pottery 彩陶. The painted designs were applied before firing. The firing process fuses the painted design with the clay making it quite resistant to fading and degredation. This is one of the reasons that a large amount of painted pottery has survived. The designs were mostly painted with black or red paint and included geometric patterns, plants, and animals. The main pigment in the red paint is iron and the main pigments in the black paint are iron and manganese.

painted pottery
水器仰韶文化半坡类型公元前4500〜4000
首都博物馆
Painted Pottery Vase
Water Vessel, Banpo style from Yangshao Culture (4,500—4,000 BCE)
Capital Museum, Beijing

In the early period of pottery making the artifacts were fired in open fires. Temperature was hard to control but gradually people learned to control breakage by slowing the temperature at which the pottery cooled by covering it with ash and other materials. Pinching is the most basic way of making a pottery artifact. To do it you just mould a piece of clay by hand. This method is too crude to produce much of value. The next most sophisicated method is to stack strands of clay. This was one of the first ways of making practical utensils but the pottery was thick and hefty. A further development is to coil strands of clay around a mould. After they have been wrapped around the mould the clay can be smoothed out with a paddle. Some minority groups still make pottery this way.

painted pottery
仰韶文化庙底沟类型公元前4000〜3500
河南庙底沟遗址出土 首都博物馆
Painted Pottery Vessel
Miaodigou Style from the Yangshao Culture (c. 4,000—3,500 BCE)
Excavated at the Miaodigou Site, Hunan. Capital Museum, Beijing

Miaodigou 庙底沟 (c. 4,000—3,000 BCE) was a phase of the Yangshao Culture and successor to Banpo. The pictures above and below show painted pottery vessels from the Miaodigou phase. Discovered in 1956 in Shan County, Henan, Miaodigou, is a significant archaeological site. It is a part of the Yangshao Culture that remained after the transition to the Longshan Culture. In addition to pottery, the people of the Miaodigou phase used stone ware and bone utensils. Many of the pottery artifacts were used in rituals.

painted pottery
仰韶文化庙底沟类型公元前4000〜3500
河南庙底沟遗址出土 首都博物馆
Painted Pottery Food and Drink Vessel
Miaodigou Style from the Yangshao Culture (c. 4,000—3,500 BCE)
Excavated at the Miaodigou Site, Hunan. Capital Museum, Beijing

The potter's wheel was developed sometime around the middle of the Yangshao period.

declining curtain pattern
仰韶文化庙底沟类型公元前3600〜3000
河南庙底沟遗址出土 上海博物馆
Painted pottery bowl with a declining curtain pattern
Miaodigou Style from the Yangshao Culture (c. 3,600—3,000 BCE)
Excavated at the Miaodigou Site, Hunan. Shanghai Museum

The Majiayao Culture 马家窑文化 was related to a fork of the Yangshao Culture that moved westward. Majiayao Culture artifacts were first discovered in Gansu in 1923. Their range included the Upper Yellow River Basin in Qinghai and Gansu. The picture below shows a pot with a string design from the Majiayao Culture.

string pattern
马家窑文化公元前3100〜2700上海博物馆
Painted Pottery Pot with String Design
Majiayao Culture (c. 3,100—2,700 BCE)
Shanghai Museum

Banshan was a later phase of the Majiayao Culture. A pot with a lattice design from the Banshan phase is shown below.

a lattice pattern
马家窑文化半山类型公元前2600〜2300上海博物馆
Painted Pottery Pot with Lattice Design
Majiayao Culture, Banshan type (c. 2,600—2,300 BCE)
Shanghai Museum

A jar with a lattice design from the Machang phase is shown below.

a zigzag pattern
马家窑文化马厂类型公元前2200〜2000上海博物馆
Painted Pottery Jar with Zigzag Design
Majiayao Culture, Machang type (c. 2,200—2,000 BCE)
Shanghai Museum

A ring pattern is used to decorate the pot below.

a ring pattern
马家窑文化马厂类型公元前2200〜2000上海博物馆
Painted Pottery Pot with Ring Design
Majiayao Culture, Machang type (c. 2,200—2,000 BCE)
Shanghai Museum
Previous Contents Next