Chinese painting is one of the oldest artistic traditions in the world. Painting in the traditional style is known today in China as Gouha 国画)”. Gongbi, (工笔)" meaning meticulous, uses highly detailed brushstrokes that exhibits details very precisely. The paintings are often highly colored and usually depict figural or narrative subjects. It is often practiced by artists working for the royal court or in independent workshops/studios.

Ink and washing painting, in Chinese, shui-mo, also loosely termed watercolor or brush painting, is also known as "literati painting", as it was one of the "Four Arts" of the Chinese Scholar-official class. The style is also referred to as "xieyi" or freehand.

Landscape painting was regarded as the highest form of Chinese painting, and generally still is. The time from the Five Dynasties period to the Northern Song Period (907–1127) is known as the "Great age of Chinese landscape". In the north, artists such as Jing Hao, Li Cheng, Fan Kuan, and Guo Xi painted pictures of towering mountains, using strong black lines, ink wash, and sharp, dotted brushstrokes to suggest rough stone. In the south, Dong Yuan, Juran, and other artists painted the rolling hills and rivers of their native countryside in peaceful scenes done with softer, rubbed brushwork. These two kinds of scenes and techniques became the classical styles of Chinese landscape painting.

The "Six principles of Chinese painting" were established by Xie He, a writer, art historian and critic in 5th century China, in "Six points to consider when judging a painting" (繪畫六法, Pinyin: Huìhuà Liùfǎ), from the preface to his book "The Record of the Classification of Old Painters" (古畫品錄; Pinyin: Gǔhuà Pǐnlù). Keep in mind that this was written circa 550 CE and refers to "old" and "ancient" practices. The six elements that define a painting are:

  1. "Spirit Resonance", or vitality, which refers to the flow of energy that encompasses theme, work, and artist. Xie said that without Spirit Resonance, there was no need to look further.

  2. "Bone Method", or the way of using the brush, refers not only to texture and brush stroke, but to the close link between handwriting and personality. In his day, the art of calligraphy was inseparable from painting.

  3. "Correspondence to the Object", or the depicting of form, which would include shape and line.

  4. "Suitability to Type", or the application of color, including layers, value, and tone.

  5. "Division and Planning", or placing and arrangement, corresponding to composition, space, and depth.

  6. "Transmission by Copying", or the copying of models, not from life only but also from the works of antiquity.

Modern painting

Beginning with the New Culture Movement, Chinese artists started to adopt using Western techniques.

In the early years of the People's Republic of China, artists were encouraged to employ socialist realism. Some Soviet Union socialist realism was imported without modification, and painters were assigned subjects and expected to mass-produce paintings. This regimen was considerably relaxed in 1953, and after the Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1956-57, traditional Chinese painting experienced a significant revival. Along with these developments in professional art circles, there was a proliferation of peasant art depicting everyday life in the rural areas on wall murals and in open-air painting exhibitions.

During the Cultural Revolution, art schools were closed, and publication of art journals and major art exhibitions ceased. Major destruction was also carried out as part of the elimination of Four Olds campaign.

Since 1978

Following the Cultural Revolution, art schools and professional organizations were reinstated. Exchanges were set up with groups of foreign artists, and Chinese artists began to experiment with new subjects and techniques.

After Chinese economic reform, more and more artists boldly conducted innovations in Chinese Painting. The innovations include: development of new brushing skill such as vertical direction splash water and ink.