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China Humanities Seminar featuring Cheng-hua Wang – What Handscroll Landscape Painting Could Convey: Format, Structure, and the Discourse on Huayi in the Late Northern Song Dynasty

October 16, 2023 @ 4:00 pm 6:00 pm

Speaker: Cheng-hua Wang, Associate Professor, Princeton University

Focusing on landscape paintings in the handscroll format from the tenth to the twelfth century, this talk aims to present two structural innovations that took place in the late eleventh century seen in a few examples—from homogeneous to heterogeneous spaces and from mono to poly-scenic views. Along with these transformations in the late Northern Song (960–1127), the landscape handscroll format became an independent and full-fledged medium that diverged from the landscape hanging scroll in terms of compositional design, pictorial goal, and viewing practice. These in turn also opened up new possibilities for emotional expression, lyrical symbolism, and political connotations. The examples discussed include Old Trees, Level Distance (Shuse pingyuan) by Guo Xi and Fishing Village in Light Snow (Yucun xiaoxue) by Wang Shen.

The above discussion links the materiality and expressive potentiality of the handscroll landscape with its development as an independent format. This talk will also explore the formats of landscape painting by the tenth century, a pre-history of handscroll landscape painting, and the cultural context of the late eleventh century in which the concept of huayi (pictorial intent) featured prominently in the discourse on painting. While huayi, as a standard term that referred to the meanings or connotations of painting, probably emerged in the late Tang dynasty (618–906), it stands in the late Northern Song at the intersection of different art-historical threads that await further investigation. By using texts such as Guo Xi’s Lofty Ideal of Forests and Streams (Linquan gaozhi), it is hoped in this talk that the late Northern Song art world that fostered a high level of visual literacy along with rich and sophisticated signification in art can be recapitulated using the examples of handscroll landscape painting given above.

Cheng-hua Wang, a specialist in Chinese painting and visual culture, is Associate Professor at Princeton University. She has published widely in both Chinese and English. Two anthologies of her articles in Chinese have been published respectively in 2011 and 2020. Her English-language publications have appeared in different journals and edited volumes, and an anthology of some of these articles translated into Chinese will come out next year. In addition, her book manuscript Up the River of Time: The Qingming Shanghe Painting Tradition in China is currently under review. It tackles issues regarding the construction of a painting tradition and cultural constellation through thematic links and the complicated interrelationship between a primordial artwork and its later reproductions from a long historical perspective. Her next book project will explore the concept of territoriality and the transformation of shanshui painting in eighteenth-century China that involved the court and Suzhou.


October 16, 2023
4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Event Category:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies


Common Room, 2 Divinity Ave.

2 Divinity Ave.
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 United States

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