All culture and art come from the dust and return to the dust.
At the beginning of the chaos, those pieces of dust, with conscience and dignity after absorbing the spirit of heaven and earth, jumped, danced and walked into the fantastic hall of cultures and art. In Babylon, engraved with hieroglyphics, they climbed up the tower of Babel, wanting to compete against God in height. This caused them to fall apart and perish. In other parts of the world, they walked slowly, still with bumps and jumps, starting from the cuneiform, all the way to modern civilization for five or six thousand years.
It has been thousands of years when the Africans are not able to feed their mouths.This might be the first time they feel proud of their culture as archaeological arts found in their home stones show their ancestors were the earliest men on earth. Ancient Egypt was the gift of the Nile, as more of their written language has been noted in their tombs, monuments, temples, and on the walls or stones, known as the “holy book.” In addition to the invention of toilet papyrus, we know now, the ancient Egyptians were the world’s first to know how to use the pen and ink in writing.
The Arabic alphabet is well known and used by everyone. This is a great invention of the Arab nation. The sage of the Islamic world said: “The Pursuit of knowledge is the duty of every Muslim men and women.” Yes, most do agree, the Muslims have shown their great ability in geometry and mathematics. “The Quran says,” Even if knowledge is as far as in China, we should ask for it. “More quotes about Islam’s industriousness are recorded in the Islamic canon.
Written text is the root of culture. Ancient Chinese used ropes to make knots as taking notes and made textures in the Oracle and pottery. This was the origin of the text. According to the Analytic Dictionary of Characters, Cang Jie created the text called hieroglyphics, their production was based on the shape and sound. Due to the emergence of the written words, historical events can be recorded; farewell to the history of mouth to mouth communication, humans has entered a new era of civilization. Because of the text and clay, the Babylon Gardens, the pyramids of Egypt, the Mount Olympus, the Temple of Zeus, the Great Wall and Terracotta Warriors and Horses, the European medieval castles, all these symbols of ancient civilizations have become vivid, as history has been written into those muddy and solid wall corners and every piece of clay from there can now be called “culture”.
According to the Book of Arts and Crafts Making, to make porcelain, there were 72 steps in the production. After glaze, painted porcelain is placed into a box called the saggar. Then it is time to ignite the kiln. Fire starts from the bottom to the top and moves about the kiln for twenty-four hours. After going through the seventy-two processes, in chemistry with water and fire, the soil shall be firmly combined into pottery and porcelain. With furnishings, different characteristics of the clay turn into a variety of fantastic arts, or beautiful and elegant ceramic utensils for daily use or decoration. Isn’t that amazing?
Due to the lack of historical data, people on the Ganges know very little about their prehistoric civilization. Thanks to the Silk Road of ceramics, tea and silk trade, history gradually becomes clear. In the Mesolithic caves of the ancient Indians, rock paintings frequently appear, showing the vivid scenes of hunting and other human activities. The oldest known Indian civilization is the Harappa culture in the third century BC. Later, the Persians and the Greeks invaded India and brought about a new culture. From the Ashoka period to the 2nd century BC, the most precious legacy of the Kush period was Mahayana Buddhism and Gandhara art. This Greek-style Buddhist art influenced the style of Buddha images and grottoes in various parts of East Asia, such as the Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang and the Longmen Grottoes. Following Zhang Qian’s footsteps, we have found evidence of the East-West cultural exchange through the Silk Road.
North American Indians have their little brothers Maya and Inca. But their ancestors are hard to find as their culture lacks “written evidence”. That’s why their civilization has been quiet for a long time when the Chinese that thrived are showing off their ancient times. The ancient Egyptians, Indians, and Babylonians “were jealous or even angry” when they compared their achievements with the ancient Chinese. It was these peoples who gave the name “China” to all the ceramics in the East-West trade and recognized them as the greatest works of art. They thought that the grandsons of Genghis Khan had come for trade, not destruction. They had been so naive!
“The ospreys walk on the islet in the river. The modest, retiring, virtuous, young lady, our prince is a good mate for you.” This is China’s earliest poetry, which tells the pursuit of not just beautiful girl ladies but arts and culture. The lyric sounds like music and comes from the heart of man. But the main idea is not obscene or nasty, it’s somewhat noble and romantic.
A party must have wine and singers. Ancient China has precepts to advise people not to drink. But their officials love to drink and need young girls as mates for singing and dancing. Li Bai, the most famous poet in the Tang Dynasty also loved to drink. His words were poetry when he drank, as he said, “I, Li Bai, am a poet with dignity. I do not write poetry to serve the elites or make them happy. Succumbing to them makes me very unhappy.” The Tang Dynasty was a great period when the Chinese lived in the romance of dignity, in the openness of prosperity. During that period, in the capital city, bizarrely, a special silk dress became very popular amid young girls and even concubines. Under that dress, beautiful girls did not wear an underwear.
