17 Facts About Chinese Wood Carving

Wood carving, an art form made from wood through the skilled hands and fine tools of artisans, is a treasure of traditional Chinese arts and crafts. Wood carving holds deep cultural significance and artistic value, while also serving as a practical craft used in architectural decoration and home furnishings. Exploring the history, characteristics, and contemporary applications of wood carving is of great importance in preserving and passing down this outstanding folk traditional art.

what is Chinese wood carving?

Wood carving is a form of sculpture that typically utilizes hardwood as its raw material and is crafted into various artistic forms through techniques such as carving, hollowing, and polishing. Depending on the need, wood carving can be created in various sizes and shapes, finding applications from small crafts to large architectural pieces.

In China, wood carving boasts a long history, dating back to the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Over time, the craftsmanship and styles of wood carving have continuously evolved and innovated. Wood carving pieces not only possess aesthetic value but are also imbued with cultural significance and symbolism. They are often regarded as symbols of auspiciousness, blessings, and warding off evil, becoming an indispensable part of people’s lives.

Based on different crafting methods and styles, wood carving can be categorized into various types. Among them, three of the most common types are three-dimensional round carving, root carving, and relief carving. Three-dimensional round carving is the most representative form, utilizing all-around carving techniques to create a three-dimensional effect in the artwork. Root carving, on the other hand, uses tree roots as the material and relies on their natural forms and textures in the creative process, emphasizing the display of natural beauty. Relief carving, meanwhile, involves carving techniques on flat materials to create a three-dimensional appearance.

In addition to these classifications, wood carving can also be categorized based on its purpose and functionality. For example, wood carving is often used in architectural decoration, home furnishings, gifts, and toys. Wood carvings for different purposes may differ in crafting techniques, material choices, and stylistic designs.

what are Chinese wood carving materials?

Materials used in wood carving mainly include wood, tools, and auxiliary materials.

Wood is the fundamental raw material for wood carving, and the choice of its texture, color, and grain is crucial. Wood carving typically utilizes tree species that are fine-grained, tough, resistant to deformation, and cracking. Examples of such wood species include huangyang wood, nanmu wood, redwood, water redwood, and cypress. These woods not only have excellent carving properties but also exhibit unique textures and colors.

Wood varies in hardness, with some being soft and others rough and hard. Generally, softer woods are easier to carve, while harder and denser woods are more challenging. Hardwoods, such as redwood, huangyang wood, rosewood, almond wood, and lang wood, are prized for their carving properties. They are suitable for intricate and finely detailed carvings and are less prone to breakage or damage during carving and preservation. They hold high value for collectors. However, they can be labor-intensive to carve and may dull tools more quickly.

More porous woods are suitable for beginners and include types like poplar, ginkgo wood, camphor wood, and pine wood. These woods are appropriate for simpler, more generalized forms of carving, as they are softer and may require staining to enhance their appearance.

Some woods exhibit prominent and varied wood grain patterns, such as water elm, pine, and fir. These woods can be used to create more lyrical and expressive works, making clever use of the flowing wood grain and texture.

In general, the greater the variation in the carving’s form and the more varied the wood grain, the more appealing the result. Dynamic and fluid shapes in the carving’s design complement the effects of the wood grain, creating unexpectedly attractive and highly decorative pieces. However, complex and excessively small volumes may not only disrupt the wood grain but also create visual contrasts.

Therefore, before creating a piece, it is essential to have an understanding of the wood and select materials that are suitable for the intended expression.

Tools are essential elements in wood carving and include various knives, chisels, gouges, wood drills, saws, grinding stones, and more. These tools play different roles in the carving process, such as saws for cutting wood, knives and chisels for intricate details, and grinding stones for surface finishing.

In addition to wood and tools, wood carving also requires the use of auxiliary materials, such as glue, paint, and pigments. These materials can be used to fill defects on the wood carving surface, protect the wood, and enhance its aesthetics.

In summary, the selection and use of wood carving materials are crucial for the quality and effects of the artwork. Different combinations of wood, tools, and auxiliary materials can create distinct wood carving styles and results.

Chinese wood carving tools?

Tools are the most direct assistants and companions for sculptors in their creative process. In the craft of wood carving, carving knives and their auxiliary tools play a crucial role. There’s a saying, “A skilled person relies on their tools,” and “Three parts skill, seven parts tools.”

One can assess a person’s skill by simply observing their tools, and the maintenance and care of these tools can also reflect the level of the worker’s expertise.

In wood carving, having a complete set of tools, knowing how to sharpen and use them, not only enhances work efficiency but also allows the sculptor to fully utilize their skills in shaping. This results in precise, flowing, and expressive carving strokes, enhancing the artistic expression of their creations.

Carving Knives

There are many types of carving knives, which can be broadly categorized into two main groups. One type is the “tube-shaped” rough carving knife, commonly known as the “thick blank knife” or “roughing knife.” The other type is the “rod-shaped” finishing knife, primarily used for refining details and smoothing. The width of chisels varies, with the widest being 4-6 centimeters and the narrowest as small as a needle’s tip.

For novice woodcarvers selecting tools, it is essential to understand the specific purposes of each type of knife. They can then purchase these tools from their place of origin, manufacturers, or local blacksmiths. Good quality rough carving knives are often produced in places like Dongyang and Leqing in Zhejiang, and Guangfu in Suzhou. Some art supply stores in various regions may also carry suitable wood carving tools.

In situations where it may be inconvenient or challenging to purchase these tools, one can learn to make their own. The advantage of crafting your own tools is the ability to customize them according to your preferences, including their type, size, and shape, depending on the intended use.

However, homemade tools are generally limited to the “rod-shaped” finishing knives. Some individuals have attempted to modify steel file blanks into rough carving knives. For example, in Fujian, rough carving and finishing knives are typically made directly from iron or steel bars. Their square-shaped iron handles eliminate the need for wooden handles and make them suitable for rough carving. Below, I will introduce the types, uses, and methods of crafting wood carving knives one by one.

Round Knife: The blade of this knife has a rounded, arc-shaped edge, making it suitable for carving round or concave surfaces. It is commonly used in traditional floral patterns for carving flower petals, leaves, and the rounded surfaces of flower branches. The horizontal motion of the round knife is efficient, adapting well to both large and small contours. Moreover, the unpredictable nature of the round knife’s strokes allows for flexibility and exploration when carving.

Depending on the specific application, round knives come in various sizes, typically ranging from 5 centimeters to 0.5 centimeters in width. When using round knives for figurative carving, it’s important to grind down the two corners of the blade into a rounded arc shape. Otherwise, when carving clothing patterns or other concave features, the knife may not move smoothly and could damage the edges of the concave patterns. For relief carving, it’s advisable to keep the two corners of the blade intact and utilize their pointed ends for intricate details. Therefore, it’s recommended to have two types of round knives on hand.

Round knives can also be categorized as “right-handed” and “left-handed.” A “right-handed” round knife has its beveled surface inside the groove, with the back of the blade being straight. It cuts deeper into the wood and is most suitable for round carving, especially during the rough carving and shaping stages. A “left-handed” round knife has its beveled surface on the back of the blade, inside the groove, and it also cuts deep. It can smoothly cut or carve, making it even more versatile for relief carving. Round knives can also be customized with bent iron shafts to reach deeper recesses for carving and hollowing.

Flat Knife: The blade of a flat knife has a straight edge and is primarily used for smoothing and leveling the surfaces of wood by chiseling away unevenness. Larger-sized flat knives can also be used for sculpting large, bold surfaces, creating a sense of mass and texture. When used skillfully, they can emulate the effects of brush strokes in painting, providing a robust, lively, and natural appearance.

The sharp corners of flat knives are useful for creating lines, and when two flat knives intersect, they can remove excess material or imprint patterns. Sculptors from Sweden and the Soviet Union often used flat knives, imparting a distinctive and pronounced woodcarving style.

Skewed Knife: A skewed knife has an edge beveled at approximately 45 degrees and is primarily used for beveling and smoothing in tight corners and narrow openings, providing precise finishing touches. Skewed knives are especially useful for carving details such as the corners of facial features in figurative carving.

Skewed knives are further categorized into “right-handed skew” and “left-handed skew” to suit different orientations. In Shanghai, for example, when carving fine hair strands or delicate decorations in boxwood carvings, skewed knives are commonly used. They are manipulated using a twisting and flicking motion to achieve lively and natural hair effects.

Yuwandao (Butterfly Chisel): Yuwandao, also known as the “monk’s head” or “butterfly chisel,” has a curved, arc-shaped blade that falls between the characteristics of round and flat knives. It comes in two variations: one with a curved arc blade and the other with a slanted arc blade. Yuwandao is employed when neither round nor flat knives are suitable for the task at hand. Its distinctive feature is its moderate curvature, making it neither as flat as a flat knife nor as deeply curved as a round knife. This makes it particularly useful for carving surfaces with varying concave and convex elements.

Medium Steel Chisel: The blade of a medium steel chisel has a flat edge with slopes on both sides. It is also referred to as the “imprint chisel.” In traditional carving, the medium steel chisel is considered advantageous because its central blade ensures straight and stable cutting. This helps to preserve the surrounding wood and minimize vibration during carving. Medium steel chisels are also used for imprinting patterns and designs on clothing and props in figurative carving.

Triangle Chisel: The blade of a triangle chisel is shaped like a triangle, with the sharp apex located in the center. To craft a triangle chisel, you would choose suitable tool steel (typically 4-6 millimeter round steel) and mill a 55 to 60-degree triangle groove. The two sides of the triangle should be ground flat, and the tip should be sharpened to create the blade.

The width of the triangle chisel’s lines depends on the angle of the blade. A larger angle produces thicker lines, while a smaller angle results in finer lines. Triangle chisels are primarily used for carving hair and decorative lines. They are also commonly employed in printmaking and watermark woodblock carving to create lines and patterns. When using a triangle chisel, the pointed tip is pushed into the wood, and wood chips are ejected from the triangle groove, leaving engraved lines on the carved surface.

When selecting and using these tools, it’s crucial to consider the thickness of the blade head and how it corresponds to the intended use. The blade head, which refers to the portion of the blade that is actually used for carving, becomes thinner as it becomes sharper. However, thinner blade heads may be less durable. As a general guideline, rough carving knife blade heads can be made slightly thicker to withstand hammering and heavy carving, while finishing knives should have thinner blade heads. Thin blade heads ensure that wood can be carved smoothly and without gaps, resulting in a polished finish.

In summary, the selection and arrangement of tools must strictly adhere to the requirements of the craft and should not be randomly substituted. Regardless of quantity or quality, tools should be ensured. In traditional carving, sculptors may have over a hundred different tools, with a minimum of around 30 for more straightforward projects. However, only a small portion of these tools is regularly used, while others are used less frequently.

Auxiliary Tools for Woodcarving: These primarily include mallets, rasps, axes, and saws. Axes are used to remove large amounts of material when rough shaping wood. It’s essential to avoid excessive force and direct vertical chopping, maintaining the blade at approximately 45 degrees to the wood grain to prevent splitting.

Rasps are used during the fine shaping phase of round carving, allowing for the smoothing and leveling of carving marks to prepare the surface for finishing. Rasps can also serve as substitutes for round and skewed knives for hollowing out areas.

