Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.

Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.



China under the Ming and Manchu Emperors



The native Ming dynasty established itself in China in 1368, but the central power of the emperor was already in decline by the 15th century. The country was under constant pressure from Mongolian tribes and also had to defend itself against the advance of the Europeans. Economic prosperity led to an enormous increase in the population. The country expanded into Central Asia under the Manchu emperors, but was showing internal stagnation in its bureaucratic and intellectual traditionalism.


The Beginnings of the Ming Dynasty

In 1368, the Mings drove the Mongolians out of China, but they were constantly forced to defend their rule against internal and external enemies. However, the court eunuchs eventually came to exercise real power.


2 Zhu Yuanzhang, a former Buddhist monk, drove the Mongolian Yuan dynasty out of China from the south and founded the 1 Ming dynasty as Emperor Hung-Wu.

2 Zhu Yuanzhang, Emperor Taizu

1 The Forbidden City, residence of the emperor since the Ming era

A cruel despot, 3, 4 officials and ministers were limited to counseling functions, and the administration of the 13 provinces was carried out directly by the ruler— in this case a ruler who penalized the slightest infraction with cruel punishment.

3 A civil servant (right) and a military
servant (left) from the Ming era

4 Portrait of an educated dignitary from the Ming era

As the peasants had supported his rise to power, the emperor instituted a redistribution of land, made taxes more equitable.and established a work colony for the destitute. Defense against the Mongols and Japanese invasions on the coasts remained a pressing military problem during the whole of the Ming period.

As early as 1387, China began building fortifications on the east and southeastern coasts and continued construction of the 5 Great Wall.

Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty

5 The Great Wall

Emperor Chengzu, who ascended the throne in 1402, built a fleet of ships and intensified overseas trade. The eunuchs were now increasingly replacing the officials in the internal administration until they became, under Chengzu's successor, the actual instrument of rule. The leading eunuch Zheng undertook sea voyages to Africa and developed a market for African products in China: an endeavor which he did not persue. After Chengzu, there followed a scries of weak or very young emperors, who were effectively controlled by court cliques and the eunuchs, while Mongolian leaders were able to advance several times as far as Nanjing and Beijing. By 1550 all of the court offices and control of the bureaucracy were in the hands of the cliques and court favorites. Through the reinforcement of the teachings of CONFUCIUS in the academies and civil service schools, the internal structure of the state was able to remain relatively stable despite occasional rebellions in the rural provinces.



Wang Yangming

The greatest Ming philosopher, Wang Yangming (1472-1529), worked to counter the intellectual torpor in China. He combined Neo-Confucianism with Chinese Buddhism and reinforced the intellectual fusion of both systems.

Furthermore, he developed the idea of" intuitive" as opposed to rational knowledge of what is good and bad, with which many political decisions were justified.

Wang Yangming

see also:




Wang Yangming

Chinese philosopher
Wade-Giles romanization Wang Yang-ming, original name Wang Shouren, literary name Bean, canonized as Wencheng, Japanese Ōyō-mei

born 1472, Yuyao, Zhejiang province, China
died 1529, Nan’an, Jiangxi

Chinese scholar-official whose idealistic interpretation of neo-Confucianism influenced philosophical thinking in East Asia for centuries. Though his career in government was rather unstable, his suppression of rebellions brought a century of peace to his region. His philosophical doctrines, emphasizing understanding of the world from within the mind, were in direct conflict with the rationalism espoused by Zhu Xi, the outstanding and highly esteemed neo-Confucian philosopher of the 12th century, and Wang’s “false teaching” was for a time proscribed.

Early life and adventures
Wang was the son of a high government official. At 15 he visited a frontier pass and practiced archery. When he married, he was so absorbed in discussing “nourishing life” (yangsheng), the search for immortality, with a Daoist priest that he stayed at the Daoist temple throughout the wedding night. In 1492 he obtained the civil service degree “a recommended person.” Visiting his father in Beijing, he sat quietly in front of some bamboos trying to discern their principles as he thought was taught by Zhu Xi, only to fall ill after seven days.

