Imagining a Watery World

Aquatic Animals, Water Calamities, and Bathing Rituals in Chinese Literature and Cinema
11:00 am – 12:45 pm

  • Hui-Lin Hsu, Chair
  • Yuqing Liu, “Fantasising Women in the Bathhouse: The Imagery of Water and the Gender Space in the Film Shower (1999)”
  • Bo-Yan Chen, “Waterways, Disasters, and Knowledge Construction: Narratives of Aquatic Animals in Tang Stories”
  • Yiwei Zhang, “The Calamities of Water in Journey to the West
  • Einor Cervone, Discussant

This panel explores the lasting importance of the literary and visual representation of water in premodern and modern China. Water is, of course, a natural element that has long been used as a metaphor in literature and a symbol of philosophical concepts. How has the experience of encountering, managing, and consuming water influenced the arts in China? Focusing on the theme of water, this panel investigates the epistemic, ecological, and gender issues in literary and visual production from the Tang dynasty to contemporary China. Bo-Yen Chen examines narratives of river cruises and voyages in the early Song collection of stories, showing how knowledge of aquatic animals and spirits was represented in Tang tales. Yiwei Zhang explores the idea of nature in The Journey to the West by analysing the writing of water calamities and the significance of water control in religious and cross-cultural contexts. Focusing on the reworking of the traditional aesthetic theme of the “bathing beauty,” Yuqing Liu investigates the role of water in the construction of gendered relationships in contemporary Chinese cinema. Art historian and Discussant Einor Cervone will enrich the discussion with her research on the “waterscapes” of late imperial aquatic theatre. Chair and literary historian Hui-Lin Hsu, who studies the relationship between floods and literature in late Qing China, will place the aesthetic concerns of the panel into a longer and broader literary-historical context.

Yuqing Liu, “Fantasising Women in the Bathhouse: The Imagery of Water and the Gender Space in the Film Shower (1999)”

This paper looks at cinematic nostalgia and the reworking of the traditional aesthetic theme of bathing to unravel the gender relationships in Zhang Yang’s 1999 film, Shower. Set in a traditional Beijing bathhouse, Shower offers a nostalgic take on the problematics of urbanisation and economic development. What role does the imagery of water play in the film? What kind of literary and visual tradition does the film attempt to evoke through the many scenes of bathing? And how to understand the image of water in the cinematic context at the turn of the 21st century? I argue that the idealisation of water in Shower expresses a longing for a traditional patriarchal order. For one, it employs the motif of the “bathing beauty” common in classical Chinese literature and paintings. I trace the history of this motif and observe that the bathing pool has been a literary site and vehicle for males to gaze at female bodies. The film uses a male bathhouse to rebuild a gendered space in which men dominate the storytelling and women are only objects to be narrated, gazed at and fantasised about. Through erotic scenes of female bathing, the film evokes the voyeuristic visual tradition that links water with femininity as well as the imagination of a past golden age. The film’s nostalgia is, therefore, based upon a male-centred narrative and the absence of a female voice. Furthermore, I contend that the floating, fluid, and watery landscape that permeates contemporary Chinese films foreground male anxiety in a transitional era.

Bo-Yan Chen, “Waterways, Disasters, and Knowledge Construction: Narratives of Aquatic Animals in Tang Stories”

This paper examines the narratives of “aquatic animals” and the representation of “water” in Tang stories. Researchers have already explored the romantic tradition in the water-related Tang tales such as Liu Yi by Li Chaowei and Xiangzhong Yuanjie (An Explanation for “Xiangzhong Yuan”) by Shen Yazhi. However, the voluminous stories of watery experience in Taiping Guangji (the Extensive Records of the Taiping Era) manifest that writing about water in the Tang dynasty was not limited to romantic legends. Different from previous studies, this paper focuses on how officials’ experiences of travelling by water developed into narratives about aquatic animals and formed the natural and historical knowledge of rivers and lakes in the Tang dynasty. Taking Li Gongzuo’s Gu Yuedu Jing (The Ancient Yuedu Jing) as an example, I argue that Tang story writers were active explorers and detectives who ceaselessly surveyed, investigated, and recorded the mythical creatures they encountered in voyages. With a wealth of aquatic knowledge, they were able to identify the clues and provide explanations for the appearance in their tales of aquatic animals and monsters often related to disasters such as shipwrecks and floods. Moreover, based on the ecological, religious, and historical knowledge of rivers and lakes, the Tang tales shape a mysterious underwater world as an ideal society, embodying a Confucian pursuit of integrity and social justice.

Yiwei Zhang, “The Calamities of Water in Journey to the West

Water plays an essential role in Journey to the West, showing multilayered meanings through the environment such as floods, droughts, rivers, and lakes, and the objects such as rainwater, sweat, tears, wine, and holy water (shengshui). Focusing on the idea of nature and destiny, this paper explores the ecological, religious, and cross-cultural meanings of water in the novel. I observe that the novel often represents water as related to violence, disasters, and crises. As an emblem of personal catastrophe, the childhood name of Monk Xuanzang, “Jiang Liu’er” (river current), points to violence that happened on the river where Xuanzang’s parents were robbed and his father murdered. The perilousness of water is even more evident in floods and droughts, which trigger major events in the novel. Noticeably, most if not all of the water calamities are related to the problems of Sihai Longwang (Dragon King of the Four Seas) who is in control of the rain and of all aquatic creatures. As the deity of water and the zoomorphic incarnation of the masculine power (yang), the figure of the Dragon King could be traced back to the belief of Nagaraja in Indian religions. By analysing the multifaceted cultural and religious meanings of water in Journey to the West, this paper seeks to further our understanding of the idea of nature and the imagination of a watery world in late imperial China.

