Feng Schöneweiß, “Provenance, Memory, and Transcultural Monumentality: Chinese Monumental Vase as ‘national wertvolles Kulturgut’ in German Cultural History, 1717–2019”

We cordially invite you to join us next *Monday*May 6, at 4:45-6:45pm CT for a special virtual-only session. Please register for zoom access here. This workshop features:


Feng Schöneweiß

Postdoctoral Fellow, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz—Max-Planck-Institut


Who will be presenting the paper titled:

“Provenance, Memory, and Transcultural Monumentality: Chinese Monumental Vase as ‘national wertvolles Kulturgut’ in German Cultural History, 1717–2019


*Please note the special day and format of this event.* The abstract and bio for this workshop can be found below.


~We hope to see many of you there~


Image: Walter Möbius (1900–1959), photograph of the banquet hall, 1933. Three-century jubilee exhibition “August der Starke und seine Zeit” [Augustus the Strong and his time] at the Dresden Residence Schloss, 13 April to 17 September 1933. Deutsche Fotothek, df_hauptkatalog_0051726. © SLUB / Deutsche Fotothek / Möbius, Walter



The concept of cultural heritage in modern nation states is often associated with the connotation of the national. From the perspectives of global art history and transcultural studies, how to understand the accumulation of national significance in the formation of transcultural heritage? This paper addresses the merging conceptual dichotomy by a case study of transcultural monumentality. It examines how one of the so-called Dragoon Vases (Dragonervasen), large blue-and-white porcelain jars with lids made in Jingdezhen in circa 1690, became a cultural property of national significance (national wertvolles Kulturgut), the highest level of cultural heritage defined by Cultural Property Protection Act (Kulturgutschutzgesetz) in Germany. Based on a survey and typology of Chinese monumental vases (chinesische Monumentalvasen), a period term invented by museum professionals at the Dresden Porcelain Collection around 1900, the paper investigates the identity-forming impact of both the vases and their provenance on the eighteenth-century Porcelain-Regiment of Prussia, the baroque locality of Dresden in the eyes of travelers, generations of nineteenth- and twentieth-century German museum professionals, and the institutional identity of the collection. Substantiated with archives, inventories, architectural and exhibition designs, photography, and manuscripts in Dresden, the paper argues that the provenance of the Chinese vases, rather than their extraordinary materiality, embedded the global objects in the local cultural memory that contextualized the transculturation of heritage.


Feng Schöneweiß is an art historian of ecocritical and transcultural perspectives. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the 4A_Lab, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz–Max-Planck-Institut (KHI) in cooperation with the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. At the KHI, his postdoc project examines the mutual making of porcelain and Jingdezhen eco-systems through the analytical lens of energy consumption. Feng earned his doctorate in East Asian art history and transcultural studies at the University of Heidelberg. He was among the cohort at the inaugural University of Chicago/Getty Dissertation Workshop on Chinese Art History in 2018. His dissertation explores how German museum professionals fostered the cultural memory of transcultural objects while initiating a new field of art-historical inquiry. The current paper is a chapter of his first book manuscript, titled “Provenance and Monumentality: Chinese Porcelain, German Curators, and Global Art History in Dresden from 1700 to 2020.”

Feng has received grants and fellowships from American Ceramic Circle, Bei Shan Tang Foundation, DAAD, German Research Foundation (DFG) Excellence Initiative, Historians of Eighteenth-Century Art and Architecture, Max Planck Society, and University of Heidelberg. He has published in Chinese, English, and German, and made curatorial contribution to major exhibitions at Berlin State Museums, Dresden State Art Collections, Museum of Applied Art in Frankfurt am Main, and Shanghai University Museum.

