East Asian Internationalism and Beyond: Crossing Borders in Chinese Architectural History


Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 4:15pm to 6:00pm


Tsai Auditorium (S010), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies Annual Edwin O. Reischauer Lecture Series

Co-sponsored by the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies and Korea Institute

Nancy S. Steinhardt
Professor of East Asian Art, University of Pennsylvania

Nancy S. Steinhardt is professor of East Asian art and curator of Chinese art at the University of Pennsylvania where she has taught since 1982. She received her PhD at Harvard in 1981 where she was a Junior Fellow from 1978-81. Steinhardt taught at Bryn Mawr from 1981-1982. She has broad research interests in the art and architecture of China and China’s border regions, particularly problems that result from the interaction between Chinese art and that of peoples to the North, Northeast, and Northwest. Steinhardt is author or coeditor of Chinese Traditional Architecture (1984), Chinese Imperial City Planning (1990), Liao Architecture (1997), Chinese Architecture (2003), Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture (2005), Chinese Architecture and the Beaux-Arts (2011), Chinese Architecture in an Age of Turmoil, 200-600 (in press), The Chinese Mosque (under contract), Chinese Architecture: Ten Lectures (under contract) and more than 70 articles.

About the Lectures
Architecture is without doubt one of the most distinctive elements of Chinese civilization. Its characteristic features – roofs, gables, columns, bracket sets – mean that everyone can recognize a Chinese building when they see one. That these and other features remained so remarkably consistent over time may lead us to conclude that Chinese architecture was a closed system, a building tradition that resisted influences from outside and in which continuities in timber-frame construction and roof decoration can be straightforwardly traced over millennia. Through the centuries, however, the highly recognizable Chinese style in building has been adopted and adapted near and far, from Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia to England and the United States. How can an architectural tradition apparently so hidebound be so elastic? These three lectures by the leading American historian of Chinese monumental architecture take up this question by examining developments from a time when Inner Asian regimes, and not Chinese dynasties, governed in the Central Plains. The Northern Wei state of the Xianbei, the Liao state of the Khitans, and the Yuan state of the Mongols, all represent periods of alien rule when challenges were posed to established systems of building in China. In a magisterial overview of Chinese architectural history set broadly in a Eurasian context, Professor Steinhardt demonstrates that, although it might seem that architecture changed little during those periods, buildings constructed under the patronage of non-Chinese rulers in fact stretched the building system beyond anything previously erected in China, and that what we think of as “Chinese” architecture can be thought of as constituting an early “internationalism” in building and space.

Lecture 1 (April 8): “The Sixth Century as the Seventh and Eighth: Recentering an International Age in Chinese Architectural History”
Discussants: Yukio Lippit, Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University
James Robson, Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

The lecture begins by asking questions that have driven the study of Chinese architecture through the twentieth century: Why do so many Chinese buildings look like so many others? What are the principles that govern Chinese construction? How did our current Chinese architectural history come to be written? Is Chinese architecture in fact a Chinese, Japanese, and Korean building system? Is the period of the Tang dynasty (618-907) really the first “international age” for East Asian art and architecture? In answering the last question, the lecture argues that Sino-Korean-Japanese internationalism in art and architecture in fact occurred earlier, in the sixth century, and to a certain extent even in the fifth. In the conclusion, the implications of an international sixth-century and themes that will be important in Lectures 2 and 3 are presented.

Lecture 2 (April 9): “The Liao Revolution in Building and Design”
Discussants: Eugene Wang, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art, Harvard University
Valerie Hansen, Professor of History, Yale University

Since the early twentieth century, the architecture of the Liao dynasty (916-1125) has been known for its size and for its dramatic and often unique interior spaces. Liao architectural forms, iconographic programs, and burial practices are unprecedented in earlier periods. This lecture offers new insights on three monuments that open fresh vistas on Liao architecture. It demonstrates first, that the two largest Buddha halls ever constructed in China, both from the eleventh century, did not follow the standards expected for most important Chinese buildings. The lecture also provides evidence that Khitan patterns of construction, symbolism, and urbanism existed outside China and Inner Mongolia during the Liao empire. This is followed by an unprecedented look at ongoing excavation of a monastery inside the Liao upper capital of Shangjing, which reveals a city plan that has no clear precedent in Asia. The lecture concludes by asking why Liao architecture distinguished itself from other building traditions. 

Lecture 3 (April 10): “Shifting the Borders: A Revisionist History of Yuan Architecture”
Discussants: Wei-cheng Lin, Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Leornard van der Kuijp, Professor of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies, Harvard University

The third and final lecture in the series begins by examining the major Chinese monuments built during the Yuan period (1267-1368), buildings that have been used to write the standard history of architecture under the Mongols. Indeed, the building record confirms written accounts, and the lecture shows how theatrical stages, houses, and mosques confirm the standard narrative; brief looks at a pagoda and an observatory also show the apparent absence of a challenge to the Chinese building system. Yet on closer examination, we find buildings that deviate from recognized norms: a mausoleum in Hebei and ritual sites in Inner Mongolia lead us to ask if what we call Yuan architecture requires a different understanding of Chinese architecture, if the borders of Chinese architecture expanded under the Yuan, and if, finally, Chinese architecture under the Mongols broke out of the rigid system that had so long confined it.

All lectures will take place at the Tsai Auditorium (S010), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, at 4:15 p.m.