The function of rasps extends to quickly adjusting structural elements on a large scale, combining with carving knives to create dynamic and smooth clothing patterns with depth and detail.

The shape of mallets for woodcarving is typically flat, broad, and rectangular. The dimensions of the striking face should be around 7 x 5.5 x 2.5 centimeters. Mallets can be made from wood or iron. Wooden mallets are typically made from dense hardwoods with a significant specific gravity, such as redwood, boxwood, sandalwood, and fruitwood. They measure approximately 27 centimeters in length, 5.5 centimeters in width, and 4.5 centimeters in thickness. The handle grip should be round and slightly flattened for a comfortable hold.

Other auxiliary tools for wood carving include small electric woodworking polishers and electric rotary tools. Polishers are used for surface finishing after the completion of a carving. They can replace hand sanding for large surface areas, saving time and effort. However, they are generally suitable for medium to large-sized, relatively flat sculptures. Rotary tools are primarily used for hollowing and adding details, especially in larger carvings where they help to create contours.

what are Chinese wood carving used for?

Wood carving can be broadly categorized into two main types: practical and artistic. Practical wood carving is further divided into architectural and furniture applications. Architectural wood carving includes the decoration of traditional Chinese structures such as hanging houses, beam and column carvings, door frames, railings, shrine temples, religious figurines, and more. Furniture wood carving involves embellishing items like tables, chairs, beds, cabinets, screens, and various household furnishings.

Artistic wood carving primarily encompasses interior decor and may feature depictions of birds, animals, flowers, insects, fish, women, elders, deities, wealth deities, fruits, and other ornamental motifs. Additionally, wood carvings can be used for personal adornments, handles, and even vehicle embellishments.

Wood carving finds applications in numerous fields, combining practical utility with artistic expression. Here are some of the key uses of wood carving:

Furniture Decoration: Wood carving is commonly used to embellish various types of furniture, including chairs, tables, beds, and more. Traditional Chinese furniture often features intricate wood carvings as decorative elements.

Architectural Ornamentation: In ancient times, wood carving was extensively employed in architectural ornamentation, including doors, windows, beams, columns, and other structural components. These carvings not only served decorative purposes but also had structural significance.

Religious Art: Wood carving is frequently used in the creation of religious sculptures and icons for temples and religious spaces. It is also employed in carving religious vessels and inscriptions.

Decorative Crafts: Wood carving serves as a form of decorative craft, enhancing the cultural ambiance of interiors. Carvings of animals, plants, landscapes, and more can be used as decorative pieces.

Personal Accessories: Wood carvings are utilized in personal accessories such as pendants, bracelets, earrings, and other jewelry items. These carvings often feature intricate patterns and designs that reflect personal preferences and cultural backgrounds.

Collectibles: Due to its unique artistic and historical value, wood carving is a popular collectible item among enthusiasts and collectors.

Educational Tools: Wood carving is also used in education as a tactile teaching tool. It aids students in better comprehending various subjects. For instance, wooden models can be carved to illustrate concepts related to geometry and mathematics, helping students grasp shapes and structures more effectively.

In summary, wood carving has a wide range of applications, extending from decorative and artistic uses to religious, cultural, educational, and even personal adornment purposes.

styles of Chinese wood carving

Chinese wood carving can be classified into three major categories: three-dimensional round carving, root carving, and relief carving.

Three-dimensional round carving is the most representative type of wood carving in which a comprehensive approach to carving techniques is used to create a three-dimensional effect in the artwork. Root carving, on the other hand, utilizes natural tree roots as the primary material, emphasizing the expression of natural beauty through their inherent forms and textures. Relief carving involves carving on flat materials to form a three-dimensional image.

Chinese wood carving has a wide geographical distribution and has experienced fluctuations in popularity over time. Due to regional customs, cultures, and resource availability, different areas have developed unique styles and schools of wood carving.

In China, wood carving schools are often distinguished by their geographical origins. For example:

Dongyang wood carving

Leqing huangyang wood carving

Quanzhou wood carving

Chaozhou gold lacquer wood carving in Guangdong

Longyan wood carving in Fujian

Beijing palace lantern carving

Taiwanese wood carving

Ningbo zhujin wood carving

Yunnan Jianchuan wood carving

Hubei wooden boat carving

Qufu kaige wood carving

Suzhou redwood carving

Shanghai redwood carving

Nanjing antique wood carving

Taizhou painted wood carving in Jiangsu

Shanxi wood carving

Shandong Weifang redwood inlay root carving

Shanghai huangyang and baimu small wood carving

Liaoning Yongling huamu wood carving

Jiangxi nuo masks carving

Hubei Tongshan wood carving and Xianpupang wood carving

Tianjin wood carving

Dongshan hailiu carving, and more.

These wood carving schools have significant influence both nationally and locally, with the most famous being Quanzhou wood carving, Dongyang wood carving, Leqing huangyang wood carving, Chaozhou gold lacquer wood carving, and Longyan wood carving, collectively known as the “Five Great Chinese Wood Carvings.”

Quanzhou Wood Carving

Quanzhou, as one of China’s historically and culturally renowned cities, boasts a wealth of cultural resources. Among the traditional folk crafts in Quanzhou, handmade wood carving stands out with its rich history and remarkable craftsmanship. The abundance and precision of Quanzhou wood carving are truly awe-inspiring.

The rise and development of Quanzhou wood carving trace back to the second year of the Tianbao era (686 AD) during the Tang Dynasty. Empress Wu Zetian, who had renamed the era to Kaiyuan, ordered the construction of a temple in each province across the nation. At that time, Quanzhou was thriving economically and culturally, with a vibrant religious presence. Over 100 temples were built around the Kaiyuan Temple, collectively known as the “Dakaiyuan Wanshou Chan Temple,” providing an expansive space for the emergence of wood carving art.

It was during this period that Quanzhou’s woodcarvers began their involvement in the large-scale construction projects around the Kaiyuan Temple. Even the two towers standing east and west of the temple were entirely constructed and carved from wood. Sadly, these colossal wooden towers were destroyed during wartime and reduced to ashes. Nevertheless, within the Kaiyuan Temple’s scripture repository, two exquisite woodcarved statues of arhats, salvaged from the ruins, remain a testament to the extraordinary artistry of Quanzhou’s woodcarvers.

One can only imagine the grandeur of these towering wooden pagodas, with artisans of ancient Quanzhou carving countless intricate woodwork within them. They must have attracted numerous domestic and foreign visitors, vividly depicting the prosperity of the Tang Dynasty in Quanzhou. As the poetry of that era states: “This place was once known as the Buddhist Kingdom, filled with saints in every street.” The Song and Yuan dynasties marked a period of great prosperity for Quanzhou wood carving.

Following the rise of Quanzhou Port as the largest in the East, exquisite Quanzhou wood carvings, under the care of overseas Chinese and merchants, embarked on the Maritime Silk Road, traversing seas to reach Southeast Asia and beyond.

The Ming and Qing dynasties witnessed the golden age of Quanzhou wood carving art. In the tenth year of the Chongzhen era during the Ming Dynasty, Zheng Zhilong, the heroic father of national hero Zheng Chenggong, financially supported the reconstruction of the Kaiyuan Temple. The present-day Daxiong Treasure Hall, known as the “Hall of a Hundred Pillars,” is supported by 100 columns. Above these columns stand 24 exquisite woodcarved flying angels, each holding scholar’s stationery and southern musical instruments. These graceful celestial beings, resembling young maidens, symbolize the mythical bird of ancient Indian Hinduism—the Gandharva, representing the 24 solar terms.

Throughout the year, day and night, through each season, every hour, these celestial beings dance gracefully within the Hall, around the Buddha Shakyamuni. When incense fills the air, smoke subtly weaves among the celestial beings, creating an ethereal ambiance, as if fairies descending to the mortal realm. It’s truly a sight to behold.

Wood carving plays a pivotal role in Quanzhou’s folk craft industry. With techniques like flat carving, line carving, root carving, flower grid carving, and deity carving, Quanzhou’s wood carving art is a true marvel of precision and artistry.

Huian County in Quanzhou and the Quanzhou Taiwan Business Investment Zone serve as the focal points for wood carving industry and craftsmanship inheritance. They are also pillars of the local cultural and creative industry. Woodcarver Huang Quanfu has consistently won first prizes in the first and second Chinese Carving Art Festivals. Lu Sili has been honored with the title of “Chinese Master of Arts and Crafts,” and his wood carving work “Awakening” received the Hope Cup at the Fourth National Arts and Crafts Awards.

Since the reform and opening-up policy, especially the policy of opening up to Taiwan, Quanzhou, as the ancestral home of many Taiwanese compatriots, has seen numerous Taiwanese visiting to trace their roots and pay homage to their ancestors. With an upsurge in religious activities, the production, sales, processing, and ordering of Quanzhou wood carvings reached historic heights. This surge in demand led to advancements in wood carving techniques, the emergence of talented artisans, and renowned masterpieces that consistently receive recognition in various national competitions.

Quanzhou’s wood carving industry has brought honor to the field of arts and crafts, contributed to local culture, and facilitated cultural exchanges between the mainland and Taiwan, particularly in the realms of folk crafts and religious culture.

Dongyang Wood Carving

The art of wood carving in Dongyang, Zhejiang Province, has a long and illustrious history, earning Dongyang the title of the “Homeland of Wood Carving.” The genesis of Dongyang wood carving can be attributed to the abundance of suitable wood materials found in the region, particularly camphor wood.

The distinctive appearance of Dongyang wood carvings lies in their ability to preserve the original color and texture of the wood while achieving a smooth and delicate finish through meticulous polishing. The exquisite craftsmanship of Dongyang wood carving, renowned both domestically and internationally, can be traced back over a thousand years to the excavation of wooden Buddha statues from the interior of the South Temple Pagoda in Dongyang, dating back to the second year of the Jianlong era (961) of the Northern Song Dynasty. According to historical records, Dongyang wood carving likely originated in the Tang Dynasty, flourished during the Song Dynasty, and reached its peak during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

Dongyang wood carving encompasses a wide range of subject matter, including figures, landscapes, birds, animals, flowers, and insects. Furthermore, it has begun to incorporate decorative elements inspired by historical stories.

As an artistic genre, Dongyang wood carving has evolved over time to reflect the distinct characteristics of architectural, furniture, and various decorative items. It has developed a unique and comprehensive set of carving techniques, including relief carving, round carving, double-sided carving, shadow carving, and colored wood inlay. Relief carving is considered the essence of Dongyang wood carving and one of its distinguishing craft forms.

This technique involves utilizing traditional point perspective or bird’s-eye perspective composition, followed by hollowing out the double-sided carving or inlaying with colored wood to achieve the desired effect. Dongyang’s shallow relief carving typically features a depth of 2-5 millimeters, using carved lines to convey the essence of the subject. Among these shallow relief carvings, the most celebrated is the “scatter carving,” where intricate patterns are carved densely onto the surface of objects. This approach combines depth and intricacy, resulting in a unique artistic style.

A representative product that showcases this characteristic craft form is the Dongyang camphor wood box, cherished as one of the traditional favorites.