Sizhao Yi, “Melancholic Things in Chen Hongshou’s Sixteen Views of Living in Reclusion”

We cordially invite you to join us on WednesdayMay 1, at 4:45-6:45pm CTCWAC 152 for our next VMPEA workshop. This workshop features:


Sizhao Yi

PhD Candidate, Art History, UChicago


Who will be presenting the paper titled:

Melancholic Things in Chen Hongshou’s Sixteen Views of Living in Reclusion” 


Discussant: Yun-chen Lu

Assistant Professor, History of Art and Architecture, DePaul University


This workshop will take place in-person. Please see the abstract and bios for this workshop below.

We hope to see many of you there!


Image: Chen Hongshou, Album leaf from Sixteen Views of Living in Reclusion, 1651. National Palace Museum, Taipei.



In this talk, I will explore the affective effect of things in the visual repertoire of Chen Hongshou (1599-1652) through two paintings from the painter’s late masterpiece, the Sixteen Views of Living in Reclusion album. In these works, objects – a group of inkstones and a covered zither – are portrayed with rich yet peculiar details, interacting intimately with the figures. By closely attending to the pictorial details and analyzing them within the historical context,  I will suggest that these objects and their interactions with the figures delineate the nuances of the yimin sentiments towards the fallen Ming Dynasty among early Qing scholars. In fact, these objects are painted with such intentionality, subtlety and vividness that they visualize, materialize, and even animate the abstract mental state of melancholy. Through these objects, the viewer is not only reminded of but also let to reflect upon and even feel the past and its vestiges.



Sizhao Yi is a PhD candidate specializing in the visual and material culture of Late Imperial China. Her dissertation engages with issues of material and materiality, image making, intermediality, and the agency of things through the lenses of Chen Hongshou’s artistic practices and his engagements with material artifacts. Prior to starting her PhD, she received a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, and an MA from the University of Chicago. She also interned at the textile conservation department in the Archaeology Institute at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. She currently serves as the Rhoades Curatorial Intern and Frankenthaler/Taylor Fellow at the Art Institute of Chicago.


Yun-chen Lu is an Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture at DePaul University. She specializes in Chinese painting and calligraphy, visual and material culture, artists with disabilities, and East Asian interregional art history. Her current research project investigates the relationship between artists with disabilities and the trend of artistic eccentricity in eighteenth-century Yangzhou, and the development of disability art and aesthetics in China. Before joining DePaul University in 2022, she was a predoctoral research fellow at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art.

[Co-sponsored with RAVE] Jenny Harris, “Ray Johnson, Sybil Shearer, and the Taoist Collages”

Please join us on Wednesday, April 24, at *5:30-7:30pm CT*, at CWAC 152 for a workshop co-sponsored by VMPEA and RAVE (Research in Art and Visual Evidence). This workshop features:


Jenny Harris

PhD Candidate, Art History, UChicago

Who will be presenting the paper titled:

“Ray Johnson, Sybil Shearer, and the Taoist Collages” 

Discussant: Lucien Sun

PhD Candidate, Art History, UChicago

~Reception to follow in the CWAC Lounge~

*Please note the special time of this event.* This workshop will take place in-person. The abstract and bios for this workshop can be found below.


We hope to see many of you in CWAC 152!


In 1955, Ray Johnson, an artist based in New York who would go on to become a pioneer of mail art, sent a group of 30 “Taoist Collages” to choreographer Sybil Shearer, then living in Northbrook, Illinois. Previously unknown to scholars of Johnson’s work, the collages were discovered in Shearer’s attic and subsequently purchased by the Art Institute of Chicago in 2022. In this talk, I’ll discuss the various ways the Taoist collages tell a new story about Johnson’s ties to the world of dance. By presenting this work jointly at the RAVE and VMPEA workshops, I hope to solicit feedback and suggestions about how I might develop a more thorough account of Johnson’s engagement with East Asian culture and ideas.



