Chinese temple

Cultural Interactions: Chinese Arts and Chinese Identities

An NEH Bridging Cultures Faculty Development Workshop

Hosted in collaboration with Johnson County Community College

February 13-15, 2014
Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kan.

The interaction among cultural spheres is both physically and socially mediated – through trade and technology exchanges, through textual bridges spanning knowledge systems, and through the diffusion of religious ideals and practices. Some of the most vibrant bridging among cultures in Asia has taken place through arts practices and exchanges, including the visual and performing arts, literature and film. This workshop will examine the complex effects of cultural interaction on identity in China through four key periods:

  • The Tang Dynasty, when Buddhist traditions from Central and South Asia became firmly infused into Chinese cultural identity
  • The first half of the 20th century, when interactions with global colonial and imperial powers spurred intensive efforts to construct modern Chinese national and cultural identities
  • The Maoist era, culminating in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
  • The post-Mao era of economic liberalization and integration into global circuits of trade and cultural exchange

$25 per person - Register

Program Schedule


6 p.m. - Reception (room TBD)

7 p.m.
Rhythms of Social Exchange: The Human Figure in Early Chinese Art
Stanley Murashige
Carlsen Center 232

If identity is in part constituted by our bodies – our somatic selves – then how might such identities appear in Chinese art?  What role, if any, does the physical body play? Images of the human figure in China before the Tang Dynasty (618-907) evince little interest in the actual appearances of people. Artists and artisans eschewed effects of light and shadow, and ignored perceptions of mass, weight, volume, natural scale and proportion. Interest in any precise and accurate realization of the human form gave way to an interest in the rhythmic and socially performed grounding of the human persona in the context of a ritually ordered temporality: the body was a function of time, and time was always a social happening. This presentation will visually explore how the human figure, and the human body, in early Chinese art was constituted principally as an unfolding of time, or a “rhythm of social gesturing,” rather than as a disposition of bones, flesh and muscle.


9:30 a.m.-noon
The Teachings of the Images: the Buddha Icon in Chinese Art
Stanley Murashige
Carlsen Center 232

Before Buddhism’s spread in China, anthropomorphic images provided ritual icons of ancestors, images of denizens of the after world, celebrated paragons of virtue, sages and Daoist immortals. But such images seemed not to have had paramount importance as the focus of ritual veneration. Along with its rich array of authoritative texts, ritual formulae and practices, Buddhism brought with it a pantheon of deities, images of whom took pride of place as the central focus of rites and veneration. So important were these figural icons, that an early Chinese expression for the newly arrived Buddhist traditions was “the teachings of the images.” This presentation will discuss the early importation and adaptation of the Buddha icon and how it changed to accommodate local meanings and needs, even offering inspiration for Daoist ritual icons.

noon-1:15 p.m.
Lunch (room TBA)

1:15-:3:45 p.m.
Traditionality and Modernity in Minyue [Chinese traditional music]
Fred Lau
Carlsen Center 232

Minyue 民乐, music written for and performed by traditional Chinese instruments, has been undergoing significant transformation since the May Fourth Movement in early 20th century. China’s changing political and cultural environments prompted many cultural workers to seek ways to modernize traditional practice and forms and to redefine "tradition. This trend continued after 1949 and well into the new millennium. This talk will explore the ways concepts of traditionality and modernity manifested and played out in minyue in the second half of the 20th century. By comparing and contrasting different musical examples and genres, I will show how musical practice, procedures and aesthetic principles have become the ground for ideological and identity construction and contestation, making the case that understanding Chinese music and, by extension, Chinese culture in general cannot be separated from their immediate socio-political contexts. As a cultural practice, music is a viable window to examine cultural discourse that is embedded in something often overlooked as ephemeral and ineffable.


9-11:30 a.m.
The Visual and Auditory Cultures of China: 1960s-1980s
Nicole Huang
Carlsen Center 232

This talk will construct a changing narrative of the Chinese Cultural Revolution with a focus on how words and images from the time are preserved, reconfigured, and disseminated in the post-Cultural Revolution era. Mao Zedong’s 1942 “Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Art and Literature” provides a theoretical foundation for a revolutionary mass culture that culminated in the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s. How were revolutionary songs and political posters, among other genres, connected to earlier intellectual discourses and folk traditions? How effective were they in carrying out political messages? What made them ‘popular’? How do we address the issue of ‘style’ in forms of political propaganda? In post-Mao China, how exactly did literature, film, and fine arts make their meaningful connections to past experiences? And to what extent are the memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution kept alive in personal, national, as well as global politics of today?

11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m.
Regnier Center 101 A-B

12:45-3:15 p.m.
Memory and Identity Politics in Contemporary China: Perspectives from Literature and Film
Lingchei Letty Chen

It has been observed that our age of globalization has produced concurrently an age of memory. One of the social and cultural phenomena born of rapid economic growth in China since late 1990s is a memory boom focused on various historical and individual traumas of the bygone Mao era. Interestingly, also since the late 1990s, there has emerged a new popular literary phenomenon in the United States – memoirs and autobiographies by Chinese expatriates who lived through the Mao era and experienced its socio-political upheavals, most notably the Cultural Revolution. This talk will compare these two mnemonic practices occurring in dissimilar environments and conditions, and will explore how identity is constructed and manipulated through representations of traumatic memory.

3:15-3:30 p.m.

3:30-4:30 p.m.
Panel Discussion
Carlsen Center 232

Contact Us

Phone: 913-469-3470
Campus Mailbox: 85
Location: COM 220
Dept. Email

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