Picturing Political Abstractions in Song/Jin Painting

Talk by Martin Powers, University of Michigan

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Thursday, April 9, 2015
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Bunche Hall 10383

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Benedict Anderson once observed that pictorial practice is constrained by, and therefore reveals, a community’s conceptual limitations. If a community cannot distinguish between court and state, then a portrait of the monarch will be adequate as a representation of the polity. If a lord’s jurisdiction is bounded only by his territory, then a reference to that territory can represent the extent of the lord’s authority. Song period (960-1278) administration introduced a number of fine distinctions that had figured only weakly in medieval Chinese practice. The distinction between court and state, or office and officer for instance, came to be realized in daily political practice and so entered into the consciousness of the educated. It is just at this time that political abstractions such as “the polity”, “the people” as taxpayers, or even legal jurisdiction come to be referenced or pictured in Song and Jin painting. This paper surveys some of these themes and examines the pictorial strategies developed for visualizing political abstractions. 

Martin Powers is Sally Michelson Davidson Professor of Chinese Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan, and former director of the Center for Chinese Studies. In 1993 his Art and Political Expression in Early China, Yale University Press, received the Levenson Prize for the best book in pre-twentieth century Chinese studies. His research focuses on the role of the arts in the history of human relations in China, with an emphasis on issues of personal agency and social justice. His Pattern and Person: Ornament, Society, and Self in Classical China, was published by Harvard University Press East Asian Series in 2006 and has been awarded the Levenson Prize for 2008. He has served on numerous national committees, including NEH, ACLS, and the advisory board of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts. He has taught in the history departments at Tsinghua, Peking University, and Zhejiang University, and has published articles and essays in multiple venues in Chinese, including an editorial series in the journal of culture and current affairs, Du Shu. In 2009 he was resident at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton writing a book on the role of "China" in the cultural politics of the English Enlightenment. Together with Dr. Katherine Tsiang, he is co-editing the Blackwell Companion to Chinese Art.

Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies