The advent of Buddhism (1st cent. A.D.) introduced art of a different character. Works of sculpture, painting, and architecture of a more distinctly religious nature were created. With Buddhism, the representation of the Buddha and of the bodhisattvas and attendant figures became the great theme of sculpture. The forms of these figures came to China from India by way of central Asia, but in the 6th cent. A.D. the Chinese artists succeeded in developing a national style in sculpture. This style reached its greatest distinction early in the T'ang dynasty. Figures, beautiful in proportion and graceful in gesture, show great precision and clarity in the rendering of form, with a predominance of linear rhythms.
Gradually the restraint of the 7th cent. gave way to more dramatic work. Major sites of Buddhist art in cave temples include Donghuang, Lung-men, Yun-kang, Mai-chi-shan, and Ping-ling-ssu. For about 600 years Buddhist sculpture continued to flourish; then in the Ming dynasty sculpture ceased to develop in style. After this time miniature sculpture in jade, ivory, and glass, of exquisite craftsmanship but lacking vitality of inspiration, was produced in China (and was also made in Japan).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.