Dongyang wood carvings have made significant contributions to fields such as round carving, architectural decoration, and utensil ornamentation. Its history can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty. Woodcarved screens and hanging screens are innovative creations in the Dongyang wood carving industry, building upon traditional relief carving techniques.

These works of art incorporate compositional designs using the meticulous style of Chinese painting. The forms of hanging screens vary widely, with the woodcarvings of flowers, birds, and figures being particularly outstanding. The layering is distinct, the details are intricate, and the realism is striking, creating a fresh and captivating visual experience.

Artisans and designers in the Dongyang carving industry have also produced various purely decorative three-dimensional art pieces. These artworks have moved beyond traditional rectangular, circular, or fan-shaped structures, introducing a range of irregular shapes tailored to the thematic content. This innovation has paved the way for a richer expression of content.

In summary, Dongyang wood carving is a time-honored craft celebrated for its exquisite craftsmanship and artistic innovation. Its history, deeply rooted in the region, spans centuries, and its distinctive techniques and intricate designs continue to captivate admirers both at home and abroad.

Putian Wood Carving

Putian wood carving, with its roots dating back to the Tang and Song Dynasties, reached its pinnacle during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It is renowned for its exquisite and intricate craftsmanship, often described as “meticulous and transparent carving.” In the early Tang Dynasty, rudimentary carving techniques were used for decorating temples, Buddha statues, and scriptures. By the late Song Dynasty and early Yuan Dynasty, Putian craftsmen had already achieved remarkable finesse in carving figures, flowers, and various subjects, producing exquisite screen panels, railings, antique wood carvings, musical instruments, furniture, and more. In the Ming Dynasty, Putian became particularly skilled in round carving for Buddha statues and flat carving for architectural decorations.

Putian, located in Fujian Province, is home to China’s largest wood carving industry. Valuable wood carving occupies a significant portion of the domestic market, with around 200,000 people engaged in the wood carving industry. The primary focus is on crafting high-end classical furniture and small decorative items from precious hardwoods.

During the Northern Song Dynasty, a native of Xianyou, Cai Jing, who served as the Chancellor of the Five Titles, initiated the concept of “Fengda Yu Heng” and embarked on an ambitious architectural project. He summoned craftsmen from his hometown to integrate the craft of Kyoto’s palace furnishings with painting techniques, giving rise to the art of Putian wood carving. Notably, a camphor wood table from Putian, presented by Cai Jing to Emperor Huizong, can be found in the Palace Museum in Beijing. It is part of the renowned painting “Listening to the Qin,” symbolizing the innovation and artistry of Putian wood carving during the Song Dynasty.

In the late Song Dynasty, rosewood and other woods imported via Quanzhou and Fengting ports became the primary materials for Xianyou craftsmen’s wood carvings. The popularity of redwood wood carving gradually grew.

During the Ming Dynasty, Putian wood carving developed a simple and vibrant artistic style. In the Qing Dynasty, it entered a period of refinement, characterized by elaborate structures and lavish decorations, marking the zenith of its craftsmanship. Putian wood carving is renowned for its accumulated cultural ideals and aesthetic sensibilities throughout the ages. Traditional techniques include round carving, translucent carving, relief carving, root carving, while the variety of subjects encompasses Buddha statues, female figures, flower and bird ornaments, landscape scenes, furniture, and various collectibles. The diversity of styles and meticulous craftsmanship contribute to the practical, aesthetic, and collectible value of Putian wood carvings.

To this day, wooden statues of Mazu from the Ming Dynasty, along with plaques, screen panels, and ceremonial items, are preserved in local Tianhou temples in Putian and other locations such as Taiwan, Nagasaki, and Kagoshima in Japan. Xianyou has produced celebrated wood carving artisans throughout its history.

Liao Xigong, the grandson of the renowned late Qing Dynasty master Liao Mingshan, excelled in carving figures and flowers. His masterpiece won a gold medal at the 1903 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. “Liao-style” wood carving subsequently became a sought-after treasure among antique dealers worldwide. The Palace Museum houses several “Liao-style” wooden stands, along with gold-inlaid translucent carvings from the Qing Dynasty, crafted by foreign artisans in Putian during the Qianlong era.

In the Ming Dynasty, due to the prohibitions against maritime trade during the Japanese Wokou pirate raids, very little rosewood was imported from Southeast Asian countries. Putian wood carvings predominantly used the locally abundant longan tree wood to create various figures of generals, ladies, deities, antiques, applying aged lacquer finishes to imbue works with deeper colors and a rich, antique fragrance. As a result, longan wood carving gained widespread renown.

In summary, Putian wood carving is celebrated for its meticulous craftsmanship and artistic innovation, with a rich history dating back to the Tang and Song Dynasties. Its traditional techniques, intricate designs, and dedication to both aesthetics and functionality continue to captivate admirers worldwide.

Chaozhou Wood Carving

Chaozhou wood carving originated in Chaozhou, Guangdong Province, but as an artistic genre, it also includes works from areas under the jurisdiction of “Chaozhou Prefecture” during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, such as Chao’an, Chaoyang, Puning, Raoping, Shantou, Huilai, Haifeng, Lufeng, Xingning, and Meizhou in Guangdong, as well as works from the Minnan region. One distinctive feature of Chaozhou wood carving is the application of gold leaf on the surface, setting it apart from the style of Dongyang wood carving. Therefore, it is often referred to as “gold wood carving” or “gold lacquer wood carving.” The term “gold lacquer wood carving” is used because the lacquer used in this type of wood carving is specially formulated to adhere the gold leaf to the wood while also providing moisture and decay resistance.

Chaozhou wood carving primarily takes two forms of lacquer finishes: “black lacquer with gold” involves using black lacquer as a base and then applying gold leaf, while “five-color gilded” is mainly used for architectural decorative pieces. In the latter style, green, purple-red, or pink-yellow colors are combined with gold, creating a splendid and brilliant effect.

Traditional techniques of Chaozhou wood carving include intaglio carving, relief carving, round carving, and openwork carving. Intaglio carving is closer to painting in nature and is often applied to screen panels with themes featuring plum blossoms, orchids, bamboo, and chrysanthemums. Relief carving and round carving incorporate subjects such as Buddha statues, Bodhisattvas, deities, traditional figures, mythical creatures, and aquatic life. Openwork carving, also known as through-carving, is frequently used in architectural decorations, often carved from cedarwood in large pieces. Craftsmen employ multi-layered techniques to create structurally ingenious and vividly styled carvings. Chaozhou wood carving excels in presenting lifelike figures and scenic elements with smooth lines, strong rhythms, and a “multi-layered and transparent” Southern carving style.

Chaozhou wood carving has a long history, dating back to before the Tang Dynasty. The Qing Dynasty was a period of peak development for Chaozhou wood carving. During this time, the art form evolved from single-layer openwork to multi-layer openwork, and the compositions shifted from “solid to solid reflection” to “interplay of solid and void,” creating a powerful artistic effect emphasizing perspective, distance, and size contrasts.

In this period, facial features of Chaozhou wood carving figures were deeply sculpted, making them more lifelike when viewed from a distance, and the proportions of the figures followed a 5:1 standard. When viewed from below, the figures appeared plump and full.

The origins of gold leaf wood carving can be traced back to ancient China as a form of architectural decoration. When it spread to southern regions, it was influenced by local artistic characteristics, eventually forming a distinct wood carving genre. It has a history of several centuries. Gold leaf wood carving was used to decorate the beams, columns, lintels of buildings, as well as furniture, making them appear magnificent and imposing.

As a decorative element for buildings, gold leaf wood carving had to withstand the test of time. This led to specific characteristics in the choice of materials and carving techniques. Chaozhou wood carvings are typically made from camphorwood, known for its hardness and natural resistance to decay and insects. After carving, multiple layers of lacquer are applied, and finally, gold leaf is affixed. This process ensures that wood carvings remain durable, resistant to decay even after years of exposure to the elements, and maintain their golden, radiant appearance.

Following the founding of the People’s Republic of China, due to the government’s attention to the gold leaf wood carving industry, artisans continuously drew inspiration from sister arts such as ivory, jade, and stone carving to enrich their own creative techniques. This innovation resulted in fresh subject matter, artistic expression, and technical skills for wood carving.

In summary, Chaozhou wood carving is celebrated for its intricate craftsmanship, gold leaf application, and artistic innovation. With roots stretching back to ancient times, it has evolved over centuries into a highly esteemed form of wood artistry, merging aesthetics with practicality.

Fuzhou Wood Carving (Longan Wood Carving)

Fuzhou wood carving, originating in Fujian province, developed as a form of wood art primarily in architectural and furniture decoration as well as the carving of temple deities. It matured during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. Fuzhou wood carving is known for its use of longan wood, hence it is also called “Longan Wood Carving.”

Longan wood is primarily found in the southern Fujian region. It has a slightly brittle texture, fine grain, and a reddish-brown color. The unique shapes and knots in the trunk of old longan trees make them excellent materials for carving.

Artisans use the root sections and unique knots of longan wood to carve various figures, birds, and animals. These carvings are known for their lively and robust forms, exquisite structure, adherence to anatomical principles, and expressive exaggeration. The carving techniques can range from chopping with an axe or chisel to delicate detailing, displaying a high level of skill and expertise.

In the Qing Dynasty, Fuzhou wood carving saw the emergence of three major schools:

  • Dabang Village School, represented by artisan Chen Tianci, had around 30 members. They initially focused on carving figures of Maitreya Buddha, the Eighteen Arhats, Eight Immortals, and Guanyin, among other deities. Later, they expanded to include female immortals, ladies, and animal figures.
  • Xiangyuan Village School, led by Ke Qingyuan, excelled in portraying cordyceps flowers, fruits, and enjoyed creating dynamic pieces like water mills and dragon boats.
  • Yanta Township School, with Wang Qingqing as a prominent figure, was also known as the lacquerware school. They specialized in carving patterns and reliefs featuring birds and flowers, often combined with lacquerware.

Huizhou Wood Carving

Huizhou wood carving, originating from Hui Prefecture in Anhui province, is known for its wide range of themes, mature techniques, and comprehensive use of line carving, relief carving, round carving, and openwork carving. The choice of materials in Huizhou wood carving mostly includes pine, fir, camphor, nanmu (Chinese cedar), and bai guo (ginkgo), which are generally softer or semi-hardwood materials.

Huizhou wood carving places greater emphasis on the subject matter, carving techniques, and the perfection of composition and lines rather than the material itself. It exudes a strong artistic appeal and has had a significant influence on neighboring regions.

Huizhou wood carving is primarily used for architectural and furniture decoration and is renowned for its extensive large-scale carvings. The artworks often depict scenes from rural life, such as farming, weaving, fishing, and woodcutting, along with mythological tales, historical stories, and classical literature. These artistic depictions convey the ideals and pursuits of the owners and reflect their cultural tastes and social status, making them highly valuable in terms of history, culture, and art.

Today, when people visit Huizhou for tourism, you can still see many Ming and Qing Dynasty residences decorated with wood carvings, with around 158 buildings in Hongcun alone. In November 2000, Xidi and Hongcun in Huizhou were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, attracting the attention of people worldwide.

