The Ch'ing Period
BEGINNING with the Manchu dynasty in 1644 there was in the arts a renewed period of vigorous activity, especially under K'ang Hsi ( 1662-1722) and his grandson, Ch'ien Lung ( 1736-1795), who were among the most active patrons of the arts that China has ever known. It was during these years that the famous Imperial Encyclopedia of Calligraphy and Painting, the Ch'in Ting P'ei We'n Chai Shu Hua Pu, was issued in one hundred volumes. As far as the artistic merit of this tremendous output is concerned, there is a great difference in scholarly opinion. The Chinese themselves have considered the outstanding artists of the early Ch'ing period, especially the four Wangs, as among the greatest of Chinese painters, while most Western critics have for a long time tended to dismiss the entire artistic output as too eclectic to be of interest. Only in recent years have Western scholars devoted their attention to this vast field and begun to take a more positive attitude towards the art of the Manchu dynasty. 81 The truth probably lies somewhere between the two positions, for clearly the painting of the last three centuries cannot be compared with the great art of the preceding ages, yet, at the same time, Western critics, having trained themselves entirely by a study of the Southern Sung painters whose works first became available in the magnificent Japanese publications, could not appreciate the painting of the famous Ch'ing masters.