Jenny Harris is a Ph.D. candidate specializing in twentieth-century art at the University of Chicago. Her research explores global modernism with interests in the relationships between abstraction and ornament, dance and visual art, and craft and design. Her writing has appeared in several exhibition catalogues, Artforum, the Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, and the New York Times. Between 2013 and 2019, she worked in The Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Painting and Sculpture where she assisted with the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective and the reinstallation of the collection. She also co-organized the 2019 Exhibition Artist’s Choice: The Shape of Shape with Amy Sillman and Michelle Kuo. In 2022-3, she worked as a Chicago Objects Study Initiative Fellow in Modern and Contemporary at the Art Institute of Chicago. She graduated from Wellesley College with a B.A. in Art History in 2012.

Lucien Sun is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Fudan University, Shanghai. In 2017–18, he was a Sumitomo Corporation visiting student at the University of Tokyo studying Japanese collections of Chinese and East Asian art. His dissertation explores the dynamic relationship between regional space and the visual culture of southern Shanxi in north China between the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. He is also interested in the art of book and how picture in its broad sense moved across space, borders, and visual media in medieval Eurasia.

Elvin Meng, “Fragments into Voice into Fragments: Manuscript Culture and the Nineteenth-Century Manchu Curriculum”

We cordially invite you to join us on Wednesday, April 17, for the second VMPEA workshop of the quarter, taking place at our usual time at 4:45-6:45pm CT, CWAC 152. This workshop will feature:


Elvin Meng

PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature & EALC, UChicago


Discussant: Peter Kornicki

Emeritus Professor of Japanese Studies, University of Cambridge

Visiting Professor, UChicago


Who will be presenting the paper titled:

“Fragments into Voice into Fragments:

Manuscript Culture and the Nineteenth-Century Manchu Curriculum”


This event will take place in-person. For participants who would like to join via Zoom, please register here. Please see the abstract and bios for this workshop below.


We hope to see many of you in CWAC 152!




Drawing on a genre of Sino-Manchu manuscripts I frequently encounter in archival research, this presentation gives a preliminary sketch of the entanglements between materiality (the production, circulation, and consumption of print and manuscript texts), sociality (which can be pedagogical, bureaucratic, commercial, familial), and semiotics (translatability, orality, authenticity) in nineteenth-century Sino-Manchu language pedagogical practice. Although I will give my tentative reconstruction of the typical Manchu language curriculum in private bannered schools in late-Qing Beijing, the focus of my presentation will be on a single genre of students’ materials—collections of short, vernacular dialogues known in Manchu as meyen and in Vernacular Sinitic as huatiaozi 話條子—that young children copied, read aloud, and memorized from day to day in these schools. Certain collections of meyen were put to print throughout the Qing period, but the genre primarily circulated in the form of manuscripts, as they were constantly modified, exchanged, or written anew in classrooms, familial or friend circles, or the book market.


The proliferation of meyen in nineteenth-century Beijing manuscript culture, then, requires an analysis across multiple levels—material, textual, social, institutional, conceptual, etc.—that present challenges. The complication is increased by the fact that little is recorded of the historical use of meyen texts except on/as the extant meyen artifacts themselves. As I am in the early stages of thinking through this genre of manuscripts, this talk will focus on some basic but important questions: What are their typical material features? What was their place in Manchu language education, which was in effect an education in Sino-Manchu translation? What did their readers do with them? What can be known about their production and circulation? In asking these questions, I will be led to also investigate the place of meyen in the conceptual-material ecology of Manchu writing at large, as the meyen genre played an important role in the Qing politicization of the texture, voicing, and history of language itself.



Elvin Meng is a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature and East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. His research interests include intellectual history, media theory, translation studies, and early modern Northeast Asia.


Peter Kornicki is emeritus professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Cambridge and currently a visiting professor at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Languages, Scripts and Chinese Texts in East Asia (2018), Eavesdropping on the Emperor: Interrogators and Codebreakers in Britain’s War with Japan (2021) and many other works.

