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.

Susan Huang, “The Fodingxin Dharani Scripture and its Audience”

We are delighted to announce that in addition to the Smart Lecture, Professor Shih-shan Susan Huang will be at the VMPEA workshop on May 12 (Friday) from 4:45–6:45pm CT at CWAC 152 to discuss an article derived from her latest book project. We also invite you to come and ask any remaining questions you may have after the Smart Lecture.


Shih-shan Susan Huang

Associate Professor of Transnational Asian Studies, Rice University

Who will be presenting and discussing the paper

“The Fodingxin Dharani Scripture and its Audience: Healing, Talisman Culture, and Women in Popular Buddhist Print Culture”

Friday, May 12, 2023

4:45–6:45 pm CT, CWAC 152

*A light reception will follow at the department lounge.


Fodingxin Dharani Scripture. 1102 CE. Northern Song. National Library, Beijing.



This study examines the book art contained within the Fodingxin Dharani Scripture (Fodingxin tuoluoni jing 佛頂心陀羅尼經; hereafter also called the dharani text), with the broader concerns of how popular Buddhist print culture addresses healing, talisman culture, and women. The primary sources it investigates include a ninth-to-tenth century Dunhuang manuscript and other illustrated printed counterparts dated from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. The Fodingxin Dharani Scripture, an indigenous Chinese Buddhist text traceable to medieval Dunhuang manuscript culture, synthesizes miscellaneous beliefs, turning a Buddhist scripture into a form of magical medicine. The twelfth century marks fresh illustrative and talismanic traditions in the print age. The printed text is accompanied by a frontispiece at the beginning, and three talismanic scripts at the end. The book art of the Fodingxin Dharani Scripture reached its peak in the first half of the fifteenth century. In addition to the frontispiece and talismanic scripts, the text is fully illustrated throughout, with its new illustrated repertoire highlighting the healing power of the scripture and the dharani charms, as well as the challenges women faced in childbirth. Numerous extant specimens offer valuable documentations of its donors, most of whom were residents in Ming (1368–1644) Beijing. Accompanied by lively narrative pictures and containing Daoist-inspired talismanic writs that promise to save women from birth complications, it was often printed on demand. Women and their families, preoccupied with childbirth complications or ardently desiring a baby boy, were its main donors.


Shih-shan Susan Huang (PhD, History of Art, Yale) is an Associate Professor at Rice University’s newly-founded Department of Transnational Asian Studies. Her book, Picturing the True Form: Daoist Visual Culture in Traditional China (Harvard Asian Center, 2012), translated into Chinese by Dr. Zhu Yiwen, was published by Zhejiang University Press in 2022. She co-edited Visual and Material Cultures of the Middle Period China with Patricia Ebrey (Brill, 2017). Her recent articles explore Song-to-Ming book art of the Lotus Sutra and Diamond Sutra, Buddhist printing under Tangut Xi Xia rule, and painting and printing connections. Huang’s new monograph, The Dynamic Spread of Buddhist Print Culture: Mapping Buddhist Book Roads in China and its Neighbors, forthcoming in the Brill series Crossroads – History of Interaction across the Silk Routes, examines printed images and texts as objects “on the move”, as they were transmitted along networks and book roads in a transnational context. For more information, visit

Eugene Wang, “What is psychocosmic painting and how it came into being?”

We are pleased to invite you to a special VMPEA lecture next Monday, May 8, at 4:45 pm CT presented by Professor Eugene Wang from Harvard University. In his talk, Professor Wang will delve into the fascinating concept of psychocosmic painting and its origins in the work of the Taiwan-based Chinese artist Liu Guosong. This event is followed by a reception at the CWAC lounge.

Eugene Wang

The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art, Harvard University


“What is psychocosmic painting and how it came into being?”

4:45-6:45 pm CT, May 8, 2023

Cochrane Woods Art Center, 152

Please use this link if you plan to join this event virtually. No registration is required. Password: “eclipse”

*Reception to follow in Cochrane Woods Art Center lounge

Liu Guosong. Eclipse, 1971. Detail. Private Collection, Hong Kong. Photo by Eugene Wang.



History of art often comes down to the perennial struggle to conceive terms to capture new art forms and experiences. In the 1960s, the Taiwan-based Chinese artist Liu Guosong (1932-) produced a type of sublime paintings never seen in the history of Chinese art. No readymade term applies. He called it “abstract painting.” The term stuck. Over time, it also shows its strains, as it hardly captures the scope of his evolving long career, nor his prodigious output, ranging from astral bodies to planetary earth. Six decades later, we still search for a proper descriptive language to come to terms with his paintings. In hindsight, “psychocosmic painting” may be closer to capturing the dynamics of his oeuvre, alternatively called “metaphysical painting.” Its central impulse is to integrate mind and cosmos through the medium of painting. How so? Why him? Professor Wang’s lecture will unpack these questions.


Eugene Y. Wang is the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art at Harvard University. He holds positions in History of Art and Architecture, Archaeology, Study of Religion, Theater, Dance, and Medium, and Inner Asia and Altaic Studies. A Guggenheim Fellow (2005), he is the art history editor of the Encyclopedia of Buddhism (2004). His extensive publications range from early Chinese art and archeology to modern and contemporary Chinese art and cinema. His book, Shaping the Lotus Sutra: Buddhist Visual Culture in Medieval China (2005), explores Buddhist worldmaking; it received the Sakamoto Nichijin Academic Award from Japan. His current research focuses on cognitive study of art and mind. He is also the founding director of Harvard CAMLab that explores expanded scenography through digital media.