“When will the moon rise? I have raised my glass of wine and asked the Heavenly Palace.” Who was singing there? Lin Yutang said: “an incurable optimist, a great humanitarian, a people’s friend, a great writer, a great calligrapher, innovative painter, brewers, an engineer, a hater of Puritanism , a yogic Buddhist, a great Confucian politician, a secretary of the emperor, a bishop, a kind judge, a politically recalcitrant person, a moonlit wanderer, a poet, a clown.” He was the great poet Su Dongpo; all his writings were culture and art.
Literature has its character. King Wendi of the Kingdom of Wei was jealous of the talents that his brother Cao Zhi had in literature. He ordered his brother to write a poem within the time of taking seven steps, not allowing the word “brother” in his writing. Cao Zhi did finish his poem within the time limit: “Beans cooked into juice, its dried plant to make a fire. Do we come from the same root? The plant is burning under while the beans weeping in the kettle.” The brothers fought each other for the title of crown prince as kids and for the same lady as grown-ups. The devil appears frequently as a character in works of literature and popular culture.
On a spring day of the ninth year of Lasting Peace Reign two thousand years ago, a group of elites gathered at the Pavilion of Orchids by the side of Huiji Mountain. Amid the beauty of mountain ranges, green forests, tender bamboos, and clear running rivers, these scholars, poets, and calligraphers wrote articles to express their feelings and tell what had happened during their meeting. As their articles were to be collected into a book, a preface was needed and the most famous calligrapher Wang Xizhi was asked to do the job. In about two hundred words, Mr. Wang wrote about this gathering in simple terms but his calligraphy was so elegant and magnificent that all the attendants said their appraisal as “maverick like heavenly horses running freely in the Heavenly Palace”. Ever since its birth, this piece of calligraphy was regarded a masterpiece of the country. Four hundred years later, it was kept by Li Zhi, the crown prince of the Tang Dynasty. When Emperor Taizong was about to die, he asked the crown prince for this calligraphy as a sacrifice to be buried in his tomb. Thus, for over a thousand years, this calligraphy has been kept underground with the remains of the emperor.
Here I must mention another masterpiece, a painting called “the Clear and Bright River Banks”, often regarded as China’s No. One divine article. Vividly in the painting, there are 800 human figures, over 60 animals, over 20 boats, 30 houses, 20 chariots, 8 sedan chairs, over 170 trees, different characters in different colors, beautiful scenery, beautiful landscape. That was the capital city of China’s Song Dynasty about one thousand years ago. It is not just a beautiful painting, but also a resourceful historical record that tells too much about history without using words.
The Dreams of Red Mansions won the same popularity in China as Don Quixote in Europe. There are the books you read for no other reason than the fact that they feed your soul with the most beautiful writing. The Dreams of Red Mansions shall be one of the best on the bookshelves of not just Chinese. The Romance of the Western Chambers might be another one when we talk about literary indulgence. These novels consumed the lifetime efforts of the authors. Those words are hot tears and blood dropping on plain paper.
Without the Buddhist or Taoist humble character in their writings, literature in Confucianism might have caused too many deaths. “those who dare die, and those who do not dare survive.” Art and culture in the form of literature live long in a middle way. If they talk reasons, death is waiting for them, somewhere not far away.
The Bible says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The Spirit of God is the ancestor of Western culture. “Ever since the creation of the heavens and the earth, God’s eternal power and divine nature are clearly known, though they can not be seen by the eyes, but by what they have created, they will know.” What they have created was no more than culture and art. “Jesus Christ was born to save the people from sin” means that the spirit has a mission “to save mankind”, although the process is bloody. In the nineteenth century, the United States began to develop a self-contained Western culture, including fashion, entertainment, technology, and politics, which gradually show their dominance in the Western world.
We know that the White House has the style of the ancient Greek temple because the Americans are trying to find sustenance in the European civilization. Ancient Greek and Roman cultures are at the core of European civilization. In the first century BC, the Roman Empire captured Greece and acquired the ancient Greek science, philosophy, democracy, architecture, literature and art before taking them to a higher level. With the rise of Christianity in Rome, the Bible became the source of Western literature and art and has a huge impact on almost all the areas of Western culture.
Western cultures like to explore human nature. “Selfishness conceives a child, and gives birth to sin, and as sin grows, it gives birth to death.” Crusade, initiated by the Roman Catholic Church, is a religious war that lasted for nearly two hundred years when the feudal lords and knights fought badly on the land of the Mediterranean countries. As many as eleven campaigns had a far-reaching impact on the cultural fusion of the West and Central Asia. In the fourteenth century, Greece’s cultural heritage was re-discovered in Western Europe, so that the Renaissance was born.
Some people believe that the Mona Lisa was the wife of a businessman in Florence and some people say that she was a consul’s mistress. Ask Da Vinci, maybe Mona Liza was his sister-in-law or his lover. I guess she must be the maid of the Virgin that God had sent from heaven. Do you think you can read her mysterious smile or introverted expression?The age of ours has grown from a dreamlike young lady into lazy old woman with wrinkled face, no turning back, only marching forward to the end of life.