Mirae kh RHEE, “Collecting Crave: Curiosity Cabinets from Saxony to Joseon”

We are very excited to invite you to the next VMPEA workshop taking place TuesdayFebruary 13, from *5-7pm* at CWAC 152. This workshop will be featuring:


Mirae kh RHEE

Artist-Researcher, Museum für Asiatische Kunst and Ethnologisches Museum, Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin


Who will be presenting the paper

“Collecting Crave: Curiosity Cabinets from Saxony to Joseon”


For those who would like to participate on Zoom, please register through this link. The abstract and bio for this presentation can be found below.


~We hope to see many of your faces in CWAC 152~



Image: Choi Chul Lim, Incheon Art Platform



RHEE’s artistic project invites us into the long history of the collector and collections from both East Asia and Western Europe. The artist’s interest in princely collections coupled with the critical examination of European acquired ethnographic objects takes us along the historical path of Jesuit priests who landed in the Portuguese colony of Macao to journey to the Beijing court of Ming Dynasty, the site of cultural exchange with Joseon Korea in the 17th-18th century. Interrogating presentation and collection practices of the male ruling elite and examining works from collections that extend from the famed Green Vault in Dresden to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the artist fashions her own Wunderkammer. Wunderkammern, or cabinets of curiosities, arose in mid-16th century Europe as repositories for wondrous objects but gradually appeared in 17th-18th century Qing China and Joseon Korea in the form of Chinese treasure boxes (Duobaoge) and Korean still-life genre painting of books and the scholar’s room (Munbangdo). This project is not just an intervention into the European, patriarchal, and colonial collection but a reinvention of the Korean version, called Munbangdo. From this jumping off point, RHEE collects objects from her network and communities, which are presented in various forms including drawing, painting, photography, ceramics, and augmented reality, engaging in hybrid analog and digital installations. Presenting objects in forms other than the original evokes the Confucian values of austerity and humility, since Koreans did not publicly display their collectibles, preferring painted screen portrayals. New forms of representation also imagine a new aura of objecthood to rethink beyond the Walter Benjamin argument that the artifact loses its aura through reproduction, and instead offering a unique way to experience aura beyond local, national, and geopolitical boundaries.



South Korean born social practice artist (이미래/李未來) Mirae kh RHEE’s transracial life experiences led her to work between the United States, South Korea, and Germany, where learning foreign languages, code-switching, and cultural traditions and customs continuously inform her artwork. Through the lens of transnational feminism, she creates complex research-based Gesamtkunstwerk(e) that tell autoethnographical narratives. RHEE received her MFA in Studio Art at the University of California-Irvine, where she was a Graduate Studies Diversity Scholar and Jacob K. Javits fellow. As the current Artist-in-Residence at the Museum für Asiatische Kunst and Ethnologisches Museum, Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, she is preparing for a solo exhibition. In 2025 the project will be on view at the Residenzschloss (Dresden Castle) as part of the Transnational Academy of the Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden. www.mirae-kh-rhee.com.

Ouyang Zhenyu, “Modern Approaches to Restoration: The Dispersed Chinese Art Digitization Project (DCADP)”

Please join us on Monday, February 5, from 4:45-6:45pm at *CWAC 157* for a special workshop of VMPEA featuring:


Ouyang Zhenyu

Lecturer in Fine Arts, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Xi’an Jiaotong University


Who will be presenting the paper

“Modern Approaches to Restoration: The Dispersed Chinese Art Digitization Project (DCADP)”

*With a reception to follow in the CWAC lounge*


For participants on Zoom, please register at this link (password: 000000). Please see the abstract and bio of our presenter below.


We hope to see many of your faces there!


This event is sponsored by the Center for the Art of East Asia, University of Chicago.




This lecture will mainly introduce the overall academic concept and research methods of the DCADP project. Through introducing the research achievements and processes of the Zhihua Temple Digital Restoration Project and the Empress Procession Restoration Project in Binyang Central Cave, Longmen Grottoes, this presentation aims to elucidate the value and role of plastic artists and digital technology in the field of art history. Taking the Empress Procession restoration project as an example, this presentation hopes to bring forward discussions on the definition and concept of “restoration” as well as some thoughts on how to accurately interpret the significance and possible application of our restoration research.



