Taoism and the Arts of China
A teacher packet including an introduction to Taoism and suggested classroom applications for various Taoist themes. Includes slides.
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University of California Press
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Teach Chinese culture and Taoism using art work of ancient China
Taoism and the Arts of China
Journey to Perfect Harmony
Review by Nancy Patton
This curriculum guide was produced by the Art Institute of Chicago in 2000. It uses 12 works of art of ancient China to teach about Taoism. Central to Chinese culture and history, Taoism (pronounced: dow-ism), or the Great Way, is a world of beliefs, ceremonial practices and art that strives to harmonize human life with the forever and naturally changing universe, according to the authors of the guide. It encompasses concepts of Qi, a vital energy of the universe, and Yin and Yang, the yielding and assertive energies, respectively.
The curriculum guide is well-constructed, clearly laid out and accessible for a novice teacher of Chinese culture. It is geared to the middle school and high school levels with numerous application activities and discussion guidelines included. Key vocabulary is in bold lettering throughout the entire guide which makes it easy to see which concepts are essential vocabulary for the lessons. The vocabulary in bold lettering is also found in the back in the comprehensive glossary.
At the very beginning of the guide is a section for teachers entitled, “How to Use this Teacher Packet” which includes an overview and pronunciation guidelines for the Chinese words and names found within.
The curriculum is divided into four main conceptual systems for understanding Taoism: Gods and Goddesses, Immortals, Rituals, and Mountains and Landscapes. Each section has examples of art works to illustrate ideas of Taoism, discussion guidelines, application activity suggestions, materials needed, and alternative activities. The suggested activities include literary as well as art and science project ideas for reinforcing the essential concepts.
I. Gods and Goddesses
In Taoism, gods and goddesses are not considered supreme beings and are not anthropomorphic representations of a supreme being. Rather, they were considered personifications, ways of comprehending the Great Way. The section includes an explanation of the essential gods and goddesses with visual art support form the art works, discussion guidelines for the art work and vocabulary and concepts of Taoist concepts, and application activities.
Examples for Middle School:
To follow up with the art slide discussion of the Yin and Yang representing the moon and the sun, respectively, application suggestions include 1) read a Chinese myth of how Chang E flew to the moon or 2) read and discuss the Chinese Moon Festival and follow with suggested art activity.
Examples for High School:
Application suggestions are similar to middle school activities except that somewhat more advance readings are suggested, and the discussion questions and projects are somewhat more advanced.
Becoming immortal is one of the principal goals of Taoism, according to the curriculum guide. Becoming immortal required assiduous practice of spiritual and physical disciplines, and often included moral and ethical integrity. Meditation and inner visualization are intrinsic to this practice. In art, the immortals are identified by the objects they are holding or near such as, an iron crutch, a sword, or a calabash (a type of double gourd). Immortals are sometimes depicted as riding dragons—another key archetype of Chinese culture.
Creative writing assignments for the Eight Immortals and their Adventures
Read about Chinese Dragons and write or do a project
Some of the same with extensions
Communities, families, and individuals communicate with the divinities of Tao through rituals, according to the curriculum guide. The rituals are performed as needed and there are two basic types of rituals: Rituals for the Living and, Rituals for the Dead. Rituals for the Living are performed to ensure prosperity, guarantee harvests, cure sand prevent illness, and exorcise evil. Rituals for the Dead are performed to ensure the release of the dead spirits to the heavens.
Art works include garments of the ritual ceremonies for the afterlife and the ritual sword with 28 lunar mansions inlaid.
MS and HS Applications
Activities include, among others, interpret the inscription of the ritual sword on the art slide, and write a poem for it.
IV. Mountains and Landscapes
Mountains have a special meaning in Taoism. Mountains are magical, sacred places with a special energy (Qi). They join the heavens to earth and are viewed as gateways to heaven.
Landscapes are mountains and water in Taoism. The mountains represent the yang ( assertive energy) and the water, as in rivers, lakes, seas, represents the yielding energy.
The art works included in this section include examples of a mountain shaped incense burner and a depiction of a Taoist paradise.
MS and HS Activities
Suggested activities include writing nature poems, researching the Five
Sacred Mountains, an researching the topography of China.
The curriculum guide includes a Comprehensive Glossary, Summaries of the Chinese Dynasties, Further Resources (books, websites, etc.), four Chinese calligraphy lessons for the characters of Immortals, Longevity, Mountains and Water, and the instructions for the structure of a diamante poem.
The only drawback is that the art work is still on old-fashioned slides which require a slide projector. It would be advisable to transfer the slides to a power point prior to instruction.