Having failed in the metropolitan civil service examinations in 1493 and 1495, he shifted his interest to military arts and Daoist techniques for longevity. In 1499, however, Wang passed the “advanced scholar” (jinshi) examination and was appointed a Ministry of Works official. He recommended to the emperor eight measures for frontier defense, strategy, and administration, which earned him early recognition. In 1500 he was appointed a Ministry of Justice secretary and in 1501 was ordered to check prisoners’ records near Nanjing. He corrected injustices in many cases.

His health declined, and he returned home to recuperate in the Yangming ravine, where he probably practiced Daoist techniques. In 1504 he returned to Beijing, supervised provincial examinations in Shandong, and then became a secretary in the Ministry of War. Beginning in 1505, scholars became his students. He lectured on making up one’s mind to become a Confucian sage and attacked the practice of reciting Classics and writing flowery compositions. Conservative scholars accused him of courting popularity. Zhan Roshui, a respected scholar-official, however, praised and befriended him.

A critical event occurred in 1506, when Wang defended a supervising censor who had been imprisoned for attacking a powerful, corrupt eunuch. For his actions Wang was beaten with 40 strokes, imprisoned for several months, and banished to remote Guizhou as head of a dispatch station, where he lived among aborigines and often fell sick. The hardship and solitude led him to realize, suddenly one night at the age of 36, that to investigate the principles (li) of things is not to seek for them in actual objects, as the rationalistic Zhu Xi had taught, but in one’s own mind. Thus he brought Idealist (xinxue) neo-Confucianism—as first taught by a 12th-century philosopher, Lu Xiangshan—to its highest expression.

Political and military career
A year later he pronounced another epoch-making theory: that knowledge and action are one (zhixing heyi). One knows filial piety (xiao), he argued, only when one acts upon it, and correct action requires correct knowledge. As a magistrate in Jiangxi in 1510, he carried out many reforms, including a novel “joint registration system” whereby 10 families shared responsibility for security. An imperial audience followed and then appointments as Ministry of Justice secretary, Ministry of Personnel director (1511), Imperial Studs vice minister (1512), State Ceremonials minister (1514), and assistant censor in chief and governor of southern Jiangxi and adjacent areas (1516).

Bandits and rebels had controlled Jiangxi for decades. In four military campaigns in 1517–18, Wang eliminated them. He carried out reconstruction, tax reform, joint registration, establishment of schools, and the “community compact” to improve community morals and solidarity.

On his way to suppress a rebellion in Fujian in 1519, he learned that Zhu Chenhao, prince of Ning, had rebelled. He turned to surround the prince’s base, Nanjang. Four days later he joined battle with the prince and captured him. Because Wang had been in contact with the prince, jealous officials at the capital accused him of plotting rebellion and attacking the prince only because imperial armies were approaching. One of his pupils, whom he had sent to the prince for negotiation, was imprisoned. The crisis was soon over, however, and Wang was made governor of Jiangxi.

In 1521 the new emperor appointed him war minister and awarded him the title of earl of Xinjian. His father died in 1522, and he remained home to mourn his loss. For more than five years he stayed home and discussed doctrines with his followers, who came from various parts of China and numbered in the hundreds. These conversations and those earlier constitute his main work, Chuanxilu (“Instructions for Practical Living”). In 1521 he had enunciated his doctrine of complete realization of the innate knowledge of the good.

Posthumous reputation
In June 1527 Wang was called to suppress a rebellion in Guangxi. He succeeded in six months. His coughing, which had bothered him for years, then grew acute, and he became very ill. He died on his way back in Nan’an, Jiangxi, in 1529. Because a powerful minister hated him, his earldom and other hereditary privileges were revoked, disinheriting his two sons. Some who protested were dismissed or banished; his teachings were severely proscribed. Thirty-eight years later (1567), a new emperor honoured him with the title of marquis of Xinjian and the posthumous title of Wencheng (“Completion of Culture”). Beginning in 1584 he was offered sacrifice in the Confucian temple, the highest honour.