Ouyang Zhenyu is a lecturer in the Fine Arts Department in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Xi’an Jiaotong University. He is also advising several Master’s theses and currently a doctoral candidate in the School of Human Settlements and Civil Engineering at Xi’an Jiaotong University. He is a practicing sculptor and has engaged in research on traditional Chinese plastic arts. In recent years, he primarily focuses on research related to the digital restoration and exhibition of Chinese cultural heritage dispersed overseas.

[Co-sponsored with EATRH] Rachel Silberstein, “’The Seventy-Two Kinds’: The Cloth Classic and the Jiangnan Cotton Finishing Sector”

Dear all,


We cordially invite you to VMPEA workshop’s first event of the winter quarter, co-sponsored with East Asia: Transregional Histories (EATRH) workshop, taking place Thursday, January 25, from 4-5:30pm CT at SSRB Tea Room (Room 201, 1126 E 59th St). This event will be featuring:


Dr. Rachel Silberstein

Who will be presenting the paper

“’The Seventy-Two Kinds’: The Cloth Classic and the Jiangnan Cotton Finishing Sector”

Discussant: Yin Cai

PhD Candidate, History, UChicago


Please note that there is a pre-circulated paper for this workshop, available here under the password “XiuMianFuRong”.

This event will be a hybrid event, and registration is necessary. If you wish to join on Zoom, please register at this link. Please see below for the abstract for Dr. Silberstein’s talk.


We look forward to seeing you there!


Yan & Alan

*This event is sponsored by the University of Chicago Center for East Asian Studies with support from a Title VI National Resource Center Grant from the United States Department of Education.




Economic historians have asserted that Jiangnan cotton fabrics improved in quality through the Qing period, allowing those producers who focused upon styles, colors, and fashion to earn better profits and leading to numerous different options – the “seventy-two kinds”. But what techniques were used to create those styles, colors, and fashions, and to what extent did the finishing sector of the cotton industry – the dyers and the calenderers – rather than the weavers, enable this purported expansion of styles and increase in profits? The notion that coloring and finishing options expanded for the ordinary people who wore cotton cloth is an intriguing proposition in relation to several historical debates, including comparative living standards, commercialization of the cotton industry, and the history of Asian dye technologies. However, though the vast majority of Qing Chinese would have worn cotton or ramie, these claims cannot be substantiated through material culture history: the biases of collecting and material survival mean that extant cotton garments are rare and studies of Qing dress are dominated by silk.

Accordingly, The Cloth Classic (布经), an late eighteenth-century compendium of advice and experience written by a cloth merchant for cloth merchants, possesses considerable value for understanding the causes and impact of advances in cotton finishing. It contains a long and detailed section on cloth dyeing, including 68 recipes for different colors, a surprisingly large number given the assumption that societies with indigenous cotton production like China could only dye indigo blue or tannin brown due to the difficulties of dyeing cellulosic cottons, unlike proteinaceous silks and woolens. This paper analyzes the dyeing and calendering content of The Cloth Classic within the context of developments in the Qing period Jiangnan cotton industry. By evaluating four factors that potentially drove the expansion of the finishing sector: technical innovations, dyestuff trade, commercial organization, and consumer demand, I use this commercial text to redress the unrepresentative material archive, to verify the existence of the “seventy-two kinds,” and to provide insights into the economic and cultural significance of the Jiangnan dyeing and calendering workshops.

Sijia Huo, “The Materiality and Spatial Context of the Tiantang Colossal Buddha Statue in Luoyang in the Late 7th Century”

Dear all,


We are excited to announce our fifth and last workshop of the fall quarter, taking place Wednesday, November 29, from 4:45-6:45pm CT at CWAC 152. This event will be featuring:


Sijia Huo

Visiting PhD Candidate, UChicago

National Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies, Fudan University


Who will be presenting on:

“The Materiality and Spatial Context of the Tiantang Colossal Buddha Statue in Luoyang in the Late 7th Century”


Discussant: Wei-Cheng Lin

Associate Professor of Art History and the College, UChicago

For those who are joining on Zoom, please register at this link (password: 000000). Please see below for the abstract and bio for Sijia’s presentation.


