Tang Dynasty Dancer

Tang Dynasty Dancer
Country/People: Chinese (Tang dynasty)

Dance:  Palace White Linen Dance

Border   Porcelain ceramic pattern, T’ao Ti’eh corners 


你好[ nǐhǎo ]Hello



The Tang Dynasty (618-907) was a period of peace and high culture and is considered China’s Golden Age.  In this period, the academy for poets was founded, and nearly 50,000 poems were written and preserved. Woodblock printing was established, which helped the spread of Buddhism, and Buddhist Festivals became popular.  Music and Dance were part of courtly activities, and Chinese Painting developed and advanced, thanks to the patronage of the imperial court.  One of the dances performed for the emperor was the “White Linen” dance (白紵舞), in which the female dancers gracefully move long, extensions of their sleeves in circular motions, meant to resemble clouds chasing the moon. Although the dance existed as far back as the Jin dynasty (265-316), it reached its peak during the Tang dynasty.  I was fortunate to see a performance of Tang Emperor dances and music while in Xi’an in 2005, and this dance was by far the most elegant and graceful.


During the Tang dynasty, times were not only prosperous and  peaceful, but also in some ways liberating, at least as far as fashion was involved.  Looser silk dresses, longer wing-like sleeves and even low-cut gowns were popular. Hair styles usually covered the temples, but had a bun and braid loops in a variety of styles, such as the one on our figure.  Silk fabric weaving also flourished during this period. Sericulture or silk weaving had been part of Chinese culture for thousands of years, but during the Tang dynasty there were eight different types of silk fabrics, classified by their particular weaves, such as gauzes, damasks, brocades, crepes, and tapestries. (Silk was a precious commodity and traded for horses on the Silk Road.) While the dresses of the dancers may have been silk, the ribbon-like sleeves were made from a “bast” fiber, (hemp, ramie or kudzu), classified as linen.


Border: The top and bottom mid sections of the border are inspired by Chinese porcelain patterns. Porcelain was probably “discovered” during the Tang dynasty, but production really flourished in later dynasties, reaching peak periods during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing dynasty (1644-1912). The addition of kaolin, a soft, white clay material and firing the ceramics at a very high temperature are what gives porcelain pieces their distinctive, translucent look.  For a long time, the formula was a prized secret of the Chinese. (That is why this fine ceramic ware is often called “China” in other countries.) The corner images are t’ao-t’ieh figures found on bronze vessels from the much earlier Shang Dynasty (ca. 1600–1046 B.C.E.).  The Shang t'ao-t'ieh image exists around a pair of circles or ovals placed near enough to each other to intimate eyes.  It is the presence of these eyes that gives the t'ao-t'ieh its life and creates in it an entity, albeit an incomplete one.  Since the ability to produce a representational figure existed during the Shang dynasty, the lack of such representational form in the t'ao-t'ieh images suggests a purposeful omission.  I suspect that the t'ao-t'ieh depicts a spirit or supernatural deity whose form is unknown, but whose being is incorporated into the bronze.


References and Links

History of Porcelainhttps://www.artistictile.net/store/info-history-of-porcelain.htmlSong, Candice. 9.3.2021. The Tang Dynasty Show

Traditional clothing of Chinese dynasties: from Xia and Shang Dynasties to Tang Dynasty http://nationalclothing.org/asia/39-china/352-traditional-clothing-of-chinese-dynasties-from-xia-and-shang-dynasties-to-tang-dynasty.html
The Tang Dynasty in China: A Golden Era Asian Traditional Theatre & Dance. https://disco.teak.fi/asia/the-tang-dynasty-618-907/


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The Art and Writing of Barbara Rizza Mellin