Ningbo “Zhu Jin Wood Carving”

Ningbo’s Zhu Jin wood carving, located in Zhejiang Province, has garnered influence both domestically and internationally. Known for its rustic and lively designs, robust carving techniques, and the use of gold and red lacquer, this art form involves affixing gold and red lacquer onto wooden carvings. The striking artistic effect is primarily achieved through the meticulous craftsmanship of lacquer workers, including polishing, filling, painting, and applying gold. This craftsmanship has earned it the reputation of “three parts carving, seven parts lacquer.”

Ningbo Zhu Jin wood carving finds its main applications in everyday household items, as well as in the carving of Buddhist deities, figures, and furniture decoration. Its figure subjects are often inspired by Peking opera characters, known as the “Peking opera style.” This “Peking opera style” from Ningbo incorporates three-dimensional perspective techniques and artistic exaggeration, resulting in unique portrayals. The characters typically feature oversized heads and distinctive proportions, creating captivating and whimsical expressions.

Zhu Jin wood carving excels particularly in the carving of divine and Buddhist figures. It emphasizes the facial expressions of these deities, highlighting both their solemnity and approachability.

In the realm of furniture decoration, especially for weddings and celebrations, Zhu Jin wood carving from Ningbo showcases local characteristics and grandeur. It is often referred to as the “thousand-artistry bed” and “myriad-workmanship sedan chair.” Ningbo residents often say, “Half of one’s life is spent on the bed,” underlining the significance of intricately carved wooden beds. These beds resemble pavilions and palaces, featuring elaborate carvings on the bed frame, dressing table, toilet cabinet, snack boxes, and stationery boxes, among other components.

The layers of pavilions and palaces on the exterior of the bed, as well as the intricate carvings and patterns surrounding the bed frame, are adorned with gold and red lacquer, creating a resplendent appearance. The name “thousand-artistry bed” is well-deserved.

Jianchuan Wood Carving

Jianchuan wood carving is a form of wood art originating from Jianchuan County in Yunnan Province, China. Since the Tang and Song dynasties, Jianchuan County has been known for its abundant woodworking talent, and its wood carving techniques have been renowned throughout history. Many famous architectural decorations, both in China and abroad, such as Sanpaifang in Kunming, Shizhaobi in Jianshui, Feilaixi Temple in Baoshan, and Guihuasi Temple in Zhongdian, feature the contributions of Jianchuan woodcarvers.

Jianchuan wood carving achieved a high level of artistic excellence as early as the Tang and Song dynasties, producing awe-inspiring works. From the Dali Kingdom period to the Qing Dynasty’s Qianlong era, it experienced a flourishing period. However, due to political corruption at the end of the Qing Dynasty, this art form, which had enjoyed a millennium of prestige, went into decline.

After the 1950s, Jianchuan wood carving experienced a revival. Skilled artisans passed down the exquisite carving techniques handed down by their ancestors. They applied these techniques to create numerous exquisite wood carvings, characterized by elegant and luxurious designs, as well as robust and full carvings. These works have been sold to Hong Kong, Macao, Japan, Zaire, Madrid, Germany, the United Kingdom, and other places.

Wuhan Wood Carving Boats

Wuhan wood carving boats represent a unique form of wood artistry in China. This art form has a history of over two thousand years. The exceptional craftsmanship of Wuhan wood carving boats is closely related to the geographical environment of Wuhan and the developed shipbuilding industry in Hubei province. Hubei’s wood carving boats come in various types, including wooden sailboats, ancient cargo boats, warships, painted boats, dragon boats, phoenix boats, and colorful boats. They are crafted from materials such as cypress, huangyang wood, and redwood.

In the realm of wood carving artistry, Wuhan wood carving boats encompass techniques such as round carving, relief carving, and openwork carving. They also include unique techniques such as shallow relief carving that removes the surface layer without damaging the core, deep relief carving that achieves depth without harming the base, and a focus on decorative patterns, intricate carving, and precise modeling. The designs are clear, symmetrical, and finely detailed.

The onboard pavilions, doors, windows, railings, and other elements display meticulous attention to detail. The construction requires precise measurements, seamless connections, and easy disassembly.

The craft of Wuhan wood carving boats has been passed down through generations. Long Yunhua, an artisan from Yichang, is a famous figure in this tradition. Contemporary artists like Long Congfa, Cheng Chuchun, and Pan Zhengbin have continued to innovate while preserving traditional techniques.

Exquisite Wuhan wood carving boats have been exported to more than ten countries and regions, including Japan, Canada, the United States, France, and others.

E’nan Wood Carving

E’nan wood carving primarily originates from the border region where Hubei, Hunan, and Sichuan provinces meet in southern Hubei, China. The area’s abundant forests and long history have nurtured a significant number of wood carving artists, giving rise to a unique wood carving style known as the “Xianpu School” in the past. The wood carvings often feature themes of joy, auspiciousness, and longevity. For instance, the carved floral bed, known as “family portrait bed,” incorporates artistic techniques inspired by the bird and insect drawings from the Qin and Han dynasties. It intricately carves the three characters “family portrait” using 28 sparrows, symbolizing good luck and blessings for the entire family. Throughout history, the subjects depicted in E’nan wood carvings have mostly been inspired by theatrical roles, mythological stories, and, of course, animals, birds, and garden pavilions.

These works often combine deep relief carving with shallow relief carving, resulting in images that are full of life, intricate, and humorous, reflecting the regional characteristics and unique artistic personality.

During the Qing Dynasty, Yan Xizhong became a representative figure of the school of relief wood carving. Yan was highly skilled and his craftsmanship was exquisite. Later generations like Kong Xianbin and Yan Jingxin continued the tradition with elevated skill levels. Yan Jingxin, in particular, used the natural shapes and textures of the wood to create a nearly 1-meter-tall statue of Confucius, which received widespread acclaim.

Tongshan Kangchu

Tongshan Kangchu, as a form of wood carving art, originated in Tongshan, Hubei during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. “Kangchu” refers to a decorative cabinet, originally designed for ornamentation in affluent households’ living rooms and not primarily for practical use, hence the name “Kangchu.”

Kangchu cabinets are crafted from poplar wood or camphor wood. They are initially carved in multiple wooden panels, then assembled into the final cabinet. These cabinets typically measure nearly 2 meters in height, about 1 meter in width, and have a thickness of 46 centimeters. They consist of two main sections: the lower part resembles a cabinet with five drawers arranged horizontally, and the space below the drawers functions as a long cabinet. The designs feature garden scenes, birds, flowers, and stories of people. Tongshan Kangchu primarily combines openwork carving with relief carving techniques, creating ever-changing and picturesque scenes full of emotion and charm. Therefore, it possesses distinct regional characteristics and a strong artistic personality.

Qunzhou Wooden Puppet Carving

Qunzhou wooden puppets, named after their production location in Quanzhou, Fujian, are a type of folk handicraft. They are crafted by carving wooden head forms, adhering fabric backing, applying glue clay, smoothing, painting, and adding clothing. Qunzhou wooden puppets have complete structures, exquisite craftsmanship, especially in the carving and painting of puppet heads. They exhibit unique creativity and craftsmanship, resulting in extraordinary works of art.

The contours of Qunzhou wooden puppet heads are clear and the lines are refined, inheriting the artistic styles of the Tang and Song dynasties. Contemporary puppet head craftsmen have built upon traditional techniques with an emphasis on exaggeration, distortion, character representation, and expressiveness. These wooden puppets have gained international recognition as valuable folk art treasures.

The typical process for creating garden-style Qunzhou wooden puppet heads involves selecting materials, carving the rough shape, fine carving, mounting on paper, polishing, filling gaps, applying clay, adding powder, creating facial features, and finally, sealing with wax. Male puppet characters often use real hair or carved wooden headpieces, and some require additional facial hair, such as beards, with colors including black, red, gray, and white, to match the role. Female puppet heads are adorned with real hair for the headpiece.

Qunzhou wooden puppets are divided into two types: string-controlled puppets (larger heads used in traditional puppetry) and hand-held puppets (smaller heads used in glove puppetry). Operators manipulate the puppets using strings or by manually manipulating the head with their fingers, bringing the wooden puppets to life.

In the early stages of their development, wooden puppets were crafted as Buddhist statues, heavily influenced by divine representations. In modern times, the renowned folk artist Jiang Jiazou furthered the art by inheriting the tradition from his father and dedicating himself to perfecting the techniques. Thus, Quanzhou wooden puppets are also known as “Jiang Jiazou Wooden Puppets.” Jiang Jiazou’s wooden puppet heads have been displayed at international exhibitions and have received praise from foreign artists. Some of his works are preserved in foreign museums.

or its exquisite carving work, beautiful designs, and intricate structures.

Huangyang wood carving from Yueqing became a well-known form of folk woodcarving during the mid-Qing Dynasty. It gained fame for carving small wooden figures from Huangyang wood and became renowned both in China and abroad.

In the early Ming Dynasty, Kongshi, from Changle, Fujian, used naturally formed burls and tree roots for carving, which is a unique traditional craft known as Fujian longan wood carving.

Chaozhou gold-lacquer wood carving traces its origins back to the Tang Dynasty, with carvings made from camphor wood, coated with lacquer and adorned with gold leaf, creating a splendid and highly artistic effect.

Dongyang wood carving and Chaozhou wood carving represent two major wood carving systems in China.

Quanzhou Lacquer Thread Carving

Lacquer thread carving is one of the artistic treasures in China’s lacquer art culture, with a history of over 1,400 years in Quanzhou, Fujian, and the southern Fujian region. Since the flourishing of painted sculptures during the Tang Dynasty, lacquer thread carving has been used extensively for decorating Buddha statues, commonly referred to as “Buddha adornments.” It has been a specialized industry with a long-standing tradition in the Quanzhou region. Lacquer thread carvings are known for their exquisite craftsmanship, lifelike and vivid imagery, classical and dignified style, and incredibly lifelike scenes, making them a unique masterpiece in the world of art.

Qufu Kai Wood Carving

Kai wood carving, utilizing the unique Kai wood of Qufu, is a form of wood carving art that originated during the Han Dynasty and is said to have been pioneered by Kong Teng, the ninth-generation descendant of Confucius. Initially, these carvings were relatively simple, often used for crafting walking sticks. However, starting from the Song Dynasty, the variety of carvings expanded, with the most renowned being the “Kai wood ruyi” during that period. It was during the Qing Dynasty, especially during the reign of Emperor Guangxu, that Kai wood carving truly evolved into an art form. The carvings began to depict subjects such as dragons, phoenixes, flowers, and people, becoming lively and animated.

Suzhou Redwood Carving

Suzhou’s redwood carving craftsmanship gained widespread recognition during the Ming and Qing dynasties, featuring the work of many skilled woodcarvers. Ming Dynasty artist Bao Tiancheng excelled in carving various items, displaying unique creativity and distinctiveness in his creations. Qing Dynasty artisan Du Shi Yuan displayed exceptional carving skills, producing numerous exquisitely crafted masterpieces. These examples demonstrate the exceptional level of ancient Suzhou wood carving craftsmanship. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, as society developed and market demands, Suzhou redwood carving products have not only maintained traditional items but have also expanded to create new products that adapt to modern conditions while preserving and enhancing traditional carving techniques and methods. These new products bear the unique characteristics of Suzhou redwood carving, such as redwood beer cabinets, TV cabinets, tea sets, large tables, and trays, some of which are not only for decoration but also highly practical. As a result, practical woodcarving crafts that offer both aesthetic value and utility have gained popularity in both domestic and international markets.