Let’s finish the quarter strong and we ~Hope to see you there!~



Alan & Yan

Image: Archaeological fieldwork at the central pit of Tiantang in the 1970s



Not long before Wu Zetian officially ascended the throne, a magnificent building called “Tiantang” was built in the Palatine City of Luoyang, in which a colossal Buddha statue was placed. This colossus existed for only a few years before being completely destroyed by a fire. Although there are some relative historical records and archaeological evidence, it is still a challenge to depict such an object that could no longer be accessed physically. One of the most thorough previous historical studies is from Antonino Forte. After scrutinizing the text resources in detail, he proposed that the “Tiantang” was an essential part of the “Mingtang” complex, and explained its significance as a Buddhist utopia. At the time he was conducting his research, the archaeological report on the site of “Tiantang” had not yet been published. With great respect to Forte’s extraordinary work, this paper will focus on the materiality and spatial context to further explore the various details during the construction process of the colossal statue and the architecture. I contend that the colossal hollow dry lacquer statue was made in parts, and then assembled in Tiantang with the support from the central pillar structure. In this way, the designer of Tiantang succeeded in integrating a colossal Buddha statue with a great tower. By examining the relationship of Tiantang, Wucheng Hall and Mingtang, it can be concluded that Wu Zetian created a completely new ruling space for herself. On the basis of these analysis, we may expect to clarify the differences between the discourse presented in historical records and the practice of making the statue and surrounding complex.



Sijia Huo is a PhD candidate of National Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies, Fudan University. Her research interests include Buddhist art and stone inscriptions in medieval China. She is working on her PhD dissertation about colossal Buddha statues in the Tang Dynasty.

Wei-Cheng Lin teaches in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. He specializes in the history of Chinese art and architecture with a focus on medieval periods. His primary interests of research are visual and material cultural issues in Buddhist art and architecture and China’s funerary practice through history. He is the author of Building a Sacred Mountain: The Buddhist Architecture of China’s Mount Wutai, published by the University of Washington Press in 2014. He has additionally published on a variety of topics, including collecting history, photography and architecture, historiography of Chinese architectural history, and contemporary Chinese art.

Lisha He, “Emperor Qianlong and His Alcove Daybed with Wall-filling Mirrors”

We cordially invite you to join us for our next meeting of VMPEA, taking place *Friday, November 17* from 4:45-6:45pm CT at CWAC 152, featuring:


Lisha He

Visiting PhD Candidate, Art History, UChicago

School of Architecture, Tianjin University


Who will be presenting the paper

Emperor Qianlong and His Alcove Daybed with Wall-filling Mirrors”


Discussant: Yan Jin

PhD Student, Art History, UChicago


*Please note the special date of this event.* For Zoom participants, please register at this link (password: 000000). And please see the abstract and bio of our presenter below.

We hope to see many of you in CWAC 152!


Image: Alcove Daybed in Changchun shuwu, Yangxindian.



With the breakthrough of plate glass-making technology in the West, and Sino-Western material exchange in the 18th century, glass mirrors were introduced to the Qing Court, and were widely used in interior design. An alcove daybed with one or two wall-filling mirrors was a unique spatial pattern created and favored by Emperor Qianlong. This design was not only found in his commissions within the Forbidden City but also in the gardens of western Beijing suburbs and the summer residence in Jehol.

As most of these buildings were destroyed, I will first provide a brief overview of the reconstruction results. While the quantity and placement of glass, along with its interaction with individuals on the daybed, may vary across cases, they consistently reflect Emperor Qianlong’s intention to construct a room enclosed by mirrors.