Wang’s philosophy spread all over China for 150 years and greatly influenced Japanese thought during that time. He is regarded as one of the greatest Chinese thinkers in the last 2,000 years.

Wing-tsit Chan

Encyclopaedia Britannica



The End of the Mings and Beginning of Christian Influence

The power of the Mings decreased during the 16th century until the Manchus deposed them in 1644. At the same time Europeans, the Jesuits in particular, were able to gain a foothold in China.


As the Ming emperors had to station large armies on the coasts and the northern and southern borders of the empire to defend against external enemies, colonies were established in the borderlands, leading to the settlement of previously uninhabited regions. Due to the Mongolian threat, the capital was also moved from Nanjing to Beijing.

The economy of the Ming period was based primarily on expanded trade and agriculture; experiencing an upswing in the 1600s with the cultivation of new, economically useful plants such as potatoes, 6 tobacco, corn, and peanuts.

6 A tea manufactory in China: Tea is pressed,
packed, and sold to European merchants,
18th century

As a result of the general prosperity, the population surged. A merchant and banking class emerged in the rapidly growing cities, making its way into the state administration, while the emperors remained weak through an extravagant lifestyle and the power of the eunuchs. During the reign of Emperor Wan Li, the country was shaken by innumerable revolts. In addition, a Japanese attempt to occupy the Chinese vassal state of Korea in 1592 was answered with a costly defensive battle in 1593-98. Between 1594 and 1604, China also unsuccessfully attempted to decrease the influence of the East India Company through wars in An-nam, Burma, and Siam.

After the Portuguese had established a trading colony in 11 Canton in 1516—particularly for the 7 tea trade—and Macao as a trading base in 1567, Christians began missionary work in China.

11 European trade branches in Canton

7 Ivory tobacco tin

The Jesuit 10 Matteo Ricci lived in Beijing from 1601 and as a scholar had access to the highest court circles.

In 1613, the emperor entrusted the Jesuits with reforming the calendar, and 9 Johann Adam Schall von Bell, who worked on it, soon became director of the 12 imperial observatory, was conferred the rank of first-class mandarin, and functioned as the regent of the young emperor from 1651.

The Jesuits assumed Chinese clothing and manner and considered Confucianism to be compatible with Christianity.

10 The Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci

9 Johann Adam Schall von Bell

12 The royal observatory in Beijing


8 Vase with a dragon motif,
beginning of 15th century

During the reign of the last Ming emperor, despite the political weaknesses of the empire, China experienced a blossoming of literature, science, the arts, and above all, 8 porcelain production.

The political weakness was exploited from the end of the 16th century on by Jurchen tribes in Manchuria, who, under the leadership of Nurhachi, rose up against the Chinese administrators and allied themselves with the Mongolians. By 1621 they had conquered Manchuria and under their leader Abahai marched toward Beijing. In 1636, the Manchus (Jurchen) proclaimed themselves an imperial dynasty under the name of Da Qing ("Great Purity"). When the last Ming emperor, Chongzhen. committed suicide in 1644, the Manchus entered Beijing.



The Reign of the Manchus

The foreign Manchu rulers soon assumed Chinese customs, promoted science and the arts, and expanded Chinese influence into Central Asia. This last imperial dynasty lasted over 250 years.


The 1 Manchus, or Qings ruled over the last Chinese imperial dynasty (1644-1911).

To consolidate power they had to first crush the revolts of rival tribes and do away with the remaining Mings in the south. They secured their influence in politics and the administration and then demanded the adoption of their customs, including the wearing of pigtails and traditional Manchu dress.

Thousands of the 2 native Chinese officials committed suicide, but the majority of the Chinese population soon accustomed themselves to the political and cultural dominance of foreigners.

The long reigns of the three Manchu emperors between 1661 and 1796 were political, economic, and cultural high points. The emperors promoted the publication of encyclopedias and literary works, and the educated officials and upper class occupied themselves with literature and painting. Christianity was initially tolerated if the representatives were open-minded scholars.

