08.11.2019 in Argumentative
Chinese Influence on European Culture

Prior to the great geographical discoveries, the attitude toward Eastern countries was based on the myth or fairy tale. Subsequently, East gained the status of a geographical and cultural reality; thus, becoming closer. However, at the same time, Eastern countries were wonderful, exotic and bizarre. In the XVIII century, Eastern ideas, namely religious, philosophical and artistic, began to penetrate into Europe. The influence of eastern culture on the western is explained by the inherent fascination with the archaic traditional societies, mystical worldview and spirituality. Cultural influence is reflected primarily in the field of art, which is the field that is able to combine experience of different cultures. A Chinese style made a significant influence on European art and architecture. The purpose of the paper is to study the oriental style and the specific impact of Chinese art on European culture. 

Stylistic Integrity of Chinese Art

China is the largest country in Asia. Its civilization has existed since the IV century BC and belongs to the most developed in ancient and medieval times. For several thousand years of existence, Chinese culture has produced wonderful works of art as well as many useful inventions. Furthermore, classical Chinese literature, philosophy and art have reached extraordinary heights and influenced European culture. 

Talking about the stylistic originality of Chinese art, first of all, it is necessary to emphasize that the Chinese culture is one of the oldest. During five thousand years, new types and genres of art and literature originated. However, many of them eventually disappeared or changed beyond all recognition, paving the way for the development of new phenomena. A distinctive feature of Chinese culture was the fact that none of its significant events passed unnoticed. Thus, all of them, while modifying and creating each other, formed new styles.


In fact, VII – XIII centuries were the periods of the development of feudalism and the highest peak of all areas of Chinese medieval culture. It was the reign of two states, namely Tang (618 -907) and Song (960 – 1279). At that time, one of the most considerable achievements of creativity, which are poetry and painting, were flourishing. Periods of Tang and Song were brilliant stages of culture when numerous types, forms and genres of art reached the golden age. Talking about painting of this historic time, it is the highest achievement of Chinese art. The reason is that it reflects the whole world of ideological representations with its admiration for the beauty of nature.

A social role of a person was considered the value in the Chinese civilization. A traditional genre of portraiture evidenced this particular worldview of Chinese. At the same time, Chinese artists did not try to show the details of a person’s appearance but tried to reflect the inner spirit. Moreover, Chinese painting is an association of art with poetry. On the Chinese paintings, people can find an image of the landscape with hieroglyphic inscriptions explaining the essence of the painting. Chinese painting is ambiguous. During the reign of foreign dynasties or in those years when the country was ravaged by cruel rulers, poets and painters produced poetry and paintings, putting a very different and hidden subtext in traditional subjects and forms.

From time immemorial, allegory, symbol and poetical interpretation of the world entered the Chinese reality. Apparently, a bridge over the lake, a cave in the rocks, a pavilion in the park often received such titles as Bridge of Orchids, Dragon’s Gate or Pavilion for the Hearing of the River. Talking about the Chinese landscape, it is always fantastic. Despite its reality, it represents observations of nature. In the Chinese landscape, there is often an image of mountains and water. In fact, it is a well-established old tradition associated with religious and philosophical understanding of the nature, when the two forces, namely active male “yang” and passive female “yin”, interact. Mountains, which are close to the sky, are an active force, while soft and deep water is a passive female force.

In ancient times, when these ideas appeared, mountains and water were deified as rulers of human life. Water brought harvests or terrible floods, depending on happiness or misery of people. Mountains were a place where the sun set. On their tops, they were contiguous to air. Although these ancient symbols lost their original meaning, they were the basis of a strong tradition of images of nature.

The architecture of China has even more old rules and traditions than painting. “The history of China’s architectural development can be traced back thousands of years to ancient times when China’s buildings were built from wood, supplemented by brick, tile and stone”. The main of them formed a very special art style, which differed from other countries. In fact, it was solemn and extremely decorative, reflecting both cheerful and philosophical spirit peculiar to the whole art of China. Thus, a Chinese architect was considered a poet and thinker. In the artistic culture of China, art and literature are organically linked. Poetry is characterized by lyricism and richness of an imagery line. Beauty of Chinese poetry and painting is an indissoluble synthesis that appeared on the basis of the teachings of the Tao.