In addition to the 14 regional wood carving art styles mentioned above, there are also notable wood carving traditions such as Nanjing antique wood carving, Daye wood carving in Hubei, Weifang’s redwood inlaid with silver carving, Taizhou painted wood carving, and more, all of which enjoy recognition and acclaim both domestically and internationally.

Central Plains Wood Carving

The development of Central Plains wood carving has followed the migration of political centers, spreading as it moved. Over thousands of years, wood carving traditions have developed in different regions, each with its unique techniques and styles. For instance:

  • Dongyang wood carving originated in the Song Dynasty in Zhejiang’s Dongyang region, known for its exquisite carving work, beautiful designs, and intricate structures.
  • Huangyang wood carving from Yueqing became a well-known form of folk woodcarving during the mid-Qing Dynasty. It gained fame for carving small wooden figures from Huangyang wood and became renowned both in China and abroad.
  • In the early Ming Dynasty, Kongshi, from Changle, Fujian, used naturally formed burls and tree roots for carving, which is a unique traditional craft known as Fujian longan wood carving.
  • Chaozhou gold-lacquer wood carving traces its origins back to the Tang Dynasty, with carvings made from camphor wood, coated with lacquer and adorned with gold leaf, creating a splendid and highly artistic effect.

Dongyang wood carving and Chaozhou wood carving represent two major wood carving systems in China.

Huangyang Wood Carving

Huangyang wood carving is one of China’s traditional folk wood carving crafts, named after the use of huangyang wood as the primary carving material. Huangyang wood is known for its slow growth and is often referred to as the “thousand-year dwarf.” It possesses a strong and smooth texture, fine and intricate grain patterns, a warm and lustrous yellow color, resembling ivory, and its color deepens with age, creating an antique and appealing appearance. It is particularly suitable for carving small decorative items. Zhejiang, specifically in the regions of Yueqing and Wenzhou, is the traditional key production area for huangyang wood carving. Huangyang wood carving originated in Yueqing County, dating back approximately 150 years. It began with the decoration of wooden Buddha statues on the framework of dragon lanterns in local temples, eventually evolving into artistic collectibles.

Legend has it that Huangyang wood carving was invented by a boy named Ye Chengrong in the late Qing Dynasty. Ye Chengrong was from Yueqing County, Zhejiang. One day, while playing in a village temple, he observed an elderly man sculpting a Buddha statue and was captivated by the man’s craftsmanship. Ye Chengrong decided to try it himself, sneaking out of the temple to tether his ox to a tree. He dug up some sticky mud, sat at the temple’s entrance, and secretly imitated the sculpting process he had witnessed. The old man, a renowned local folk artist, noticed Ye Chengrong’s intelligence and eagerness to learn, so he took him on as his apprentice, teaching him five techniques: round sculpture, clay sculpture, painting, gilding, and relief carving. Ye Chengrong progressed rapidly and, within a year, had mastered these techniques. One day, while sculpting a Buddha statue at Zixia Temple on Baotaishan Mountain in Yueqing County, Ye Chengrong received a piece of huangyang wood from a Taoist monk and was asked to carve a hairpin in the shape of a ruyi. During the carving process, he discovered that huangyang wood possessed exceptional hardness, fine grain, and a unique luster unmatched by other woods, making it an ideal material for carving. From then on, he began using huangyang wood for his carvings, giving birth to huangyang wood carving in the realm of Chinese folk art. Ye Chengrong’s huangyang wood carvings were made using pointed chisels, resulting in figures with exaggerated folds in their clothing and a somewhat stiff appearance. However, by the end of the Qing Dynasty, a folk artist named Zhu Ziqi from Wenzhou had introduced a half-rounded chisel called “reversed mouth,” which allowed for smoother and more graceful carvings. In 1972, Premier Zhou Enlai presented “Red Silk Dance,” a work created by huangyang wood carving artist Ye Runzhou from Wenzhou, as a gift to the visiting delegation from Canada. Today, huangyang wood carving is renowned both domestically and internationally.

Ming and Qing Wood Carving

Ming and Qing wood carving refers to the renowned woodcarving craftsmanship during the Ming and Qing dynasties, primarily found in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces. Ming and Qing woodcarving is characterized by its intricately detailed hanging ornaments such as flower panels and window decorations, which represent the essence of traditional Chinese architecture and culture. These carvings embrace richness within simplicity and variation within unity, aligning with modern design principles.

While modern living spaces have become smaller and may not fully accommodate traditional Chinese interior decor, the inclusion of woodcarved hanging ornaments, folding screens, and intricately carved furniture pieces can infuse a sense of tradition into contemporary homes. This blend results in a modern living space that exudes both vitality and tranquility, simplicity and profundity, and elegance within simplicity, reminiscent of the idyllic scenes of mountains and flowing water.

Decorative woodcarvings generally feature three common themes: auspicious patterns symbolizing good fortune, stories from traditional operas and legends for both entertainment and education, and depictions of everyday life and customs such as textiles, herding, and entertainment. Woodcarvings often adopt a figurative approach in their representation, marked by bold exaggerations in the proportions of characters and scenery, imparting a lively and unpretentious quality.

Similar to Western architectural carving art, traditional woodcarving in China pays meticulous attention to the handling of depth, line segmentation, and rhythm in carving, aiming for a balance between fullness and equilibrium in composition. Additionally, it combines the abstract essence of traditional Chinese painting with a more representational approach, achieving a harmonious integration of utility and decoration.

Woodcarved hanging ornaments come in various forms, with most being in the form of relief carvings. Many feature intricate deep relief and circular carving techniques, which, when combined, create a sense of depth akin to circular carving. Due to the nature of wood as a material, mass production through modern processes remains challenging, and much of the production still relies on manual craftsmanship.

The choice of wood for carving typically favors woods that are not excessively hard but exhibit fine and even texture, ideal for achieving detailed carvings. Commonly used woods include new acid branches, chicken-wing wood, new rosewood, camphor wood, tulipwood, litchi wood, pomelo wood, rosewood, and imported ginkgo wood, among others.

Chinese wood carving Meaning and symbolism

The meaning and symbolism of woodcarvings can vary depending on their design and cultural context.

In some traditional cultures, the dragon and phoenix are symbols of auspiciousness. The dragon represents strength and wisdom, while the phoenix symbolizes elegance and nobility. When the dragon and phoenix are depicted together, they symbolize good fortune, beauty, and nobility.

Additionally, some woodcarvings also feature the forms of various animals such as lions, fish, and dragons, each with its unique symbolism and significance. For instance, the lion is a symbol of strength, while the dragon represents longevity and peace.

Furthermore, certain woodcarvings may portray the forms of plants such as bamboo and plum blossoms, each carrying its distinct meaning and symbolism. For example, bamboo represents elegance and humility, while plum blossoms symbolize nobility and unwavering resilience of spirit.

In summary, the meaning and symbolism of woodcarvings depend on their design and cultural background. Different figures, animals, or plants can convey various meanings and symbols.

wood carving in Chinese architecture

As an art form, woodcarving decoration held significant importance in ancient China. On one hand, woodcarving decoration, as a refined craft, was employed to adorn various items such as buildings, utensils, and furniture, enhancing their aesthetic appeal. On the other hand, woodcarving works were often presented as gifts to emperors or important officials, demonstrating respect and etiquette.

Additionally, woodcarving decoration played a vital role in traditional religious and cultural activities, including temples, shrines, and ceremonies, where exquisite woodcarving decorations were used to enhance the ambiance.

In summary, the significance of woodcarving decoration in ancient China extends beyond aesthetic value and reflects the cultural, religious, and social customs of the time.

History of Woodcarving Decoration in Ancient China

Prosperity and Continuation of Ancient Chinese Woodcarving Decoration

The prosperity and continuity of woodcarving decoration in ancient China went through different historical phases.

The origins of Chinese woodcarving craftsmanship can be traced back to the primitive society, where rudimentary craftwork was already in existence. By the Warring States period, woodcarving had evolved from simple incised patterns on pottery and relief carvings into three-dimensional circular carvings.

During the Han Dynasty, woodcarving decoration reached its zenith and became an indispensable element in the decoration of architecture and furnishings. Subsequently, woodcarving decoration during the Tang Dynasty was influenced by earlier Han traditions and developed into new styles and forms. During the Song Dynasty, economic prosperity and cultural flourishing further propelled woodcarving decoration, leading it to new heights.

In recent years, with increasing awareness of cultural heritage preservation, traditional Chinese woodcarving decoration has received better protection and continuity. Many traditional woodcarving artisans have passed down their skills to the next generation, and cultural institutions have invested significant efforts and resources in safeguarding this cultural heritage. For example, some museums and cultural organizations in China organize woodcarving decoration exhibitions and training programs to promote the inheritance and development of traditional art.

In conclusion, Chinese woodcarving decoration in ancient times went through a winding and lengthy journey of preservation, but it has always remained an essential part of China’s outstanding traditional cultural heritage.

Characteristics and Changes of Ancient Chinese Woodcarving Decoration in Different Historical Periods

The characteristics and changes of ancient Chinese woodcarving decoration varied in different historical periods.

During the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, woodcarving decoration predominantly featured animal and mythological patterns, reflecting the ancient people’s understanding and reverence for nature and mysteries.

In the Qin and Han Dynasties, woodcarving decoration techniques became more sophisticated and diversified. The scope of decorative objects expanded from buildings and utensils to furniture. Innovations in decorative patterns, such as painting and bas-relief, began to emerge.

With the arrival of the Tang Dynasty, woodcarving decoration entered a new era characterized by opulence and exquisite craftsmanship. However, during the Song Dynasty, due to economic prosperity and cultural prominence, woodcarving decoration evolved further, becoming more intricate and finely detailed. Different styles, including Buddhist art and court art, emerged.

In the Ming and Qing Dynasties, woodcarving decoration techniques improved further, and the range of practical applications expanded. During this period, woodcarving decoration served not only aesthetic purposes but also utilitarian functions. Moreover, woodcarving works from the Ming and Qing periods incorporated more diverse decorative elements, including figures, landscapes, flowers, and birds.

In summary, ancient Chinese woodcarving decoration evolved and adapted to the changing times, with each historical period featuring unique artistic characteristics and creative styles.

Types and Forms of Ancient Chinese Woodcarving Decoration

Ancient Chinese woodcarving decoration encompassed various types and forms, each with distinct characteristics and artistic expressions. Below is an introduction to each category:

Architectural Woodcarving:

Architectural woodcarving is the most grand and expansive category of ancient Chinese woodcarving. Its hallmark features include large-scale carvings, flowing lines, and exquisite craftsmanship. Architectural woodcarving typically includes components like door lintels, brackets, couplets, and fan surfaces. It is primarily applied to ancient buildings such as palaces, temples, and shrines.

Door Lintels: Elaborate wooden panels placed above doors, featuring depictions of animals, plants, and cultural symbols. They are known for their vibrant colors and intricate designs, holding significant positions in ancient palace architecture.

Brackets: Wooden components used to decorate the upper parts of entrances, doors, windows, halls, and temples. They feature complex curved shapes and carvings at the top and corners, renowned for their decorative appeal.