Papers on Arts IV

2:00 pm – 3:45 pm

  • Chaired by Martina Caschera
  • Bryce Heatherly, “Commentaries Illustrated: New Methods for Visual Exegesis in a Ming (1368–1644) Woodblock Print of the Diamond Sutra”
  • Miki Homma, “A Chinese Printmaking ‘The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars’ from Saray Album in Istanbul”
  • Yvonne Lin, “’Slobbery, Dusty, and Scratched’: Decay as Fetish in Beijing Silvermine
  • Adina Simona Zemanek, “International Visibility and Official Promotion of Taiwanese Comics: A Case Study of the Angoulême International Comics Festival”

Bryce Heatherly, “Commentaries Illustrated: New Methods for Visual Exegesis in a Ming (1368–1644) Woodblock Print of the Diamond Sutra”

This paper examines a specific mode of illustration designed to accompany printed editions of one of the most widely-recited sutras in the Chinese Buddhist tradition, the Diamond Sutra (Jin’gang jing 金剛經). In a rare illustrated edition of this sutra, printed four times throughout the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), the sutra text itself is imbedded with 46 full-page “commentarial illustrations,” which visually interpret various historical commentaries on the Diamond Sutra. Since the advent of woodblock printing in China, printed illustrations of the Diamond Sutra have employed a variety of para-sutraic visual modes, yet previous studies have focused either on sutra frontispieces (feihua 扉畫) or on illustrations of miracle tales (lingyan gushi tu 靈驗故事圖). To date, no comprehensive study has been conducted on the role of commentarial illustrations in these sutra prints. This essay, while examining the textual origins of the commentaries – some penned by religious luminaries like Huineng 慧能 (638–713), others by little-known lay scholars – demonstrates that these illustrations are not subordinate to their texts, but rather constitute their own “text,” which serves the dual functions of edification and entertainment. Setting these illustrations within the development of the illustrated sutra in China, this paper engages with the broader scholarly discourses on the aesthetic dimensions of woodblock printing, and the shifting relationships between text and image, readership and viewership.

Miki Homma, “A Chinese Printmaking “The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars” from Saray Album in Istanbul”

This paper will discuss an illustration of The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars 二十四孝 in Saray Albums (Istanbul, Topkapi Palace Library). The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars is a book of Confucianism in China. This Chinese Confucian classic is pasted on the Saray Album in Istanbul was probably imported from China during the Timurid Dynasty (1370–1507). A number of studies indicate that there is a relationship between China and West Asia, but no detailed research has been done about Chinese printmaking imported to the Timurid Dynasty.
This paper carefully examines the characteristics of The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars in the Saray Albums. It is in a rare form compared to other Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) printed books because it is not in the form of full-page illustrations or figure on above and text in lower composition, but in the form divided into 6 sections. The paintings are brightly coloured, showing that the original prints imported from China were painted by Islamic painters regardless of the theme. It is hard to believe that it was read by the general public or had an artistic influence like a similar kind of Chinese printed book imported to Japan. This Chinese printmaking in Saray Albums is an important example that suggests the possibility that such printmaking was also imported to Western Asia.
By comparing the The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars imported to East Asia (Japan) and West Asia (Timurid Dynasty) during the Ming dynasty, this paper shows the iconographic similarities and differences.

Yvonne Lin, “’Slobbery, Dusty, and Scratched’: Decay as Fetish in Beijing Silvermine

My paper examines the aesthetics of patina in Thomas Sauvin’s found photography collection, Beijing Silvermine, which travels the international gallery circuit but also lives online as a popular Instagram account. The original set of negatives was salvaged from a recycling plant in Beijing and dates from 1985 to 2005, an era corresponding to the economic liberalisation of the PRC.
I focus on photographs in which decay—arresting patterns of lattices, blur, scratches, and discolouration—are foregrounded against a backdrop of the every day, injecting an experimental mode into a complex of vernacular photographs. I argue that the aesthetics of patina in vernacular photography functions as a commodified problematic of time. In the context of Instagram, which acts as a direct marketplace and advertisement, the decayed emulsion is a visual effect lifted from the material processes of its production. I further contend that historicity as filter reflects not nostalgic yearning but the fetishisation of temporal passage, whose success relies on a gesture towards authenticity that is always already undermined in a virtual experience.
Although scholars have written extensively on the decay in the work of filmmakers or conceptual photographers, the aesthetics of decay in vernacular photography remains underexplored. I situate a formal analysis of these photographs within a theoretical framework that draws from theories of found photography, new media studies, and the cultural history of photography. Through an interrogation of the aesthetics of patina in Beijing Silvermine, my paper will deepen our conception of the practice of narrating the cultural history of postsocialist China.

