What are you currently researching on? Why?
I am researching on the image of women in the 10th to 13th century, as portrayed in Chinese paintings during the Song Dynasty. When I wrote my dissertation, the topic was on political expression in the Song Dynasty through fan painting. Through my research, I found many images of women who looked very different from the portrayal of women in the previous dynasty: beautiful women wandering around and doing nothing, compared to the Song Dynasty where women are seen taking care of children, surrounded by books, antiques and art works. The presentation and discourse around women in the Song Dynasty is different; there was a tension of whether women should be educated or in charge of family issues. This reflects the social structure in the Song Dynasty, where it was no long an aristocratic society and was based on a sophisticated bureaucratic system. The men would travel to serve the government, and the women had to handle their families alone. Thus, they needed the education and ability to take care of their family on their own, and the paintings offer clues for us to understand the change in societal values and marital relationship during that period.
What classes do you teach, and what can students expect to gain from them?
I have been teaching Introduction to Art History, which is a class that all professors in the Art History department teach. Two-fifths of the course is on Asian material, consisting of India, China and Japan. I also teach Art and Religion of Asia, Art of China, Art of Japan, and Art of India, China and Japan. While students learn new art and art forms from other regions of the world. I do not want them to view Asia/Asian art as an exotic other that is fundamentally different from Europe/European art, but to think of Asian people as similar to the Europeans, where they faced similar social, political and familial challenges and concerns. In Asia, art has been used by various social groups to negotiate for their own benefits, which is similar to Europe; though different artistic formats, materials and styles have been adopted. In many cases, although the format and media is different, the agenda and discourse are comparable. Understood in this light, Asian art can be taught in a way to which everyone can relate himself/herself.
How does East Asian Art differ from Western Art, and how can it enhance a student’s perception of the world?
I want my students to know that there exists other cultures that have a long tradition and history like their own, and to understand that Asian people are not fundamentally different from the Europeans. I want them to be able to relate Asian art to their own society and beliefs, to break the myth that Asians are a mystical other, and to come into contact with a separate culture and artistic tradition. Understood this way, hopefully, classes on Asian art can be comprehensible and enjoyable.
How often do you travel to East Asia? Why?
I have been in America for nine years, and I have been working at JCU since 2009. I went back to China three times, once for work, and twice for family reunions. If I had the funding, I would like to travel to other parts of East Asia, like India or Japan. I am very interested in Japanese gardens and Buddhist temples and would love to have the opportunity to see them in person.
What do you find most interesting about East Asia?
Chinese Art is a huge interest of mine, as when I was in college and my masters I studied Chinese Archeology before actually studying Chinese Art in America. For the most part of Chinese art history, religion never overrode politics in China, and art was used by scholars as a way to make political arguments and comments from a very early time period. Religious art was viewed as a low end type of art in China, and was not appreciated by connoisseurs or scholar-officials, as secular subjects were placed in a higher hierarchy of Chinese Art, with landscape on the top. In many other cultural traditions in the world, religious art was often on the top of the hierarchy. Moreover, since the 10th century, it had been the scholar-officials, the so-called wenren, who defined what was good in art, while academic and other professional artists emulated the amateurish scholar-official artists. Accordingly, scholar-officials’ paintings, also known as literati paintings (wenrenhua), are often viewed as superior to professional artist’s work, which were sometimes derogatorily called “artisan’s paintings.” This unique hierarchical focus in China created a cultural sphere that granted scholars more room to make political and social judgements or comments via art. This is pretty unique and also the most interested part that I have found in Chinese art.