Couplets: Pairs of wooden inscriptions placed on both sides of courtyards or gateways. They are crafted from hardwood, segmented, and then intricately carved. Typically, they use regular script characters and combine them with decorative elements like plants, animals, or figures, showcasing the unique charm of ancient Chinese architectural art.

Furniture Woodcarving:

Furniture woodcarving is the most widely applied and delicately detailed category of ancient Chinese woodcarving. It is characterized by intricate designs, flowing lines, and exquisite craftsmanship, emphasizing both aesthetics and practicality. This category includes carved decorations on chairs, beds, cabinets, and other furniture pieces. Hardwood materials like nanmu and huanghuali are often used.

Furniture woodcarving combines overall and partial carving on the surface of furniture. Common forms include carvings on covers, inlays, veneers, and carved combinations. Additionally, furniture woodcarving draws on the aesthetics of calligraphy, employing unique seal script styles and regular script strokes to enhance the artistic appeal.

Instrument Woodcarving:

Instrument woodcarving is the most petite and finely crafted category of ancient Chinese woodcarving, primarily used for the decoration of scholar’s tools, pen holders, teapots, and similar items. It is characterized by its small, delicate, and intricate designs, emphasizing carving techniques and craftsmanship. Common hardwood materials used include zitan and suanzhi.

Instrument woodcarving comes in various forms, such as bas-relief, deep relief, and bone carving. It often depicts subjects from the natural world, including flowers, birds, insects, and fish, showcasing the high-level skills and creativity of ancient Chinese carving art.

Figurative Woodcarving:

Figurative woodcarving is the most iconic and deeply meaningful category of ancient Chinese woodcarving. It is primarily used for sculpting lifelike representations of ancient figures, such as Buddha statues, deities, and literati. This category is characterized by realistic portrayals, strong expressive power, and profound symbolism. Hardwood materials like nanmu and huanghuali are commonly used.

Figurative woodcarving encompasses high relief, low relief, and round carving techniques. It often incorporates courtyard, temple, and stone carving environments to create unique, vivid, and spiritually meaningful cultural figures, becoming a significant component of ancient Chinese carving art.

Other Woodcarving:

Other woodcarving includes door and window woodcarving, screen woodcarving, mural woodcarving, and more, with diverse forms and applications for both interior and exterior decoration. Various materials are used, including hardwood, bamboo, and willow.

  • Door and Window Woodcarving: Known for unique shapes and flowing lines, often featuring animal and plant motifs, as well as symbols of happiness and auspiciousness.
  • Screen Woodcarving: Typically crafted from bamboo and wood, screens are characterized by their lightweight structure, flexible design, and diverse styles, including folding, folding, and lifting, adding a unique artistic atmosphere to ancient Chinese interiors.
  • Mural Woodcarving: A combination of carving art and murals, primarily found in temples and monasteries. It involves shaping curved wooden boards or strips and applying colors to create a two-dimensional artistic effect. It breaks away from traditional three-dimensional art, providing a broader scope for the development of ancient Chinese woodcarving art.

These diverse categories and forms of ancient Chinese woodcarving decoration demonstrate the rich artistic heritage and cultural significance of this traditional craft.

The Significance and Value of Ancient Chinese Woodcarving Decoration

Ancient Chinese woodcarving decoration is one of the essential art forms within Chinese traditional culture, carrying profound significance and high value. Below, I will further elaborate on this topic.

Expression of Aesthetic Pursuit: Ancient Chinese woodcarving decoration is, at its core, an expression of the pursuit of beauty. Whether in architectural woodcarving, furniture woodcarving, figurative woodcarving, or other forms, it embodies the Chinese ancient people’s yearning for and pursuit of beauty. The craftsmanship not only emphasizes intricate details but also reflects their understanding and ability to express beauty.

Representation of Cultural and Historical Values: Ancient Chinese woodcarving decoration represents the values and aesthetics of Chinese traditional culture throughout history. These carved artworks, created through imagination and craftsmanship, convey profound cultural and historical values. They hold significant historical and cultural significance.

Showcases Exceptional Artistic Skills: The crafting of ancient Chinese woodcarving decoration is highly intricate, requiring skilled artisans to invest considerable time and effort. The exquisite knife techniques and craftsmanship exemplify the pinnacle of human cultural and technological achievements. Over time, these artworks have not only represented ancient culture and history but have also become the epitome of artistic skill.

Inheritance and Development: Ancient Chinese woodcarving decoration finds extensive application in architecture, furniture, utensils, and more. Through continuous inheritance and development, its creative methods and expressive forms have evolved. Generation after generation of artisans has innovated and refined this art form, making woodcarving decoration even more vibrant, diverse, and artistically valuable.

In summary, ancient Chinese woodcarving decoration is not only a manifestation of aesthetic beauty but also a reflection of cultural, historical, and artistic values. It has served as a medium through which Chinese culture and art have been expressed, appreciated, and transmitted across generations.

wood carving in Buddhism

Woodcarving as a Representative Form of Buddhist Art

The propagation and dissemination of Buddhism have employed a variety of artistic forms, including painting, sculpture, architecture, and more. Among these art forms, woodcarving has emerged as a unique and integral part of Buddhist art. With exquisite craftsmanship and imaginative concepts, woodcarvers transform classical figures, scenes, and symbols from Buddhism into aesthetically valuable artworks. These woodcarving pieces not only possess visual appeal but also serve as a means of preserving and evolving Buddhist teachings and culture.

 The Vital Role of Woodcarved Buddha Statues in Buddhist Rituals

In Buddhism, Buddha statues are crucial tools for conveying and propagating the Buddha’s teachings. Woodcarved Buddha statues, being a common form of expression, are widely used in various Buddhist rituals. For instance, within temples, these wooden Buddha statues are enshrined in grand halls, serving as objects of devotion for worshippers. During religious ceremonies, woodcarved guardian deities are carried out for worshippers to pay their respects. In ritual spaces, central woodcarved Buddha statues serve as the main focal point. These woodcarved Buddha statues are not merely artistic pieces; they are also instrumental in conveying and propagating the Buddha’s teachings.

Woodcarving’s Role in the Preservation and Development of Buddhist Culture

Beyond their use in Buddhist rituals, woodcarvings play a pivotal role in the preservation and development of Buddhist culture. Many Buddhist scriptures and teachings are inscribed or carved onto wooden boards, becoming precious art pieces and cultural relics within temples and homes. These woodcarved works are not only artworks but also serve as vessels for preserving and advancing Buddhist culture and scriptures. Through these woodcarvings, people gain deeper insights into Buddhist culture and teachings, facilitating the continued inheritance and propagation of Buddhist culture.

Decorative Function of Woodcarving in Buddhist Architecture

In addition to their significance in Buddha statue creation, woodcarvings also fulfill an essential role in Buddhist architecture. Within Buddhist temples, pagodas, and other sacred structures, woodcarvings are commonly used to adorn elements such as doors, windows, brackets, and lintels. These woodcarvings possess both aesthetic value and the expression of Buddhist culture and beliefs. Through these woodcarvings, people can experience the rich ambiance of Buddhism and its cultural significance.

Modern Applications of Woodcarving in Buddhist Art

With the passage of time and societal development, the application of modern woodcarving in Buddhist art has undergone significant changes. On one hand, as technology advances and materials diversify, modern woodcarvers continually experiment with new carving techniques and materials to render woodcarving pieces more lifelike and three-dimensional. On the other hand, as society embraces cultural diversity and individuals pursue unique artistic expressions, modern woodcarving artworks emphasize personalization and innovation. These modern woodcarving pieces not only possess unique aesthetic value but also contribute to the preservation and development of traditional Buddhist art.

In summary, woodcarving, as a vital component of Buddhist art, holds unique aesthetic value and serves as a conduit for the preservation and development of Buddhist culture and beliefs. As society evolves and aesthetic sensibilities change, woodcarving art will continue to innovate and evolve, injecting new vitality into the inheritance and development of Buddhist culture.

wood carving in Taoism

Woodcarving as a Representative Form of Taoist Art

Taoism, a homegrown Chinese religion, boasts its unique belief system and practices that significantly differ from Buddhism. However, in terms of artistic expression, Taoism shares similarities with Buddhism, and woodcarving, as an ancient art form, has found extensive application within Taoism. Whether in the construction of Taoist temples or the crafting of ritual implements, woodcarving plays a crucial role.

The Use of Woodcarving in Taoist Temple Architecture

Taoist temples serve as essential places of Taoist worship, each possessing distinctive architectural styles and decorative arts. Within Taoist temple structures, woodcarving stands out as a crucial form of decorative art, widely employed in structures such as archways, brackets, doors, and windows. These woodcarved pieces showcase various patterns and motifs like cloud patterns, dragon-phoenix motifs, and landscape themes, symbolizing Taoism’s reverence for nature and the unity of heaven and humanity.

The Application of Woodcarving in Taoist Ritual Implements

Taoist ritual implements are indispensable items in Taoist beliefs and ceremonies, with woodcarved implements being quite prevalent. For instance, woodcarved seals, Taoist scriptures, and peach-wood swords are emblematic Taoist ritual implements. These woodcarved implements serve as not only symbols of Taoist faith but also possess mystical powers and functions. For example, the peach-wood sword is used by Taoist priests to ward off evil spirits and is extensively utilized in various rituals.

Woodcarving’s Role in the Preservation and Development of Taoist Culture

Beyond its use in temple architecture and ritual implements, woodcarving plays a pivotal role in preserving and advancing Taoist culture. Many Taoist scriptures and talismans are inscribed or carved onto wooden boards, becoming vital tools for Taoist practitioners’ learning and transmission. These woodcarved works serve not only as artworks but also as vehicles for preserving and promoting Taoist culture and beliefs. Through these woodcarvings, people can gain a deeper understanding of Taoist culture and faith, facilitating the continued inheritance and propagation of Taoist culture.

Modern Applications of Woodcarving in Taoist Art

With the passage of time and societal development, the application of modern woodcarving in Taoist art has undergone significant changes. On one hand, as technology advances and materials diversify, modern woodcarvers continually experiment with new carving techniques and materials to make woodcarved works more vivid and three-dimensional. On the other hand, as society embraces cultural diversity, and individuals pursue unique artistic expressions, modern woodcarving artworks emphasize personalization and innovation. These modern woodcarved pieces not only possess unique aesthetic value but also contribute to the preservation and development of traditional Taoist art.

In summary, woodcarving, as a crucial component of Taoist art, holds unique aesthetic value and serves as a conduit for the preservation and development of Taoist culture and beliefs. As society evolves, and aesthetic sensibilities change, woodcarving art will continue to innovate and evolve, injecting new vitality into the inheritance and development of Taoist culture. Simultaneously, we should strengthen efforts to protect and pass down traditional woodcarving art, ensuring these precious artworks are preserved as a rich cultural heritage for future generations.

wood carving in Confucianism

Woodcarving as One of the Representative Forms of Confucian Culture

Confucian culture emphasizes humanism, moral cultivation, and interpersonal relationships, reflecting deeply on concepts such as benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness. Woodcarving, as a traditional art form, embodies these characteristics of Confucian culture. Woodcarving artworks often depict natural landscapes, flora and fauna, and figures, symbolizing the Confucian ideal of the harmony between heaven and humanity. Moreover, Confucian values such as benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness are conveyed through woodcarving pieces.

