The earliest Chinese paintings were created during the prehistoric periods. They were drawn with brushes and ink. At this time, most paintings were pictures of human figures. In the Han dynasty, paintings included details of life in ancient times.
From Prehistoric times to Han Dynasty, most paintings were pictures of human figures with common or imaginary animals added to relieve the figure. In the Warring States period quite a number of paintings were buried with the dead. They carried a meaning of bringing the dead person's spirit to heaven. Permitenary paintings showed the austere daily lives and hopes of the primitive civilians. Then, there were more on politics. In the Han Dynasty, the civilians had a higher living standard. The paintings showed banquets, historical figures and marching figures, all reflecting the happiness and enjoyments of life. Apart from the above, mythical people, spirits and animals were also painted. Some of the mythical people were imaginary ancestors of Chinese and the respected creator- Nu Wa. All these showed positive and beautiful believes and dreams.
Artists of this period were trying to encourage people to be loyal , faithful and righteous. This could explain why the paintings were of good themes.
They are mostly dug up by archaeologists in the past emperors' and dukes' coffins or tombs.Therefore, they were pieces of precious primary sources for the archaeologists.
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The artist used ink to outline the subjects first. Then, they would fill in colors. The paintings were colorful. The lines were clearly shown with the actions and shapes of the subjects. As the paintings were for appreciation of the beauty and the spread of ideas, artists did not paint from life. The figures were not in proportion.
As paper had not been invented yet, people made use of almost every flat surface for their paintings and artworks. Many paintings were produced on silk, which was a very expensive material. Some were painted on the walls of tombs as murals. There were also painted bricks on the wall. Some were on ceramics as decorations.
Most painters were very skillful but they remained anonymous.