The study of China started relatively recently, only at the end of the XIX century. However, for a long time, the true face of the great Chinese culture, which evoked a feeling of deep respect, remained unsolved. Nowadays, China preserves the values created by hard work and talent of its people.

Chinoiserie Style

In the XVII-XVIII centuries, Europe was hit by a real boom in Chinese culture. In the first half of the XVIII century, in Europe, a Rococo style appeared. Shortly before that, from Portugal, Spain, Holland and England unusual interior items came into sight of the French court and French nobility. They were exported by marine expeditions from China. Rapidly, passion of Europeans for the Chinese items became a good European style. Their use in the interior as well as further copying and imitation of the Chinese style was developed in one of the manifestations of the Rococo style, which is called in the French manner chinoiserie, which means the Chinese style. Artists of the XVIII century who worked in the Rococo style did not seek to reproduce the Chinese samples but creatively comprehended their essence. 

Chinoiserie is a definite European design based on Chinese motifs. It is a tangible and complete embodiment of an image of an ideal rich and distant country of China. Apparently, it became a new trend in decorative and fine arts. Items in this style are characterized by the use of motifs of Chinese art, the image of China, Chinese architecture and landscapes and imitation of Chinese lacquer. In the XVII-XIX centuries, in the era of Romanticism, country palaces, interiors and park pavilions were decorated in the trendy Chinese style. In the XVIII century, fascination with the Chinese style at the French court led to its spread throughout Europe from Palermo to St. Petersburg. In England, which was also addicted to Chinese motifs, people decorated houses and parks made in the English manner in the chinoiserie style.

An outstanding example of chinoiserie is a Chinese Palace in Oranienbaum, which was built in 1762-1768 by Antonio Rinaldi. There is also an opposite effect, namely passion for the European style in China. It is the so-called chinoiserie vice versa. In fact, this phenomenon began with the arrival of Portuguese traders in Guangzhou in 1517 due to the increased activity of the Dutch East India Trading Company, especially during the reign of Kangxi Emperor. At that time, European artists worked at the court of Emperor Qiang, in Beijing, and one of them was an Italian Giuseppe Castiglione. From 1715 he was in China since he knew Chinese art and mastered Chinese painting techniques on a par with European ones. Talking about Chinese porcelain, it was specially manufactured for export to Europe. However, the technique of painting on enamel was borrowed by the Chinese from France from the workshops of Limoges in the XVII-XVIII centuries. It was one of the bridges connecting European and Chinese national art.

In the late XIX – early XX centuries, during the period of Art Nouveau, European Symbolist poets drew attention to the art of China. They saw in Chinese painting the ability to charm objects and transfer from reality to dreams. Thus, owing to this fact, Chinese art is related to the European romantic tradition.

In such a way, the Chinese style or chinoiserie, as researchers believe, is one of the strongest and most stable flows in European aesthetics. A fantastic world of China stimulated imagination of Europeans by alluring visions of an exotic country. Excitement at the sight of luxury and splendor of oriental goods grew into feverish agitation as objects from China began to penetrate into European countries.

An object of an image in the painting is not a landscape in the European sense of the word but the subtly changing state of nature (impressionism) and the experience of this condition by a person. Therefore, a man portrayed in the landscape never occupies the main place since they look like an exterior bystander. The mood of the poetisized reality is conveyed in two manners. The first one is a careful brush based on the finest graphic of elaboration of details and clarity of lines, whereas the second manner is the expression of thoughts. The difference between them is in artistic freedom and erosion of ink, which create a sense of scattered prospects, bands of fog and endless distances.