Naked, open, brave, strong, and confident, David’s statue by Michelangelo is the ideal of the perfect male and the embodiment of a heroic image. The Hong Kong cultural circles regarded that as pornography and proposed to ban it in their territory. They might do the same with Raphael’s paintings of the Virgin and the baby, the beautiful and peaceful scene of Biblical solemnity. These masterpieces of the Renaissance have a great impact on the history of European civilization and are important milestones in the political, economic and cultural life of Europe. They go far beyond the cultural realm, marking Europe’s departure from the darkness of medieval times toward liberty and democracy.
Before Juliet’s death, she grabbed Romeo’s dagger and said, “Oh, happy dagger! This is your sheath. You stab me and let me die.” She protested against Romeo’s oath, revealing that life was impermanence. The moon has a profit and loss; if you swear by it, maybe your love will be as impermanent as it is. In the drama “Romeo and Juliet”, Shakespeare was trying to explore feud, sex, and death. Some people think that Shakespeare was a fraud, as his background made his familiarity with high society almost impossible.
Voltaire lived long in the hearts of the French people as he had said: “I do not agree with your point of view, but I swear to defend your right to speak.” Hugo praised that Voltaire’s name represents not a person, but a whole era. The Age of Enlightenment, different from the past of having theocracy as the main authority of knowledge, dares to say that the rational development of science and art can improve human life. Francis Bacon advocated the pursuit of truth, telling that seeking truth was the highest moral character. Kant held that “we shall dare to seek knowledge” and that “freedom is self-discipline.”
After the sixteenth century, the Western culture born out of the Renaissance spread to the New World by the explorers, colonists, businessmen and missionaries. A number of new ideas, such as freedom and equality, civil rights, justice and democracy, and institutional ideas were put into practice. Today these norms have become the cornerstone of modern Western culture. But unfortunately, the development of art and science has not brought about happiness to humans, humanity is still working hard to find its place in degeneration and social injustice.
All beautiful art and culture come from illusion and return to illusion.
Changes in this world are hard to predict and the outcomes are often surprising. Ancient people had this understanding, “intelligence, knowledge, and abilities cause no good but disasters”, either to the society or the human himself. The pursuit of the promising shall be in vain. Those who have a good idea rack their brains, fight their nights and harvest their emptiness. Chuang-tzu even said, “do not educate, education will sprain nature”. The Old Testament says, “For there is much wisdom, and there is much sorrow, and when you add knowledge, you increase sorrow.” “When the sun comes out, the wind blows, the grass withers, and the flower fades, and the beauty disappears, and the rich man decays in what he does.”
One day in the autumn of 1940, four children in Dordogne, France, while playing with their pet dog, accidentally found a cave into which their dog had fallen. They used a rope to help them down to the cave and found a large mural of drawings inside. According to radio-carbonized dating, these drawings were roughly completed by people fifteen thousand years ago. This shows that there used to be a great civilization there which later disappeared. “I have died, and now live, and live forever and ever, and hold the keys to death and hell.”
Jesus Christ is the eternal God. In order to save mankind from sin, he descended into a man, incarnated. Jesus inherited his father’s business as a carpenter. The Jewish leader accused Jesus of “calling himself the Son of God” and crucified him. This is the shame of the Jews. In retribution, in 79 AD, their country was destroyed by the Roman Empire. In Jerusalem, their divine temple was demolished, survived only a broken “Wailing Wall”. The Jews are scattered throughout Europe and Asia. Historically, the Jews have faced many devastating disasters and persecution. The Catholic Pope confessed that Christianity had confronted the Jews, causing them great sufferings.
The Crusaders had the massacre in Antioch and Jerusalem, leaving an indelible pain to the Muslims. The Crusades destroyed the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. The development of architecture is the greatest achievement of medieval art. Magnificent are the Byzantine churches, Romanesque churches and Gothic churches, each with artistic creativity and a combination of religious architecture. But time is so cruel that Milo Venus mysteriously has lost his arms, the Roman Colosseum survives only in ruins.
The Old Summer Palace was once China ‘s greatest royal garden which housed the greatest Chinese civilization. 130 years ago, the British and French troops attacked Beijing, took the treasures, and burned the garden. Even worse, the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution continued the burning and looting which totally brought down the glory. It was a time of intense assault on traditional Chinese values, with many more historical sites destroyed and cultural and religious beliefs vigorously denounced.
According to the Historical Records by Sima Qian, General Xiang Yu had a massacre in Xianyang, the capital city of the Qin Dynasty. He burnt the imperial palaces and the fire lasted for over three months. The event happened only twenty years after the First Emperor ordered to burn all the classics and historical records before his time.
The ephemera is such a tiny creature with thin feathers. “Oh! Beautiful feathers, your colorful clothes! I am very sad, so sad that I don’t know where is my abode. The wind blows, and I fly with it. I don’t know where it is going to take me.” All beautiful arts and cultures, so ephemeral, come from the earth and return to the earth.