Animals and Nature

Since the dawn of civilization, the natural world has had a significant impact on life in China. Because China has always been predominately an agricultural society, the people of China have always had a close relationship with the land. China has always had the largest cities on earth; they were usually built with surrounding walls, as can be seen in modern Xi’an or Beijing. Over several millennia, China was geographically isolated. The Pamir, Tianshan, and Himalaya mountain ranges, the vast deserts of the Gobi and Taklimakan, and large expanses of water from the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and the Pacific Ocean made the spread of ideas and goods to China difficult. Despite the geographical barriers, China was interacting with neighbors as early as the Bronze Age. From the nomadic tribes to the west, the people of China learned how to handle horses and construct chariots, among other skills. In the arts of China, animals and nature are common subjects, from real and imagined creatures shaped in the form of a vessel to natural and imagined environments depicted on lengthy scrolls. These connections with nature are deeply embedded in ancient Chinese belief systems like Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

Key Points

  • China has always had most of the largest cities on the planet, which require great social and natural engineering.
  • An enduring theme in the arts of China has been assigning attributes and symbolic meaning to animals and nature.
  • Animals and nature depictions in Chinese art can help one better understand the relationship and values Chinese cultures have had with the natural environment.
  • Religions and philosophies have shaped China’s associations and relationships with animals and nature.