Yun-chen Lu, “A Left-Turn to Artistic Eccentricity: Gao Fenghan (1683–1749) and Disability Art in Eighteenth-century Yangzhou”

Please join us on Wednesday, May 3, from 4:45-6:45 pm CT at CWAC 152 for the fifth VMPEA Workshop this Spring, featuring:


Yun-chen Lu

Assistant Professor, Department of History of Art and Architecture, DePaul University

Who will be presenting:

“A Left-Turn to Artistic Eccentricity: Gao Fenghan (1683–1749) and Disability Art in Eighteenth-century Yangzhou”

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

4:45-6:45 pm CT

*Please use this link if you plan to join virtually. No registration is required. Password: “left.”

Gao Fenghan and Li Tianbiao, the first leaf of the Album of Painting and Calligraphy in Collaboration with Li Tianbiao, 1737. Album leaves mounted as a handscroll, ink on paper. Each leaf 31.5 × 35.4 cm. Chien-lu Collection.



This talk focuses on Gao Fenghan (1683–1749) and the development of his disability art and aesthetics in premodern China. Scholars have categorized Gao as one of the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou, a group of artists who were active in southern China during the early Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) and gained renown for rejecting the Beijing court’s orthodox painting style in favor of their own aesthetic choices. Among these artists, Gao earned fame because of his left-handed style, which he developed after the paralysis of his right hand. I argue that this disability enabled him to move beyond his early practice in the dominant literati style and generate his own artistic idiosyncrasy, which was popular in the Yangzhou art market that favored nontraditional art. While scholarly discussion of disability in art history has focused on the evolution of modern aesthetics in Euro-American art, my project focuses on disability art in premodern China, not only challenging the dating of disability art studies but also expanding its geographical scope. More specifically, my research offers a new understanding of disability aesthetics rooted in Chinese culture, history, and philosophy.


Yun-chen Lu (Ph.D., UCSB) is an Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture at DePaul University. She specializes in East Asian art history, particularly Chinese painting and calligraphy, material culture, literati culture, artists with disabilities, disability aesthetics, and East Asian interregional art history. She teaches courses on Asian art history, Chinese art history, and Buddhist 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 Chinese art.

Zhiyan Yang, “Exhibiting Contemporary Architecture of China: Experiments and Cross-Cultural Dialogues, 1995-2005”

Please join us next Wednesday, April 26, from 5–7 pm CT on Zoom for the third VMPEA workshop this spring, featuring:


Zhiyan Yang

PhD Candidate, Art History, UChicago

Who will be presenting the paper

“Exhibiting Contemporary Architecture of China: Experiments and Cross-Cultural Dialogues, 1995-2005”

Discussant: Meng-Hsuan Lee

PhD Candidate, Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

5:00–7:00 pm CT

*Please note that this is an online event and the unusual time. Please use this link to join the talk on Zoom. No registration is required. The password is “arch”.

Installation view of the New Urbanism: Pearl River Delta organized by Rem Koolhaas and graduate students from Harvard Graduate School of Design, Documenta X, Kassel, 1997.




A renewed investment in displaying contemporary architecture of China emerged and destabilized the existing exhibitionary paradigm in the 1990s as a result of the country’s historic urbanization movement and the increasing engagement with international capital, information, and networks. The three case studies, New Urbanism: Pearl River Delta (1997), Cities on the Move I (1997), and the design proposal for the Times Museum featured in the Second Guangzhou Triennial (2005), examine a new sensitivity based on international and interdisciplinary interactions among architects, curators, artists, and institutions. Situating these examples within a perennial tension between exhibition as temporally and spatially confined cultural production and architecture as a more substantial and permanent medium within the urban environment, I argue that these exhibitions became loci of self-reflexive experimentation, through which contemporary Chinese architecture can be interpreted as a form of knowledge production, an on-site experience, and an agent to provide concrete social and cultural changes beyond the exhibition space.



Zhiyan Yang is a doctoral candidate specializing in the history of modern and contemporary East Asian Architecture. He received his BA from Sarah Lawrence College in 2013 and MA from the University of Chicago in 2015.


Meng-Hsuan Lee 李孟瑄 joined the PhD program at Columbia in 2018. He studies modern architecture, with a focus on Japanese colonial architecture and urbanism in Taiwan. Using the framework of screen genealogies, his current project investigates the rise of façadism and urban media culture in Taiwanese cities during the Japanese colonial period, particularly in the 1920s and 30s. More broadly, he is interested in the intersection of architecture and media, global colonialisms, and architectural preservation. Prior to joining Columbia, Meng received his M.A. in Humanities (art history) from the University of Chicago, where he wrote his master’s thesis examining the politics of urban memory surrounding Shih-Shih South Village 四四南村, a controversial architectural preservation project in Taipei. Previously, he received his B.A. in Drama and Theatre from National Taiwan University, where he also worked as a scenic designer.