Finally, I will focus on the Bilin Gloriette (碧琳館) in the Garden of Jianfu Palace, where this spatial pattern was first applied. The spatial context of the Bilin Gloriette, Emperor Qianlong’s interaction with mirrors, and his insights on self-cultivation imply that this room is designed for cultivating inner vacancy. Presumably, it embodies Zhuangzi’s metaphorical concept of Vacant Room (虛室) through the strategic use of mirrors.



HE Lisha is a PhD Candidate in the School of Architecture, Tianjin University. Her research focuses on non-structural carpentry and interior space of Qing palace buildings. With special interest in the Qianlong Period, she is currently working on interior space with glass and glass mirrors commissioned by Emperor Qianlong.


Yan JIN is a PhD student in Art History at UChicago studying visual and material culture of late imperial China, with a special focus on the art of Qing court. Her research explores issues of cross-regional exchanges, intermediality, as well as objects and agency.

Paul Copp, “Deity Seals in the Securing of the Dead (First Centuries CE)”

Please join us on Wednesday, November 8, from *5:15-7:00pm CT* at CWAC 152, for our third meeting of the quarter, featuring:


Paul Copp

Associate Professor in Chinese Religion and Thought, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, UChicago

Who will be presenting the paper

Deity Seals in the Securing of the Dead (First Centuries CE)”


Discussant: Zhenru Zhou

Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Architecture, Tsinghua University

Please note that there is a pre-circulated paper for this workshop, available here under the password “sealed”.

If you wish to join on Zoom, please register at this link (password: 000000).

*Please also note the slightly later start time of this workshop due to an event hosted by the Japanese Art Society of America and featuring Chelsea Foxwell at 4pm CT, related to the exhibition “Meiji Modern: Fifty Years of New Japan” (please find more information about this webinar at the end of this post).

We look forward to seeing you in CWAC 152!




This is a chapter from an in-process book titled *The Ritualist’s Seal: Object, Practice, and Knowledge in China, ca 100 – 1000 CE.* The book covers materials from Eastern Han tombs to Dunhuang manuscripts, making an argument for the importance of seals in Chinese religious history, the ways they transformed both material ritual practices and philosophical conceptions of the nature of reality (and of the human relationship with it) in both Buddhist and Daoist texts. The chapter I’d like to present is a study of the earliest appearances of ritual seals in China: in Eastern Han tomb assemblages for the “securing of the grave” 鎮墓, whether as actual seal matrices or sealings, or as descriptions in texts included in the assemblages. It’s based in archaeological reports and seal collections (mostly from the 19th and early 20th centuries), but also draws heavily on both art historical and environmental historical studies. Among other things, the paper argues that seals were not—as they have usually been understood—the seals of local human ritualists, but instead the seals of deities placed in the tombs in order to make present their powers and intentions.


Paul Copp teaches in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Body Incantatory: Spells and the Ritual Imagination in Medieval Chinese Buddhism, and the co-editor (with Wu Hung) of Refiguring East Asian Religious Art: Buddhist Devotion and Funerary Practice. His paper for the workshop is drawn from his current book project, “The Ritualist’s Seal: Object, Practice, and Knowledge in China, ca. 100 – 1000.

Zhenru Zhou is a post-doctoral fellow at the School of Architecture, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China. She recently received a Ph.D. degree in art history from the University of Chicago. She specializes in premodern Buddhist art and architecture in China and along the eastern silk roads.


*At 4pm CT, there will be a live zoom webinar “Exhibiting Meiji Art and Culture: Curatorial Perspectives”, in which Professors Bradley Bailey, Chelsea Foxwell, and Takuro Tsunoda will be giving individual presentations on Meiji Modern: Fifty Years of New Japan and the exhibition The Development of Visual Culture in the Meiji Era recently held at the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art in Nagoya and discuss their challenges, goals, and future aspirations for exhibiting Meiji art. This event is hosted and sponsored by the Japanese Art Society of America (JASA). Please click here to register for the Zoom event.