Adina Simona Zemanek, “International Visibility and Official Promotion of Taiwanese Comics. A Case Study of the Angoulême International Comics Festival”

Comics in Taiwan have a long history of association with Japanese manga, children’s entertainment, and negative value judgments. In recent years, the mainstream manga-style art has been paralleled by the rise of independent artists who cultivate individual styles, target older audiences, and work on a variety of topics including social activism, local culture, history, and memory. Despite these developments, homegrown artists still tended to remain invisible to both the general public and to state institutions promoting Taiwan’s cultural and creative industries and its international image.
This project focuses on the Angoulême International Comics Festival, where Taiwanese artists gained acclaim and have been showcased since 2012 by local organisers at first, and later also by the ROC Ministry of Culture. Based on interviews with three kinds of actors participating in this prestigious festival (artists, publishers and representatives of state institutions), this study attempts to assess how and to what extent Taiwanese comics have been revalued and granted visibility, supported, and integrated into official projects related to public diplomacy. It will also look at how artists and publishers themselves perceive this European event and state backing for homegrown comics.
The following aspects will be considered: 1) criteria and procedures for the selection of state-subsidised works, artists and publishers; 2) Taiwanese comic artists’ and publishers’ motivation for participating in the festival and its potential impact on their careers or marketing strategies; 3) the extent to which all these actors work towards capturing a specifically Taiwanese “cultural geometry” (K. Murphy) in internationally promoted comics.

Papers on Arts III

2:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Room G

  • Chaired by Rossella Ferrari
  • Freerk Heule, “The Jesuits Rameau and Amiot as Links in the European–Chinese World of Music in the 18th Century”
  • Moshan Guo, “Foreign Race, Masculinity, and Underclass Voice: A Discussion on Yan Jin’s Stardom in 1930s China”
  • Agota Revesz, “The Political Economy of Chinese Theatre”
  • Andreea Chirita, “Adapting History to Stage Performance in Urban China

Freerk Heule, “The Jesuits Rameau and Amiot as Links in the European–Chinese World of Music in the 18th Century”

The Jesuit Order was a major factor as a cultural intermediary between the West and the Chinese Empire. J.-P. Rameau (1683–1764), educated at a Jesuit seminary, played the organ and clavichord. His musical theory ‘Treatise on Harmony’ of 1722 dealt with the 12-note music scale. After 1733, he found opera with music, dance, and vocal arts could better express his thoughts with Classicist, Jesuit, Masonic, and ‘New World Order’ concepts, characteristic for the Enlightenment era. In the francophone world it led to quarrels between admirers of Lully (16321687), Rousseau (1712–1778)—on theoretical grounds: harmony over melody—and Italian music lovers.
It was Rameau’s Jesuit confrater J.-M. Amiot (Qian Deming 钱德明 1718–1793) proto-sinologist, author, and translator of books on ‘the Middle Country’ (China), as well as a musicologist who wrote ‘Music of the Chinese’ and ‘Sacred Music’ (Shengyue jing pu 圣乐经谱 1779). Amiot also translated principles of Chinese music in his ‘Chinese Divertissements.’ He took Rameau’s music to Peking by performing ‘Dance of the Savages’, later included as a suite in the opera-ballet The Gallant Indies of the librettist Louis Fuzelier (Paris Opéra, 23 August 1735), for the Chinese literati. A Pekinese observer, however, wrote ‘Nothing of all this made an impression on the Chinese hearts and souls’. To conclude, scientists thought Amiot and Rameau’s information on pentatonicism could be a fundamental international concept of music.

Moshan Guo, “Foreign Race, Masculinity, and Underclass Voice: A Discussion on Yan Jin’s Stardom in 1930s China”

Jin Yan was one of the most important male stars in the 1930s in Chinese cinema. This paper analyses Jin Yan’s star image in the 1930s from the perspectives of the screen image he created, his star image in public view, and his role of the narrator of the underclass discourse. In combination with the development of Chinese films in the 1930s, this paper focus on Jin Yan’s role as a masculine and patriarchal rebel, as well as his unique westernised lifestyle and his alien identity to conclude the formation of Jin Yan’s star status.

Agota Revesz, “The Political Economy of Chinese Theatre”

The paper focuses on traditional Chinese theatre (commonly called “Chinese opera”) and, most importantly, on its socio-political context. First I deal with the question of local vs. pan-Chinese identities as a decisive factor in stage production, then introduce the desire for upward social mobility of local forms in a system of strict cultural hierarchy. I also touch briefly upon the reasons why Beijing Opera and Kunqu became the two internationally promoted “national operas.” The focus is on present-day production and its background. The “political economy” of traditional Chinese theatre can and should be taken as an example for the very complex and in several ways the complementary relationship between culture and politics in China. Stage narratives are politicised, as is the idea of heritage, and it is the interest of the current regime to support traditional theatre production. If we take a look at this broader picture, we see that the “political economy” of traditional Chinese theatre is very different from the context of European theatre. This difference is, however, symptomatic, and might also assist to understand differences in other areas. This interdisciplinary topic has not received scholarly attention before. The paper summarises some of the results of my postdoctoral research conducted at Freie Universität Berlin in 2015–2016. The whole work will soon be published as a book.

