Art, throughout most of China’s history, was meant to express the artist’s good character and not merely be an exposition of his practical artistic skills. The real arts of merit in China were calligraphy and painting. The two most popular themes of Chinese painting were portraits and landscapes.
Portraits in Chinese art began in the Warring States Period (5th-3rd century BCE) and were traditionally rendered with great restraint, usually because the subject was a great scholar, monk or court official and so should, by definition, have a good moral character which should be portrayed with respect by the artist.
Dating to 151 CE or 168 CE, there are some 70 relief slabs which carry scenes of battles and famous historical figures, such as Confucius, all identified by accompanying texts and covering a chronological Chinese history in a pictorial record similar to a history book. Perhaps the most quintessential Chinese materials of the minor arts were jade and lacquer. Jade was especially esteemed in China for its rarity, durability, purity, and association with immortality. The state sponsored and supervised the production of lacquerware, with different schools of lacquer art producing common forms but with recognisably distinct designs.
The Chinese were the masters of pottery and ceramics. They produced everything from heavy and functional storage jars in earthenware to exquisitely decorated bowls in the most delicate of porcelain, from vases to garden stools, teapots to pillows.