The Application of Woodcarving in Architectural Decoration within Confucian Culture

In Confucian culture, architecture plays a vital role, and woodcarving finds extensive application in architectural ornamentation. For instance, in ancient palaces, temples, and gardens, woodcarvings are commonly seen. These woodcarvings embellish architectural elements like doors, windows, beams, and brackets, enhancing not only the aesthetics of the structures but also reflecting Confucian notions of ritual and moral concepts.

The Use of Woodcarving in Crafting Utensils within Confucian Culture

Beyond architectural decoration, woodcarving has widespread applications in crafting utensils. For example, in ancient furniture and scholar’s treasures, woodcarvings are often employed as decorative elements. These woodcarved pieces possess high aesthetic value while embodying the practical spirit of Confucian culture. For instance, among scholar’s treasures, the carvings on inkstone stands are exceptionally intricate, symbolizing the cultural refinement and taste of literati.

Woodcarving’s Role in Cultural Inheritance within Confucian Culture

Confucian culture places great emphasis on the inheritance and development of traditional culture. Woodcarving, as a traditional art form, contributes to cultural transmission. Through woodcarving pieces, people can gain insights into the history, culture, and traditional values of Confucian culture. For instance, in ancient imperial examinations, candidates often crafted their scholar’s treasures with woodcarvings, which not only represented their cultural refinement and knowledge but also carried forward Confucian traditional values and cultural spirit.

Modern Applications and Development of Woodcarving in Confucian Culture

As society evolves and cultural shifts occur, the application and development of modern woodcarving within Confucian culture have undergone changes. On one hand, modern woodcarvers continually experiment with new carving techniques and materials, making woodcarved works more vivid and three-dimensional, thanks to technological advancements and material diversity. On the other hand, as society embraces cultural diversity and individuals seek unique artistic expressions, modern woodcarving artworks emphasize individuality and innovation. These modern woodcarvings not only possess unique aesthetic value but also contribute to the preservation and development of traditional Confucian culture.

In conclusion, woodcarving, as a pivotal component of Confucian culture, holds unique aesthetic value and serves as a means of cultural preservation and development. As society continues to evolve, and aesthetic sensibilities change, woodcarving art will continue to innovate and evolve, injecting new vitality into the inheritance and development of Confucian culture. Meanwhile, efforts should be strengthened to protect and pass down traditional woodcarving art, ensuring that these precious artworks are preserved as a rich cultural heritage for future generations.

wood carving in Fengshui

Woodcarving does not have specific Feng Shui principles associated with it. Woodcarving is a traditional Chinese art form that can express various themes and styles through carving and painting. In Feng Shui, woodcarvings can be seen as auspicious objects because they can help ward off negative energy.

However, when using woodcarvings, it’s important to consider the following points:

Choose the Right Material: When selecting woodcarvings, consider whether the material is suitable for the local Feng Shui environment. Generally, in dry northern regions, harder woods may be chosen, while in humid southern regions, softer woods may be preferred.

Pay Attention to Placement: The placement of woodcarvings should be determined based on their symbolism and purpose. For example, if you have a pair of woodcarved lions or mythical creatures like qilin, they can be placed on both sides of the entrance to serve as guardians and protect against negative energy. If you have woodcarvings depicting landscapes, flowers, or birds, they can be placed in the living room or study to serve as decorative elements.

Avoid Damage: When using woodcarvings, handle them with care to avoid damage from collisions or friction. Also, consider fire safety and moisture prevention to extend their lifespan.

Additionally, there are some general Feng Shui principles to keep in mind when using woodcarvings:

Avoid Overcrowding: Feng Shui does not favor overcrowding with too many woodcarvings or decorative items. Each woodcarving has its unique characteristics, and having too many can create a cluttered and chaotic environment. It’s better to display a few carefully chosen woodcarvings.

Consider the Theme: Different woodcarvings have different themes, and it’s important to align the theme with the Feng Shui of your home. For example, if you have a woodcarving that symbolizes wealth, consider the location of your wealth area and the orientation of the carving to maximize its Feng Shui benefits.

Optimal Placement: Woodcarvings, often carrying auspicious symbolism, are best placed in areas like the living room or study. However, their placement should also align with auspicious directions and Feng Shui principles. Avoid placing them in areas near bathrooms or ventilation openings. You can also enhance their energy by tying a small red ribbon around them.

In summary, while there are no strict Feng Shui rules specific to woodcarvings, you can use them to enhance the energy and aesthetics of your living spaces by considering their symbolism, material, and placement according to general Feng Shui principles.

Feng Shui and Woodcarvings: A Guide to Placement

Many woodcarved ornaments not only enhance the aesthetics of a space but are also believed to bring good fortune and prosperity. However, there are specific guidelines for their placement in Feng Shui. If not arranged properly, these ornaments may not fulfill their intended purpose and could even have adverse effects. Below, we provide some examples:

Money Toad (Three-Legged Frog)

According to legend, the mythical creature known as the Three-Legged Frog, or Money Toad, has the ability to spit out gold coins, symbolizing wealth and abundance. It’s often said that “Money Toads reside where wealth gathers.” There are two types of Money Toads, and their placement is significant:

Money Toads with coins in their mouths should face inside the house, symbolizing the attraction of wealth into your home.

Money Toads without coins in their mouths should face outside the house, signifying the invitation of wealth from the external environment, known as “gathering wealth.”

When placing a Money Toad, avoid positioning it with its head pointing towards a restroom, as restrooms are considered impure places. Also, avoid having the Money Toad’s head facing a fish tank or pool, as this suggests “wealth flowing away with water.” To enhance its wealth-attracting power, you can place a few coins on its back.

Chinese Cabbage (Bai Cai)

Chinese Cabbage is associated with wealth due to its phonetic resemblance to “a hundred wealth.” It is a popular choice for attracting wealth and prosperity in homes and businesses. Woodcarved Chinese Cabbages can be either horizontally or vertically oriented, each with its own symbolism:

Horizontally carved Chinese Cabbage represents the acquisition of sudden wealth.

Vertically carved Chinese Cabbage, often placed on top of a wealth basin (a symbol of wealth), symbolizes the accumulation of wealth.

When placing Chinese Cabbage, it’s essential to avoid pairing it with images of mountains, waterfalls, or turbulent landscapes, as these can lead to fluctuations in your financial fortune.

Pixiu (Pi Xiu)

Pixiu is a highly regarded mythical creature associated with wealth. According to legend, Pixiu has no anus and feeds on gold, silver, and precious jewels, making it a powerful wealth attractor. When placing Pixiu:

Position it with its mouth facing towards the house entrance to draw wealth into your home.

If placed near a window, ensure that the window faces a busy street or a public pathway to allow Pixiu to “bite” wealth from the outside.

Avoid placing Pixiu with its head pointing towards the restroom or facing a mirror. Also, avoid placing it near the bed, as it is considered inauspicious.

Calabash (Hulu)

Calabash, phonetically similar to “blessings” in Chinese, symbolizes good fortune. It is believed to bring prosperity and protection to a household. When using woodcarved calabashes:

Place them in the living room or the wealth area of your home to attract wealth.

If you are in a leadership position, display them on a bookshelf to symbolize integrity in leadership.

Do not place calabashes near bathrooms or in areas with poor ventilation, as these locations may negatively affect your wealth luck.

Ruyi (Scepter of Power)

The Ruyi represents the fulfillment of wishes and desires. It is a symbol of good fortune and favorable outcomes. When placing a Ruyi:

Display it in the living room to promote harmony and prosperity.

Placing it in the bedroom can enhance one’s love and marital luck.

Avoid positioning the Ruyi in dimly lit, damp, or negative energy areas, as this can hinder its ability to bring auspiciousness and positive change.

In summary, woodcarvings can indeed bring positive energy and prosperity, but their placement should be in accordance with Feng Shui principles. Proper orientation, symbolism, and location are key factors in ensuring they fulfill their intended purpose.

Chinese wood carving history

Woodcarving art in China has a rich history dating back to the Neolithic period. However, it initially began as an unconscious practice and only evolved into a recognized form of art as aesthetics developed. The roots of Chinese woodcarving can be traced to the Hemudu culture in Yuyao, Zhejiang, over 7,000 years ago, where wooden fish carvings were first discovered. During the Qin and Han dynasties, woodcarving techniques matured, displaying exquisite craftsmanship in both carving and painting.

The advent of painted woodcarving marked a significant milestone, signaling the high level of ancient woodcarving craftsmanship. The Tang Dynasty was a golden era for Chinese craftsmanship, and woodcarving techniques continued to advance. Many preserved wooden Buddha statues from this era are considered masterpieces, characterized by refined forms, skilled carving techniques, and clear and vibrant lines, making them highly sought after in today’s art market.

During the Ming and Qing dynasties, woodcarvings depicted various themes, including everyday life, mythological stories, and auspicious motifs such as “abundance and surplus,” “bountiful harvests,” “auspicious dragons and phoenixes,” “peace and good fortune,” and “longevity like pine and crane.” These woodcarvings gained popularity within society at the time.

Chinese woodcarving encompasses a wide range of styles and techniques, with different regions developing their unique artistic traditions over centuries. For example:

  • Dongyang woodcarving originated in the Song Dynasty in Zhejiang’s Dongyang region, known for its intricate and beautifully crafted designs.
  • During the Qianlong period of the Qing Dynasty, over 400 artisans from Dongyang, often called the “hometown of woodcarving,” were summoned to Beijing to participate in the restoration of palaces.
  • Luqiao Boxwood Carving, starting from the mid-Qing Dynasty, became known for crafting small boxwood items and gained recognition both nationally and internationally.
  • Guangdong’s Gilt Lacquer Woodcarving, dating back to the Tang Dynasty, involves carving in camphor wood and then applying gold leaf, resulting in magnificent and highly artistic pieces.

Preserving and Promoting Heritage

Woodcarving, as a significant branch of traditional Chinese sculpture, employs various wood materials and tree roots for carving. Its history spans millennia, with early evidence found at the Hemudu archaeological site in Zhejiang, where wooden fish carvings were discovered—a testament to its ancient origins. Although few woodcarvings have survived for over a thousand years due to preservation challenges, the Song Dynasty saw an increase in finely detailed woodcarvings, which continue to be cherished today. Some temples still house woodcarvings from the Song Dynasty.

The Yuan and Ming periods, marked by rapid overseas trade, introduced a wider variety of wood materials, leading to further development in woodcarving craftsmanship. The late Qing Dynasty, however, saw a decline in woodcarving due to political corruption, national weakness, foreign aggression, and economic hardships. Artisans and masters struggled to make ends meet.

With the founding of the People’s Republic of China, traditional crafts received state support, leading to the revival of woodcarving. Renowned national-level masters emerged, creating works of art characterized by exquisite craftsmanship, respect for tradition, profound themes, and reflections of the times. These masters embraced tradition while innovating, expressing their gratitude for the opportunities presented by the new era. Their work serves as a testament to their commitment to preserving and revitalizing this ancient art form.

when invented Chinese wood carving?