Andreea Chirita, “Adapting History to Stage Performance in Urban China”

Historic-themed performances are not a rarity within the contemporary Chinese theatre landscape. While the general trend embraced by theatre-makers is to pinpoint the heroic and larger-than-life attributes of various historic Chinese leaders, a small group of avant-garde directors come up with decanoninzig visions, meant to challenge the traditional grasp of Chinese history by its youthful, urban, patriotic audience. Such is the case of experimental director Wang Chong (b.1982), who, in 2012, brought to the Chinese and Japanese stage his original, parodic vision of communist propaganda movie The Landmine Warfare (1962). My paper investigates the aesthetic modes through which Wang recreates the original version, by means of parody, irony and ideological symbols, and adapts it to the Chinese contemporary socio-historic and ideological background. If the original film formulates the patriotism of a small Chinese village in its quest to outwit and annihilate the ‘Japanese devils’ during the Sino-Japanese war, the theatrical adaptation moves its location to the city and engages textually, creatively and critically with this story, turning it upside down. The result: a brand-new product, that questions the present anti-Japanese feeling among many Chinese urban youths. My paper further analyses how the double nature of this adaptation debunks the historical contingencies that lead to the present nationalistic ideologies among Chinese youngsters. The way in which urban young audiences comply with such surprising ‘remediated stories’ adapted from canonical historic propaganda is another aspect to be investigated.

Fuelling the “Republican Fever”

Findings from China’s Contemporary (Audio)visual Popular Culture
11:00 am – 12:45 pm
Room G

  • Organised by Giovanna Puppin
  • Rossella Ferrari, Chair
  • Giovanna Puppin, “(Re)nationalising Consumerism: Metersbonwe’s ‘I Am a New National Product’ (Wo shi xin guohuo 我是新国货, 2011) Advertising Campaign as a Case Study”
  • Katie Hill, “Legacies of The Modern in Contemporary Art from China: Echoes of the Republican in Imagery of the Body”
  • Martina Caschera, “From Modern Comic Strip to Contemporary Animation: Sanmao’s Breaking of Time and Media Boundaries”
  • Sandy Ng, “Be the Change You Wish to See: Femininity, Heritage, and Transformation in the ‘Modern Woman’”
  • Hiu Man Chan, “Sleepless Shanghai: Recreating the Golden Cinema-Going Culture for Foreign Films”

The expression “Republican fever” refers to the upsurge of interest in the legacy of Republican China (1911–1949), and became increasingly popular in 2011, during the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic.
The Republican period was characterised by unprecedented academic and media freedom, a positive image of entrepreneurship and creativity, as well as the first tide of consumerism, among others. In this fertile context, new modern forms of (audio)visual popular culture thrived, contributing to the artistic production and consumption of the time. More precisely, visual arts, comic strips and cartoons, advertising, movies, as well as design and photography started to play a crucial role in ongoing debates on rising consumerism, national identity, economic modernisation, and imperialism.
While the existing literature tends to focus on the uses and significance of these (audio)visual forms in the context of Republican China, the papers of this panel adopt either a diachronic or a synchronic “snapshot” perspective to provide some original insights into the different ways in which “Republican fever” is being embedded and brought back to life in a variety of texts, discourses, and practices in contemporary China.
The papers of this panel focus on examples coming from the realms of visual arts, comic strips and cartoons, advertising, cinema-going culture, as well as design and photography, and attempt to critically assess the processes of evolution, adaptation, intertextual reference, and/or (re)production at play, with the final objective of interpreting the renewed ideological role of “Republican fever” in a different historical, social, cultural, and political context—that of contemporary China.

Giovanna Puppin, “(Re)nationalising Consumerism: Metersbonwe’s ‘I Am a New National Product’ (Wo shi xin guohuo 我是新国货, 2011) Advertising Campaign as a Case Study:

In the early 20th-century, the tensions between consumerism and nationalism became central to the creation of China as a modern nation. The National Product Movement aimed at restricting the purchase of foreign products and encouraging the consumption of national products, in an attempt to promote a nationalist consumer culture and new ways of “being Chinese”. In 2011, the year that marked the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution, China’s most popular high street brand, Metersbonwe, launched an advertising campaign evocatively entitled “I Am a New National Product” (Wo shi xin guohuo 我是新国货). This paper provides a critical interpretive analysis of this case study, with a focus on the (audio)visual languages employed and the advertising strategies and appeals at play. This illustrates the revival and adaptation of the concept of “national products” in contemporary China, as well as evaluating its meanings and ideological implications. The campaign comprises eight print and audiovisual executions, each of which features a domestic celebrity from one of China’s emerging creative industries. It is characterised by extensive intertextual references with nationalistic slogans, old animated movies, and underpinned by a recurrent feeling of nostalgia for the past and a sense of pride for the present.  The findings of this analysis shed light on the complex dynamics between consumerism and nationalism, the country’s ongoing search for modernity, its ambivalent relationship with the West and, more importantly, its changing perceptions about itself as embedded in the contemporary advertising discourse.