In a Chinese tradition, there is no gap between the rational and expressive as well as ideological and unprincipled that is peculiar to European traditions of art. “Chinese painting is quite different from brightly colored Western oil painting because it is painted predominantly in ink on paper, with a small amount of water color”. Therefore, China did not have separate artistic directions, such as classicism, romanticism and fights of ideological movements. There is a tradition based on the thoughtful contemplation with regard to nature, and styles of painting differ not in the ambitions of artists but in the conditions of a depicted landscape. A personality of an artist defines another important feature of traditional Chinese aesthetics. Thus, a master does not think about the transience of life but cogitate about frailty of material things.

In wood carving and products made of bronze, there is a common geometrical ornament, which is surprisingly similar to Greek meander. Hereby, a dragon was a symbol of rain that was vital for farmers. Moreover, each month of the year was associated with a certain flower. Chrysanthemums are a symbol of autumn, wild plums symbolize winter, peonies represent spring, and lotuses are a symbol of summer. In the hottest month, a person with good taste will be at home enjoying the contemplation of a landscape with shady groves, where there is good shelter from heat. Furthermore, the image of dried bamboo trees and stones can be kept in the room at any time of the year. In fact, all these artistic techniques are reflected in the chinoiserie style and can be seen in the objects of European art.

Nowadays, the influence of the chinoiserie style is not exhausted. It is reflected in the construction of parks, interior design and manufacture of furniture as well as in all branches of applied arts. Thus, it provides a general idea of how the exotic world of China has become an integral part of the European aesthetic taste.

Gardens in China 

Landscape art is an integral part of the artistic and everyday culture of China. Its aesthetic was formed during several thousand years. In the course of its development, this kind of art was influenced by style-forming species of Chinese art, namely calligraphy, painting and music. It defined the parameters of the system of the Chinese domestic ensemble performing an important role in the cultural program of education of the person. Hereby, garden art implemented fundamental philosophical and ontological parameters of Chinese culture. They are expressed not only in the aesthetic form but also through planned energetic human exposure or at the level of a symbolic text. In this perspective, landscape art acted as an example of artistic modulation of the relationship between people and nature, carrying the deep semantic meaning and reflecting the cultural identity of the Chinese region.

In China, the principles of landscape composition dominated. In Chinese gardens, the idea of an eternal renewed nature was emphasized by the intricate contours of ponds and paths as well as the character of small architectural forms inextricably linked with the natural environment. Therefore, water and rocks, sand and moss, as well as bright floral accents are integral components of Chinese gardens.

Influence of Chinese Gardens

For many centuries, European garden art developed without external influence. Ornamental horticulture developed only in countries where economy reached a development threshold, allowing the surplus funds to spend on the aesthetic transformation of the space around the homes. In other words, garden art was inherent in highly developed countries, which is evidenced by various historical facts. Talking about the current stage of development of ornamental horticulture in Europe, it is closely linked with the architectural styles. 

Horticultural traditions of China greatly influenced the formation and establishment of gardens in East Asia and Western Europe. Thus, techniques used by Chinese gardeners affected the character of the gardens in other parts of the Earth. “Among all of the gardens in other parts of the world, none has earned more prestige in recent times than the Chinese”. Traditions of landscape art of China have come to other countries a long time ago. Over the centuries, this country influenced many areas of human activity, including the development processes of the park construction as one of the best examples of cultural expression and spirituality of nations. China’s impact on the neighboring Asian countries was evident and prolonged compared to European countries. “When the first descriptions of Chinese gardens reached Europe in the XVIII century, they started a revolution in taste”. In the XVI-XIX centuries, Chinese art of gardening penetrated into many European and Eastern countries. In the middle of the XVIII century, in Europe, there were planned free landscape parks, in the development of which the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment as well as the art of China played an important role. Initially, these parks were created in the UK and then in France and other European countries. The basis of the composition of the park landscape was the motives of the natural world. Parterres were interspersed with lawns, while artificial reservoirs and canals interconnected with lakes and rivers. The parks were full of romantic ruins and buildings imitating rural housing. 

