page top banner image

China - Japan - Korea

Doorway to Korea

From the Buddhist Temple gallery, looking down the Korean gallery of celadon and roof tiles. The rams guarding the entry are the same ones from the original, and rather empty, Asian Court.


The Korean gallery introduces the first country and culture of art. Even before entering one sees the roof tiles so characteristic of Korea. The actual rooftops overhang so the angle from the edge of the roof to the base of the wall is a 42 degree angle (if I remember correctly). The roof lines were developed for Buddhist temples in Seoul, the capital of Korea. The angle gives enough shade to protect monks from sun. The roof edges are decorated, and the roof corners often have figures depicting demons and dragons to protect those within. This gallery is the first time Korean art has been a part of the permanent exhibit at the Museum. Notice that there is always symmetry and usually art that copies the Chinese, who are considered the ultimate scholars. Buddha is a frequent subject for sculptures.

Korean Buddhas

This makes sense after learning that having an art piece made for a temple, or establishing a new temple, can make one closer to the goal of Nirvana. Korean ceramics with a blue-green-gray glaze called celadon are sought after all over the world.

Korean Buddhas

Their blue and white pottery has long been admired.

The end of the hall has Korean folk art, which was not considered art at all in Korea until the late 1970s after a couple of gallery owners were murdered in Seoul. Once Korean police discovered that Korean folk art was exported by the Japanese along with their other arts, Koreans decided to consider it art.

Korean Buddhas

Included are rice cookie molds and a Korean chest. Traditionally, because Korea was forced to be a colony of Japan until 1919, things are often done in ways thought to be the opposite of Japanese. When the government realized that Japanese businessmen revered Korean art and were promoting it to the world, they suddenly had a law that anyone spitting on the sidewalk (a sign of anger at Japanese) would be jailed. The next day 1,500 were arrested for spitting. News spread quickly, and in just 24 hours sidewalks were no longer covered in slimy spit. That's the upside of the benevolent dictatorship in the late '70s. No arguments in congress, no notice to the public and an instant change of behavior.


The most influential and largest country of East Asia is China. It is thought of first in East Asian art because much of the Korean and Japanese art came from China with the Buddhist monks. Chinese art has symmetry.

hand scroll

Scholarly works like paintings are beautifully calm (like the hand scroll) and constrained while folk arts have color with wild abandon (the ceramics on the wall). Chinese house

The Curator's wish is for you to feel like you are in the modern Chinese home of a wealthy family, looking at their collection of antiques. There are places to sit and look for more art in the gallery while learning about (and appreciating) the art. There are things at different heights for different ages. Also those who appreciate Asian art can look for many layers of art just like there are many layers in the culture. When looking at a Chinese landscape, pretend to go into the artwork and walk around. Like the Chinese gardens, there are secret details hidden that perhaps others will miss. This vase has the perfect proportions and is the featured Chinese art work in the Museum.

Perfect vase


The Japanese traditionally have simple lines and judicious use of colors. Their art is known for asymmetry, so when I studied Korean chests in the Asian Arts study group, I found that some of my favorite Korean chests were actually Japanese tansu.

Japanese Shrine & doors

Featured here are the Shinto shrine and the famous screen doors of Japanese homes. There is also a beautiful fountain from a temple where one could get a scoop of holy water and splash it on. It is huge!

The galleries have been designed so one can see the ceramics of Korea, China and Japan at the same time to compare. Perhaps others can compare given the distance, but it was a great idea.

See Ceramics

With short attention spans these days, small items otherwise passed without notice are placed in cases next to seating, and are easily visible. Sit awhile!

Sitting with art Samurai swordsmen - Asian Court

These old Samurai friends from the Asian Court are still around in the 21st century. Can you find them?

logo banner gallery history China Museum web page Japan Korea