Chinese arts under Mongol Rule

Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains

Dwellings in the Fuchun Mountains, by Huang Guangwang

While it is somewhat ironic to think about, under the relatively hostile, foreign rule of the Mongols during the Yuan dynasty, we see a massive flourishing of the arts, particularly in painting. Some of the more favored pieces are landscape paintings, such as Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains by Huang Guangwang, seen above. While an earlier piece during the Yuan Dynasty, we see the common theme of massive scale and intricate detail. We see everything. Unlike as the name would suggest, human presence in this piece is very minimal. We see some buildings, but largely we see the majesty and supremecy of nature.

Mongol rule's effect on the arts is somewhat bitter-sweet. While we know that it did have a positive impact, it is through a means that is less than kind. When they created the Yuan Dynasty, the Mongols of course made a significant number of government positions reserved for Mongols. The Chinese literati scholar-officials, an already cemented social class, thus found finding employment with the government either elusive or distasteful, sometimes both. Thus, they began to devote themselves to the arts, including things such as painting, or even maintaining gardens, something that many elite have done in China since the Zhou Dynasty.


Walking on Path in Spring

Walking on Path in Spring, by Ma Yuan

As time went on, we see the landscape painting shift from a hyper-accurate, busy style to something more relaxed; brush strokes are looser, and landscapes are more inclined to use negative space to, before this time, an extreme. As we can see in Walking on Path in Spring by Ma Yuan, the foreground is largely just a man and a few trees, while in the background we see some mountains shrouded in mists, but largely, approximately half of the piece is negative space. 


Being under a relatively oppressive rule that generally was predisposed to more or less ignoring them, artists began to create works in self-expression rather than merely capturing a subject in ink or clay or bronze. Largely helped with the protection of claiming their work was done due to Daoist or Buddhist beliefs, artwork transcended a simple visual medium to something that had commentary and transience. Art became political, while maintaining the popular asthetics of the time.


Chinese arts under Mongol Rule