Katie Hill, “Legacies of The Modern in Contemporary Art from China: Echoes of the Republican in Imagery of the Body

This paper examines representations of the body in contemporary art that appear to echo republican China as central motifs in an extended iteration of cultural modernity. In the 1920s, oil painting became a medium for constructing modern culture through a foreign understanding of the body.  The nude as a trope of modernity via the Western tradition brought into being a dramatic shift of social and physical understandings, in tandem with dress and hairstyles in urbanised society. Contemporary works of art in the twenty-first century have revived this imagery in works by photographers and artists such as Yang Fudong and Birdhead, primarily in the context of Shanghai as an urban centre of modernity continually constructing localised imagery that holds nostalgic or wistful elements. Broad visual cultural contexts are explored to develop a sense of how materiality and the foregrounding of bodily presence in early twentieth-century art are continued with notions of the body as signifier making overt or layered connections to pre-CCP visuality. This development shows a continuum as a key thread of visual modernity that lengthens China’s modernity into the present in different modes. 

Martina Caschera, “From Modern Comic Strip to Contemporary Animation: Sanmao’s Breaking of Time and Media Boundaries

In 2006, an animated series titled Sanmao liulang ji 三毛流浪记 (Wanderings of Sanmao or The Story of Sanmao’s Vagrant Life) was produced and broadcast by China Central Television (CCTV). It revolves around the adventures of the homeless orphan Sanmao (literally, “Three hairs”), and is set in the Republican Era when the little hero was actually created by the artist Zhang Leping (1910–1992). The series, which was uploaded online soon after its broadcast, is still met with great nostalgia on China’s major video sharing platforms (Bilibili, Youku). Despite the abundance of academic literature related to the first decades of Zhang Leping’s production, there is still a significant research gap on the aforementioned 2006 animated series and the so-called “Sanmao Revival.” This paper investigates the historical evolution of the long-lived and beloved child-hero Sanmao from the Republican to the Reform era, by examining the relationship between some selected original comic strips of the 1930s–1940s and the animated series of 2006. The analysis highlights the discursive peculiarities of each text, as well as the strategies of transmedial adaptation, and focuses on how the visual rhetoric employed and the emotions emerging manage to satisfy different ideological agendas. The analysis of Sanmao liulang ji provided here, therefore, leads to original findings related to the complex relationship between the cultural production of modern and contemporary China.

Sandy Ng, “Be the Change You Wish to See: Femininity, Heritage, and Transformation in the ‘Modern Woman‘”

This paper will explore how women asserted their identities through representations that increased their visibility and affirmed their sense of self during the Republican era, thus leading to a redefinition of femininity in contemporary China. It discusses women as objectified subjects and avid consumers, particularly in graphic designs, photographs, and paintings from the Republican era that feature a modern lifestyle. How has consumption transformed women’s appearance and mentality? How have these changes affected the ways they perceived themselves? Did consumption impart a sense of respectability to the Modern Woman? Can we argue that the Modern Woman introduced design, modern lifestyle and taste to Chinese culture as a new form of heritage that redefined women’s social status? The discussion will examine visual evidence that portrays daily life in order to provide an understanding on women’s cultural and social roles—particularly as consumers and urban citizens—in the process of embracing designs and lifestyle in the tumultuous Republican period and in contemporary China.

Hiu Man Chan, “Sleepless Shanghai: Recreating the Golden Cinema-Going Culture for Foreign Films”

As reflected in Zhen Zhang’s (2005) An Amorous History of the Silver Screen, Shanghai was the centre for international cinema culture in Republican China. Films from the US and Europe opened at cinemas every week, attracting many local followers. The cinematic experience went beyond the screen, and included stardom, fan cults, theatre architecture, as well as fashion. This “golden cinema-going culture” relied on the availability of the latest foreign films. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, policies on the import of foreign films changed significantly. Today, a quota system restricts the number of foreign films to be released in China each year in order to protect the local film industry. Since 2013, though, Shanghai has started an alternative practice, which consists of organising short-term film seasons to exhibit a limited number of foreign films, thus once more allowing the Shanghai audience to experience the “golden cinema-going culture”. In this paper, I evaluate this unique cultural practice undertaken by the Shanghai Film Distribution and Exhibition Association, which has regulated the regional film industry since 2013. How has the Association established an innovative mechanism to promote cinema-going culture under the status quo? Can this practice be sustained in the future, and how? The materials I analyse include primary sources of press releases and exhibition programmes, and audience receptions as secondary sources. This practice, I argue, contributes to maintaining Shanghai’s historical status as the most active centre for foreign film exhibition in China.

Papers on Arts II

9:00 am – 10:45 am
Room G

  • Chaired by Sandy Ng
  • Pascale Elbaz, “Liu Haisu’s Journal in Europe: A Unique View on European Modern Painting”
  • Remy Jarry, “The Chairman’s Old Clothes: Study of the Annex of Shaoshan Mao Zedong Memorial Museum”
  • Giorgio Strafella, Daria Berg, “Borders, Marginality, and the Contemporary: Yang Zhichao’s Art at the Turn of the 21st Century”

Pascale Elbaz, “Liu Haisu’s Journal in Europe: A Unique View on European Modern Painting”

Liu Haisu played a very important role in Chinese Modern Art and Chinese Modern Art Education. During his two long visits in Europe in the early 30es, he visited museums and art galleries; copied classical paintings that would serve as models for the art students of the Shanghai Art School he created with other artists and leading political and cultural leaders; and painted a series of landscape and portraits that were exhibited both in Europe and back in China. All of this artistic and creative life was accomplished in parallel with a more literary one, as he wrote continuously his thoughts and feelings about art pieces and art circles, urban and cultural landscapes, important European history and religious facts, in Shanghainese newspapers. Some of the essays written during his first eleven-month stay in Europe (1929–1931) were put together and published under the name Ouyou suibi [Europe under my writing pen] in Shanghai in 1933. We will introduce this fresh and intense book, focusing both on Liu Haisu’s comments on paintings from Delacroix and Courbet he copied in Le Louvre Museum, on impressionists and post-impressionists paintings from Monnet, Matisse, Vlaminck, and on the key concepts of aesthetics that emerge from his writings and that would be read by a large part of the artistic and literary circles in China as a direct and unique view on European Modern Painting through the eyes of a Chinese painter.

Remy Jarry, “The Chairman’s Old Clothes: Study of the Annex of Shaoshan Mao Zedong Memorial Museum”

Mao Zedong Memorial Museum was inaugurated in October 1964, 2 years before the death of the founder of the People’s Republic of China. Located at a walking distance from his childhood home in the city of Shaoshan (Hunan Province), the primary goal of the museum was to perpetrate Mao’s cult of personality with a hagiographic display of his greatest deeds and ideas. Whereas the country had gone through historical reforms and major changes from the late 1970s, the museum hadn’t really changed until the late 2000s. But in December 2008, it has been significantly reshaped with the opening of an annexe in a distinct building. This large and modern annexe is not exactly an extension of the original building. Known as Mao Zedong Relic Museum 毛澤東遺物館, it actually displays Mao’s personal belongings such as his clothes (dressing gown, bathing suit, socks, etc.), pieces of furniture (bookshelves and library, chair, bed, cushions, etc.) and miscellaneous accessories (glasses, cigarettes, watches, hat, etc.). The second floor of the annexe is mostly dedicated to Mao’s calligraphy, asserting his talent as a calligrapher and poet. As a result, the new complex is presenting a different narrative from the initial complex: it operates a shift from official history and ideology to material culture, art and emotions. The design of the museum also ground-breaking: its state-of-the-art curating upgraded by the use of new technologies tends surprisingly to mimic contemporary art installations. Thus, its ultimate attempt seems to be the creation of an intimate and empathic relationship with the viewers, while creating Mao’s new persona for future generations.

Giorgio Strafella, Daria Berg, “Borders, Marginality, and the Contemporary: Yang Zhichao’s Art at the Turn of the 21st Century”

This paper analyses the theme of marginality and liminality in the artistic oeuvre of Yang Zhichao (b. 1963), who has been one of China’s most prominent experimental artists since the 1990s. Mainly through the media of Performance Art and art installations, Yang Zhichao’s works explore the issue of social and cultural marginality in modern society—from the condition of migrant workers, beggars, and psychiatric patients, to the geographical frontiers of Chinese civilisation and the status of the avant-garde artist in reform era China (1978–present). Artworks discussed in this paper include Yang Zhichao’s performance Tanning (2000) and the installation Chinese Bible (2009), as well as his Kong Bu and Dingzi drawings (2002–2007)—the latter representing an example of how Yang has merged the language of Performance Art with the idea of drawing and calligraphy as time-based art. While existing literature on Yang Zhichao’s art has focussed on his most “shocking” performances such as Planting Grass (2000) and Iron (2000), this paper analyses two contemporaneous works of Performance Art entitled Within the Fourth Ring (1999) and Jiayu Pass (1999–2000). The first centred around the experience of homelessness and the second around life in a psychiatric hospital, both works stem from Yang Zhichao’s belief that without placing one’s own body in the circumstances of marginalised groups the artist can never move beyond observing them ‘as a bystander or a voyeur’ (authors’ interview with the artist, 2014). By analysing these particular artworks, this study highlights the uniquely “Contemporary” (in Agamben’s sense) character of Yang Zhichao’s approach to time-based art.

Asian City Crossings

Pathways of Performance through Hong Kong and Singapore
4:00 pm – 5:45 pm

  • Andrea Riemenschnitter, Chair
  • Rossella Ferrari, Ashley Thorpe, “The City as Method: Hong Kong, Singapore, and City-to-City Pathways of Performance”
  • How Wee Ng, “Dialectics as Creative Process and Decentering China: Zuni Icosahedron and Drama Box’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude 10.0—Cultural Revolution’”
  • Mirjam Tröster, “The City and the Artist: Alice Theatre Laboratory’s ‘Seven Boxes Possessed of Kafka’ in Shanghai”

This panel explores practices and politics of performance collaboration as practitioners move across cities in Asia. It investigates the dynamics of city-to-city creative exchanges by addressing performance interactions between Hong Kong and Singapore, and between these and other Asian cities. It foregrounds the city as a distinctive locus of transnational crossings and a relational space for forging and performing intercultural connections. Hong Kong and Singapore have emerged from histories of imperialism to become global economic and cultural hubs. Both have played a seminal role in shaping cultural relations across the Sinosphere and the wider Asian region, as focal points of transnational and intercultural exchange. Their shared standing, yet highly differentiated contexts, as postcolonial, multicultural, and multilingual city-states offer unique vantage points from which to explore pathways of creative production across cities in East- and Southeast Asia. Whereas Hong Kong and Singapore socio-economic developments have been compared in many studies, theatre and performance connections between and from these cities have yet to be explored. The panel seeks to theorise the city as a method for performance analysis and illustrate the city-to-city framework through case studies of collaborations between established and emergent performance ensembles that illustrate dynamics of creative exchange and embodied mobility through tours and festivals, and dialectical engagement with questions of identity, transregional politics, and current affairs.

Rossella Ferrari, Ashley Thorpe, “The City as Method: Hong Kong, Singapore, and City-to-City Pathways of Performance”

The city has been discussed widely as a subject, site, and space for performance, but less so as a structure of performance—namely, as the framework that enables its production and circulation. This paper foregrounds the structural functions of the city in enabling pathways of performance—connections between two points—and intersections of performance networks across Asia, taking Hong Kong and Singapore as key referents in establishing a framework for inter- and cross-city referencing in Asian theatre and performance research. The first part of the paper proposes the “city as method” as a new and specific intercultural paradigm to theorise patterns of collaboration in the postcolonial contexts of Hong Kong and Singapore, drawing on an understanding of the city as a strategic (infra-)structure that offers an alternative to nation-to-nation, or state-to-state, patterns of cross-border creative exchange and cultural diplomacy. The tensional dialectic between city, state, and nation resonates with the unique historical conditions of Hong Kong and Singapore, where such notions are constantly negotiated in (re-)defining place identity, political allegiance, and affective belonging. The second part draws on postmodern theory to explore notions of “authenti-city” and “specify-city” and conceptual relations of “city” and “place” in the context of Hong Kong and Singapore in order to foreground city-to-city collaboration as an act of place-making that exposes the distinctiveness of each city because and through the connections they share.

How Wee Ng, “Dialectics as Creative Process and Decentering China: Zuni Icosahedron and Drama Box’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude 10.0—Cultural Revolution'”

In 2011 and 2012, Zuni Icosahedron collaborated with the Singapore theatre group Drama Box and presented “One Hundred Years of Solitude 10.0—Cultural Revolution.” As one of the best-known iterations since its inception in 1982, this is a politically charged and zeitgeist series on history and current global events. This edition is particularly significant for drawing from themes and ideas about revolutions related to and beyond China, including the Cultural Revolution and events in the more immediate socio-political contexts of Hong Kong and Singapore. Based on interviews with the Singapore creative cast, this paper builds upon the research on East Asian intercultural theatre studies. I first unpack the term “dialectics” in Zuni’s practice before examining how actors variously respond to the director Danny Yung’s dialectical approach to theatre. My findings reveal gaps in the different understandings of what an ideal intercultural collaboration should entail, and the role, purpose and agency of actors in relation to the director. Positioning my analysis at the intersecting ideas of minor transnationalism, Inter-Asia exchanges and Sinophone intercultural theatre, I argue that the production decentres China and subverts audience expectations in that it is actually not just about the Cultural Revolution, but rather, the creative process which the Singapore actors underwent, which involves a dialectics requiring them to rebel against their own learned beliefs and training backgrounds and negotiate the potentialities of artistic autonomy and innovation whilst conforming to strict rules, despite tensions, uncertainty and ambiguity.

Mirjam Tröster, “The City and the Artist: Alice Theatre Laboratory’s ‘Seven Boxes Possessed of Kafka’ in Shanghai”

In 2010, Hong Kong theatre company Alice Theatre Laboratory staged “Seven Boxes Possessed of Kafka” in Shanghai. Interweaving fragments of Franz Kafka’s works and life, the play engages with the role of the artist in multiple ways. It investigates the artist’s need for an audience and the possibilities for exchange in a present-day urban environment or, more specifically, Hong Kong. “Seven Boxes” was performed at the Beijing–Hong Kong–Shanghai Young Directors’ Showcase @ Modern Drama Valley Expo Season, a specific format that stands at one end of the continuum of performing arts collaboration. The showcase’s title suggests that the play’s focus on both the artist and the city ought to intersect well with this framework. As this paper will demonstrate, however, the format and its multi-layered framing in publicity materials strongly impacted on the meaning-making process during the Shanghai tour of “Seven Boxes” and colluded to divert attention from the production’s focus on the artist to a comparison of the three cities. What is more, precisely by ascribing an alleged “unique Hong Kong flavour” to “Seven Boxes,” “public discourse” (Knowles) delocalised the play, only to force the label of the local on it in turn. Despite the overbearing impact of the showcase format, however, the Shanghai tour of Seven Boxes reveals artists’ perseverance to communicate through art and establish links among soulmates that defy the specific intricacies of city-to-city exchange between Hong Kong and Mainland China.