To a small extent, images of landscapes in the chinoiserie style shifted in real landscape art. Quaint mountain sceneries with humpback bridges, light and graceful bamboo pavilions, waterfalls, boats with dragons and phoenixes depicted on canvas, porcelain, wallpaper and silk were the first garden plans that gave gardeners a new understanding of Chinese gardens. Initially, the style of chinoiserie in gardens and parks appeared in England, and then the fashion for unusual gardens spread to other countries of Europe.

The main elements in the landscape gardens were pagodas, pavilions and bridges, but they had small architectural forms. Therefore, pagodas and garden facilities with multi-layered Chinese roofs did not carry any semantic meaning. Their prototypes were both pagodas of Buddhist temples and garden towers, and more often, pictures of travelers used by architects and gardeners. The most famous building in Europe made in the chinoiserie style is a pagoda of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London. In imperial, royal, and princely gardens of Europe, there were architectural complexes built under the name Chinese Village. Their examples can be found in Sweden and Germany. 

Gradually, chinoiserie ceased to be a destiny of private property. In big cities of England, public entertainment gardens with Chinese motifs were built. In fact, since the end of the XVIII – early XIX century, in England, a new type of park Anglo-Chinese appeared. The image of the Anglo-Chinese garden was based on a combination of vast space, large trees, manicured lawns, Chinese pavilions and bridges, as well as the Greco-Roman temples, altars and even Turkish baths. However, all the buildings in the gardens had no philosophical and religious values. In fact, only their appearance was extremely important.

A new round of interest in gardens and parks of China started in Europe in the second half of the XX century. In the XX century, the situation in horticulture and park construction changed dramatically. In various European countries, Chinese gardens began to build. They were designed by Chinese architects and executed with regard to all the canons of classical Chinese gardening. The most part of these gardens was built in the framework of cultural exchange between the twin cities in order to demonstrate national garden art in the period of work of international horticultural exhibitions and as expositions of botanical gardens.

The Chinese landscape gardening tradition had a huge impact on China’s neighboring countries as well as the countries of Europe. However, the differences in ontological structures identified a different focus of cultural and aesthetic development of national traditions of landscape art in different countries. Thus, the phenomenon of landscape art of China reproduces only in close relationship with all its cultural traditions. 

Architecture of China

In the 40s of the XVIII century, near Peking, French architects built a summer palace Yuan-ming-yuan in the style of European Baroque. Approximately since that time, the inverse effect, namely the influence of Chinese architecture on Europe begins. Buildings in the Chinese style began to appear across Europe. With the beginning of the XVIII century, there is the beginning of the influence of Chinese architecture on the European one. However, the first effects of Chinese architecture on Europe were in the XVII century following the first trade relations with China. Nevertheless, chinoiserie reflected more on the details of ornamentation and interior decoration. Only in the XVIII century, China became recognized in the architectural forms of the Rococo style. 

In England, Germany and France, buildings of the Chinese style appeared. These buildings can be divided into four groups. Some of them are Chinese only in name without signing any features of Chinese architecture. However, in other buildings, there are some traits of Chinese features. They create a group of fantastic China. The third group is ornamental and decorative China. The principle of this group is based on the addition of a Chinese motif to the usual architectural monument. Finally, the most extensive group can be called false China. The desire to convey Chinese features in the European form of the last group goes deeper than in other groups. Nevertheless, the understanding of proportion and rhythm in these monuments are extremely far from China. In this sense, it is the typical false-Chinese work. 


A Chinese style left an appreciable trace in European art. Many European countries borrowed numerous things from Chinese art. Its features appeared in paintings, architecture and gardening. Chinese traditional art is very original and distinctive. Its philosophical principles as well as aesthetic preferences and tastes of Chinese people differ from European ones. China is not something solid and monolithic since this country has many faces and in many ways, it is still out of reach of the Western understanding.

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