1 Emperor Schi-tsu, the founder of the
Manchu (Qing) Dynasty

2 Infantrymen escorting two dignitaries by horse

4 Emperor K'ang-hsi brought about an extensive reconciliation of the various peoples of the empire, moved against official corruption, and integrated Taiwan into the empire after expelling the Dutch in 1662.

By 1681, he was able to establish the central government's authority over all parts of the land. K'ang-hsi entered into a treaty with Russia in 1689—the first Chinese treaty with a European power—ending Russian encroachment in the Amur River region. In 1696, he drove off the Jungars, who had been advancing into East Turkistan and Outer Mongolia since 1678.

When the Jungars occupied Tibet in 1717-1718, K'ang-hsi began an 3 intensified Chinese engagement in Central Asia.

Tibet was taken back in 1720 by the Chinese and integrated into the empire as a protectorate with authority administered by resident commissioners or ambans. Although relative economic prosperity continued, the population explosion created a food crisis. The population of China rose (according to a popular census) from 60 million in 1578 to more than 100 million in 1662,143 million in 1741, 275 million in 1796, and 374 million by 1814. Agricultural land-use, however, was not able to keep pace with territorial expansion and population growth. Farming methods also remained underdeveloped.

4 Emperor K'ang-hsi's second journey to the south,
rolled picture by Wang Hui, silk painting, ca.1700

3 The Panchen Lama lodged in this temple near Beijing
when he visited the Qing court in 1780.



China under Yung-cheng and Hung-li

The preferential treatment of Christians ended abruptly under Yung-cheng. Hung-li then led the empire to international splendor and high esteem once again, but internally the seeds of intellectual inflexibility and corruption were being sown.


K'ang-hsi's son 5 Yung-cheng instituted a complete change in politics and culture in China.

He institutionalized imperial power in 1729 by replacing the ponderous "inner cabinet" with a modern state council as advisory body. He also prevented the influence of imperial relatives, excluded eunuchs from higher offices, and installed an information service and a secret police. He increased the wages of the civil servants to discourage second incomes and integrated the finance and tax systems. The open influence of Christians in China also ended during the reign of Yung-cheng.

In 1705, the pope had declared Confucianism and Christianity to be incompatible, and Catholic missionaries had begun preaching against 8 CONFUCIUS.

The emperor thereupon banned Christianity, expelled the missionaries, and persecuted native Christians.

China reached the greatest extent of its expansion during the long reign of 6 Hung-li (173s-1796).

It was simultaneously forced to wage colonial wars for many years, bringing Uighurs, Kazakhs.

Kirghiz, and Mongols under Chinese rule.

5 Emperor Hung-li

8 Worshippers at a statue of Confucius

6 Emperor Yung-cheng

Beijing was magnificently built up with 7 residences and 9 temples, yet the empire was showing signs of intellectual ossification: the Chinese civil service exams were filled with more questions about orthodox Neo-Confucianism than practical knowledge, necessary political and economic reforms did not occur, and the state administration became extremely conservative.

The arbitrary use of power by officials provoked revolts of the populace, and mafia-like secret societies frequently controlled whole regions. The government was forced to undertake a campaign against the strongest of them, the White Lotus society, between 1793 and 1803.

The British sent 10 diplomatic missions to the imperial court in 1793 and 1816 to gain trade concessions, but the court firmly held to its policy of isolationism and turned the British away.

Despite this, from 1816 on, the British East India Company increasingly brought opium into the country and the smoking of opium became widespread among the Chinese.

7 A palace for the summer under emperor
Qianlong Chinese silk painting in Beijing,
built 1711-96,

9 The sky temple in Beijing

10 Lord Macartney's diplomatic mission to
facilitate the trade with China,
caricature from 1792/93



Secret Societies

Secret societies and secret sects run throughout China's history. Mostly they originated out of local cult societies, founded by charasimatic leaders. They attracted charismatic members with religious and socially Utopian promises of salvation, and trained fanatic fighters.

The bloody Taiping Rebellion, which cost 20 million Chinese lives in 1850-1864, and the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 against Western
influence have their roots in these
secret societies.

Officiai proclamation against the
secret society of the Big Knives




Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy