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Shitao and the Traditional Chinese Conception of Ruins

Aspects of Art Lecture, delivered by Professor Hung Wu, on 10 November 2009.

This lecture reflects on traditional Chinese representations of ruins. It questions a presumption shared by many people that ruins existed in both architectural and pictorial forms in traditional Chinese culture. Indeed, a search for ‘ruin pictures’ and ’ruin architecture’ unexpectedly produces very little result. Instead, we discover that the ancient Chinese developed a different system of visual expression to convey the sentiment of huaigu – ‘lamenting the past’ or ‘meditating on the past’ in non-representational fashions. This lecture explores indigenous conception of ruins in Chinese culture through analysing some remarkable paintings by Shitao (1642–1707), arguably one the last great masters of traditional Chinese painting.

About the Speaker
Professor Wu is Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor in Chinese Art History and Director of the Center for the Art of East Asia at the University of Chicago. He has a PhD from Harvard in early Chinese art and is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His special research interests include relationships between visual forms (architecture, bronze vessels, pictorial carvings and murals, etc) and ritual, social memory and political discourses.

Illustration: Reminiscences of Qinhuai. Photograph courtesy of Vassar College Slide Library.

More about the Aspects of Art Lectures

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