Woodcarving art in China traces its origins back to the Neolithic period, specifically during the Hemudu culture in Yuyao, Zhejiang, over 7,000 years ago. Evidence of wooden fish carvings from that era showcases the early beginnings of woodcarving in China. During the Qin and Han dynasties, woodcarving techniques matured, characterized by exquisite skills in both painting and carving. The emergence of painted woodcarvings marked a significant milestone, indicating the high level of craftsmanship attained in ancient woodcarving.

In the year 1054 AD, during the Song Dynasty, there is evidence of advanced woodworking techniques when Zheng Shen, the magistrate of Chaozhou, created a timekeeping device called the “Lotus Clepsydra.” This device was described as having “precise measurements and decorated with gold and lacquer.”

The Tang and Song dynasties witnessed further development and refinement of woodcarving techniques, with a fusion of folk characteristics. However, it was during the Ming and Qing dynasties that woodcarving art reached its zenith, with craftsmen achieving mastery in both technical skills and artistic appreciation.

is wood carving dangerous

Wood carving can be dangerous if proper safety precautions are not taken. Here are some potential risks associated with wood carving and how to minimize them:

Cuts and Punctures: Sharp carving tools, such as knives, chisels, and gouges, can cause cuts and puncture wounds if they slip or are mishandled.

Safety Measures: Always keep your carving tools sharp, as dull tools can be more dangerous. Wear appropriate safety gear like cut-resistant gloves and eye protection. Maintain a firm grip on the tools, use proper carving techniques, and carve away from your body.

Splinters: Working with wood can generate splinters, which can cause painful injuries or infections if they penetrate the skin.

Safety Measures: Choose wood that is free from knots, splits, and other defects. Use sandpaper to smooth rough areas. Wear gloves and inspect your workpiece regularly for splinters.

Dust and Respiratory Issues: Wood dust produced during carving can be harmful if inhaled, potentially leading to respiratory issues.

Safety Measures: Carve in a well-ventilated area or use a dust collection system. Wear a dust mask or respirator to protect your lungs. Clean your workspace regularly to minimize dust buildup.

Strains and Injuries: Carving for extended periods can lead to muscle strains and repetitive strain injuries.

Safety Measures: Take regular breaks to rest your hands and arms. Practice good posture and ergonomics. Use tools that are the right size and weight for your hands.

Electrical Tools: If you use powered carving tools like rotary tools or chainsaws, there is a risk of electrical shock or injury from the rotating components.

Safety Measures: Follow manufacturer instructions for using power tools. Keep cords away from the cutting area. Use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) when working with electric tools outdoors.

Fire Hazard: Wood shavings and dust can be flammable, posing a fire hazard if proper precautions are not taken.

Safety Measures: Keep your work area clean and free from combustible materials. Have a fire extinguisher nearby.

Chemical Hazards: Some wood species may contain natural toxins or allergens that can pose health risks. Additionally, wood finishes and adhesives may contain chemicals that can be hazardous.

Safety Measures: Research the wood species you’re working with and take appropriate precautions. Use finishes and adhesives in well-ventilated areas and wear appropriate protective gear.

Lack of Training: Inexperience with carving tools and techniques can increase the risk of accidents.

Safety Measures: Consider taking classes or seeking guidance from experienced woodcarvers. Start with simple projects and gradually work your way up to more complex carvings.

In summary, while wood carving can be a safe and enjoyable hobby or profession, it’s essential to follow safety guidelines, wear appropriate protective gear, and exercise caution to minimize potential risks and injuries.

is wood carving easy

Wood carving’s ease or difficulty depends on various factors, including your experience, the complexity of the carving project, and the tools and wood you’re using. Here are some considerations:

Experience: If you’re a beginner, wood carving may seem challenging at first. However, as with any skill, practice and experience will make it easier over time. Starting with simple projects and gradually progressing to more complex ones is a good approach.

Choice of Wood: The type of wood you choose can significantly impact the ease of carving. Some woods, like basswood or cedar, are softer and more forgiving for beginners. Hardwoods like oak or walnut can be more challenging to carve due to their density.

Tools: The quality and sharpness of your carving tools matter. Sharp tools are easier and safer to use than dull ones. Investing in good-quality carving tools and keeping them well-maintained will make the process smoother.

Project Complexity: Simple, straightforward designs with minimal detail are easier for beginners. As you gain experience, you can tackle more intricate and challenging projects.

Safety: Proper safety precautions are essential to make wood carving easier and safer. Using protective gear like gloves and safety glasses, as well as learning safe carving techniques, will help prevent accidents.

Patience: Wood carving requires patience and attention to detail. Rushing through a project can lead to mistakes or accidents. Take your time and enjoy the process.

Guidance and Learning: Learning from experienced woodcarvers, taking classes, or following instructional videos and books can make wood carving easier by providing you with valuable guidance and techniques.

In summary, wood carving can range from relatively easy for simple projects to challenging for intricate designs. Your experience level, choice of wood, tools, and approach all play a role in determining the ease of wood carving. With practice and the right resources, you can develop your skills and find wood carving to be an enjoyable and rewarding craft.

how to make Chinese wood carving?

Creating Chinese wood carvings involves various steps, and it’s a craft that requires skill, patience, and creativity. Here’s a general overview of how to make Chinese wood carvings:

Materials and Tools:

Wood: Choose the type of wood suitable for your project. Common choices include basswood, cedar, or mahogany, depending on your design and budget.

Carving Tools: Invest in high-quality carving tools, including gouges, chisels, and carving knives. Different tools are used for various carving techniques.

Safety Gear: Wear safety gear such as safety glasses, a dust mask, and protective gloves to prevent injuries and inhaling wood dust.

Steps to Make Chinese Wood Carvings:

Design and Planning:

Begin with a well-thought-out design for your wood carving. You can draw this on paper or create a digital design.

Consider the size, shape, and details of your carving. Simpler designs are suitable for beginners, while more complex designs require advanced skills.

Select and Prepare the Wood:

Choose a piece of wood that matches your design’s size and requirements.

Cut the wood to the desired dimensions, ensuring it’s free from knots or defects that could affect the carving process.

Transfer the Design:

Transfer your design onto the wood surface. You can use carbon paper or draw directly onto the wood.


Begin carving the wood using the appropriate tools. Chinese wood carving often involves intricate relief carving, which means carving designs that stand out from the wood’s surface.

Start with the background and progressively carve the foreground details.

Pay close attention to the depth and details of your carving, working slowly and carefully.

Finishing and Smoothing:

After completing the carving, use finer carving tools to smooth and refine the details.

Sand the entire piece to remove any rough spots and create a smooth surface.

Finish and Protect the Wood:

Apply a finish to the wood to enhance its appearance and protect it from damage. Common finishes include varnish, oil, or lacquer.

Allow the finish to dry thoroughly.

Final Touches:

Inspect your wood carving for any imperfections or areas that need touch-ups.

Add any additional decorative elements or colors if desired.

Display or Use:

Once your Chinese wood carving is complete, you can choose to display it as wall art, furniture embellishments, or other decorative purposes.

Remember that wood carving is a skill that requires practice and patience. It’s essential to start with simpler projects and gradually work your way up to more complex designs as you gain experience and confidence in your abilities. Learning from experienced wood carvers or taking classes can also be beneficial in mastering this traditional craft.

Wood carving vs. wood burning

Wood carving and wood burning are two distinct artistic techniques involving wood, each with its own characteristics and methods. Here’s a comparison of the two:

Wood Carving:

Technique: Wood carving involves using sharp tools like chisels, gouges, and knives to remove wood material from a wooden block or piece. The artist creates shapes, forms, and details by cutting, shaping, and carving the wood.

Result: The end result of wood carving is a sculpture or relief that stands out from the wood’s surface. It can be a three-dimensional figure or a decorative pattern carved into the wood.

Texture: Wood carving typically leaves a textured surface with noticeable depth and contours.

Color: Wood carving retains the natural color of the wood unless the artist chooses to stain or paint the carved areas.

Tools: Requires specialized carving tools and safety equipment such as gloves and goggles.

Applications: Wood carving is commonly used for creating sculptures, intricate furniture, decorative panels, and architectural elements.

Wood Burning (Pyrography):

Technique: Wood burning, also known as pyrography, involves using a heated tool, often with interchangeable tips, to create burn marks on the wood’s surface. The artist draws or writes on the wood by applying controlled heat.

Result: The end result of wood burning is a series of burned-in lines, shapes, and shading on the wood’s surface. It is a two-dimensional technique.

Texture: Wood burning leaves a textured surface with variations in color due to the degree of burning.

Color: Wood burning darkens the wood, creating various shades of brown or black. The artist can control the shading to create depth and contrast.

Tools: Requires a wood-burning pen or soldering iron with different tips for various effects.

Applications: Wood burning is often used for creating detailed illustrations, decorative patterns, personalized signs, and fine art on wooden surfaces.

In summary, wood carving involves shaping and removing wood to create three-dimensional sculptures or patterns, while wood burning focuses on drawing and shading by burning lines and shapes onto the wood’s surface. Both techniques offer unique opportunities for artistic expression, and artists choose between them based on their preferences and the desired outcome of their projects.

Chinese wood carving vs. Japanese wood carving

Chinese wood carving and Japanese wood carving exhibit significant differences in several aspects:

Origin and Heritage: Chinese wood carving art dates back to the Neolithic period, with a history spanning over seven thousand years. During the Tang and Song dynasties, wood carving techniques matured and incorporated folk characteristics. In contrast, Japanese wood carving emerged during the Asuka period, roughly equivalent to China’s Sui and Tang periods, and has been continuously practiced up to the present day.

Materials and Styles: Chinese wood carving predominantly employs materials such as camphorwood, pine, and rosewood, showcasing exquisite craftsmanship with vivid details. Japanese wood carving tends to favor high-quality woods like rosewood and ebony, emphasizing precise detailing and an elegant and dignified style.

Themes and Artistic Expression: Chinese wood carving explores a wide range of themes, including historical figures, mythological stories, and religious narratives. Expression forms include round carving, relief carving, and hollow carving, often combined with other sculptural arts like stone carving and ivory carving. Japanese wood carving places greater emphasis on depicting daily life and nature, featuring subjects such as flora, fauna, landscapes, and gardens. Additionally, Japanese wood carving often incorporates intricate inlay techniques to enrich the artwork.

Cultural Background: Chinese wood carving is influenced by Daoism, Confucianism, and other philosophies, highlighting the expression of individual emotions and artistic concepts. Japanese wood carving, on the other hand, is closely tied to traditional Japanese cultural practices such as the tea ceremony (chanoyu) and ikebana (flower arranging), emphasizing harmony and balance.

In summary, both Chinese and Japanese wood carving are essential components of global wood carving art. Throughout their respective histories of preservation and development, they have cultivated unique artistic styles and cultural significance.


In conclusion, wood carving, as a significant component of traditional Chinese arts and crafts, possesses a profound historical heritage and unique artistic value. It serves not only as a vessel of Chinese traditional culture but also as a crucial avenue for us to understand and study this culture. Through the discussions presented in this article, it is hoped that more people will come to appreciate and admire this outstanding form of folk traditional art. Additionally, it is our hope that more artists will inherit and promote this ancient art form, allowing it to shine anew in modern times.


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