Papers on Arts I

2:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Room G

  • Chaired by Katie Hill
  • Baihua Ren, “The Cultural Biography of The Water Mill
  • Xiaoyan Hu, “The Legacy of Qiyun (Spirit Consonance) in 10th to 14th-Century Chinese Landscape Painting”
  • Freerk Heule, “Huang Shen and His Innovation in Portraiture”
  • Josepha Richard, “18–19th Century Sino-British Scientific and Cultural Exchanges as Seen through British Collections of China Trade Botanical Paintings”

Baihua Ren, “The Cultural Biography of The Water Mill

The Water Mill, currently held in the Shanghai Museum, is a famous jiehua painting which for a long time was believed to have been created by the Five Dynasties artist Wei Xian. At present, most scholars hold the view that it was created around the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127). Through the analysis of the cultural biography of The Water Mill, which presents a full collection history of the handscroll since the Northern Song Dynasty, its authenticity could be proved. From historical records and a residual signature, the son-in-law of the Yingzong Emperor Zhang Dunli can be established as the artist of The Water Mill and the painting may have been created around 1068–1100. The interpretation of the painting image supports this conclusion and the hypothesis from the cultural biography—the construction, costumes, climate, culture, military system, etc. —all reflect the characteristics of the Northern Song Dynasty. Therefore, The Water Mill can be seen as a representative architectural painting of the golden age of jiehua and an image representing Song culture. This paper would like to authenticate The Water Mill from its cultural biography and analysis of its collection history, possible artist and time of creation.

Xiaoyan Hu, “The Legacy of Qiyun (Spirit Consonance) in 10th to 14th-Century Chinese Landscape Painting”

One may question whether the notion of qiyun (spirit consonance) initially proposed by Xie He (active 500–535?) in his six laws of Chinese painting and inherited by Zhang Yanyuan (815–875) significantly differs from the notion of qiyun applied by the 10th-century master and theorist Jing Hao (active in the 10th-century), further developed by the Northern Song art historian and connoisseur Guo Ruoxu (ca. 1080) and the early Yuan connoisseur and critic Tang Hou (active around the late 13th century and the early 14th century) in the context of landscape painting as a dominant genre from the 10th century to the 14th century. In this paper, I attempt to argue against the objection to a possible comprehensive notion of qiyun. By examining the notion of qiyun developed by three influential critics Jing Hao, Guo Ruoxu, and Tang Hou, we will see that although there are differences between Xie He and later critics regarding the notion of qiyun, there are also important correspondences. We will see that behind an invisible thread linking them in adopting the same terminology of qiyun, it appears reasonable to seek an understanding of qiyun based on this thread and common grounds between them and justify a continuity of the legacy of a comprehensive notion of qiyun in the context of landscape painting.

Freerk Heule, “Huang Shen and His Innovation in Portraiture”

The non-scholar painter Huang Shen (黃慎, 1687–1772) from Yangzhou painted initially on request both Ming-style landscapes or colourful flowers-with-a-poem to make a living. In traditional landscapes, only miniature figures could be discerned and the iconography of painting an Emperor or elite people was petrified—without personality. Identity was represented with colours and paraphernalia of rank, not facial expression. Huang found a new way for ‘portraiture’ of figures in real-life situations, with frowning eyebrows, mad hat or strange body posture. It was not done to paint old men with fresh girls or naughty children. What were the sources for this revolutionary change?
First, the foreign painters, invited by the Qianlong Emperor, such as Castiglione (1688–1766), educated Western Art. Second, they introduced books of the Italian masters: Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Raphael. Painters like Hua Yen (1682–1756) and Yu Zhiding (c. 1647–1709) made the ‘Peking Tour’ and absorbed the innovative concepts. Third, Huang follows the Fujian style with figures from folk stories, history and theatre. Four, he was informed of the Buddhist painting tradition, as developed on the murals in the Dun Huang caves. And five, as a roaming artist, he picked up any new ideas quickly. To conclude, in following these five sources of a breakthrough in portrait painting, by performing The eight Taoist immortals, Zhong Kui with a bat, and many more—to show the weird, the underdog, injustice, and experiences—, he was a true ‘Yangzhou Eccentric.’

Josepha Richard, “18–19th Century Sino-British Scientific and Cultural Exchanges as Seen through British Collections of China Trade Botanical Paintings”

In the 18th–19th century, British botanists collected thousands of Chinese plants to advance their knowledge of natural history. Until the end of the Canton System (1757–1842), scientifically accurate paintings were commissioned from Canton Trade artists in Guangzhou. John Bradby Blake (17451773) was the first British botanist to systematically collect Chinese plants in the 1770s, relying on the help of Chinese merchants and translators. Not long after, Chinese export paintings studios in Guangzhou started to mass-produce decorative botanical paintings for the foreign market. Neither decorative nor scientific Canton Trade botanical paintings fit easily either in the European botanical tradition or that of Chinese bird-and-flower paintings but were nonetheless avidly collected by Europeans. This paper demonstrates how untangling the chronology of some botanical paintings allows uncovering the unacknowledged agency of Chinese ‘go-betweens’ (translators, artists, and merchants) in Sino–Western scientific and cultural exchanges in Guangzhou during the late Qing dynasty.