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	Image: Mural of females c710 (detail), Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology

Tang cosmopolitanism

An interdisciplinary symposium

How was Tang China transformed into a tolerant and outwards-looking society?

Presenting their latest research, the international and local scholars in this symposium will explore the multicultural and cosmopolitan nature of Tang culture from varied perspectives, from artistic representations to mortuary customs, religion, architecture and royalty.

Held in conjunction with the exhibition Tang 唐: treasures from the Silk Road capital, the symposium will broaden and deepen understandings of Tang civilisation, the profound influence of which still resonates in contemporary China, both culturally and politically.

The exhibition is the first in Australia to focus on this Golden Age of Chinese civilisation and showcases some 130 spectacular objects from the Chinese province of Shaanxi, which demonstrate the high artistic achievements of the Tang dynasty (618–907).

The symposium is co-presented by the Art Gallery of NSW, the University of Sydney’s Power Institute and China Studies Centre.

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Registration and coffee

Dr Michael Brand, director, Art Gallery of NSW
Uncle Allen Madden, Gadigal elder
Dr Stephen Whiteman, Department of Art History, The University of Sydney

Tang cosmopolitanism
Prof Jeffrey Riegel, director of the China Studies Centre, The University of Sydney

The Tang ornamental zither: to what tunes does it play?
Prof Eugene Wang, Department of History of Art + Architecture, Harvard University

The early zither thrives on its elusiveness. Much of this is diminished due to the post-Tang codification that has standardised the perception of the musical instrument as a medium of contemplative solitude. During the Tang dynasty, however, the medium was far less uniform in mood and far more unruly in overtones. Is it primarily a piping organ that channels the celestial airs? Or is it a soul-cleanser that modulates the self? The medium oscillates between the two poles, at once a self-eraser and self-amplifier. Perhaps for this reason, medieval zither decoration remains non-committal, opting for plain design instead of ornamentation, so that less is more. The Shoso-in zither is, however, an exception. As the lone 8th-century ornamental zither, its ornamentation visualises the unheard tunes to be played on the instrument. The pictorial give-away, however, offers no clarification in the potential messages being sent. The zither design explicitly advertises itself as at once an uninhibited channel of release and a severe restraining soul-cleanser. How do we reconcile these two contradictory impulses? Or should we?

11.30am – 12.15pm
Performing in the afterlife: performance and performativity of Tang tomb art
Assoc Prof Wei-Cheng Lin, Department of Art History, The University of Chicago

Foreign musicians, opulently dressed court ladies, handsomely made dancing horses—these are only a few examples of tomb figurines from Tang China that can be easily found in museum collections. All these figurines appear joyful as though they were serving a luxurious lifestyle, or enhancing a celebratory atmosphere, and yet, they were, in fact, part of tomb furnishings, once the door was sealed, closed inside the burial chamber forever. Though diverse in type and representation, the Tang figurines share most obviously a sense of performance, and yet, one wonders for whom and to what end they were made to perform in the dark, lonely, and secluded subterraneous chamber. This lecture will reconsider the ‘performance’ of the burial artefacts from Tang China with these questions in mind.


Buddhism and the arts of tea in Tang times
Prof James Benn, Department of Religious Studies, McMaster University

The dramatic change in drinking habits that occurred in the Tang dynasty cannot be understood without considering the crucial role of Buddhist ideas, institutions and individuals in creating a new culture around the consumption of tea. Buddhist texts vividly depicted the dangers of imbibing intoxicating substances, while Buddhist monks actively promoted tea as a stimulating alternative to alcohol. By the end of the 9th century, tea had become a vital component in the Chinese economy and an essential commodity of everyday life. Tea was valued for its ability to sustain long periods of meditation and for its health-giving properties. It was considered an appropriate offering for Buddhist deities, and a suitable gift for monks and laypeople to exchange. This lecture looks closely at the surviving artistic, material and literary evidence for Buddhist involvement in the invention of a Chinese tea culture during Tang times.

Textual production: the influence of Tang religious innovations
Dr Chiew Hui Ho, School of Languages and Cultures, The University of Sydney

From the perspective of the cult of the Diamond Sutra, this lecture reveals the influence of Tang religious innovations on subsequent developments in East Asia. Writings from both monastic and lay sources attest to the popularity of the Diamond Sutra from the 7th century onwards. The end of the Tang dynasty saw the creation of a liturgical version of the Diamond Sutra, transforming it into a text that was not only read and recited but also used for purposes of religious ritual. This Tang creation not only exerted a far-reaching influence on the textual history of the Diamond Sutra but also prompted further innovations in the production of printed illustrated books in post-Tang China.


Dioramas of Tang dynasty royal lives
Prof Tonia Eckfeld, Department of Historical and Philosophical Studies, The University of Melbourne

Tang-dynasty tombs of Chinese imperial family members and the social elite were lined with vivid lifelike paintings. Discoveries by archaeologists reveal scenes of royal palaces, expansive estates and aristocratic pastimes. Intact and sometimes 100 metres in length, the paintings inside these subterranean structures represent the high-art tradition of Tang-dynasty, secular, imperial wall-mural painting, previously thought to be lost. Recent evidence, including scientific analysis by materials conservators, enables Tang-dynasty, secular, imperial mural painting to be given its proper place in the corpus of Chinese art history. This lecture explores Tang-dynasty tomb mural paintings to reveal their intriguing and colourful secrets about Tang court life, society, art and politics.

Panel discussion
Chaired by Dr Stephen Whiteman, Department of Art History, The University of Sydney

Join the speakers for a glass of wine

More about the speakers

Jeffrey Riegel is director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and professor emeritus, having retired from his positions of professor and head of school in the university’s School of Languages and Cultures in 2015. Most of his 37-year academic career was spent at the University of California, Berkeley; he retired from his position as Louis B Agassiz Professor of Chinese at Berkeley in 2007 to move to Sydney. He has published widely on early Chinese thought, literature and archaeology, has been a visiting professor at Fudan University, Renmin University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and frequently gives talks in China and North America. His publications include The annals of Lü Buwei and Mozi: a study and translation of the ethical and political writings. His articles appear in major Sinological journals, and a selection of them has been translated into Chinese and collected into a volume which will be published by Shanghai’s Guji Press.

Eugene Y Wang is the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art at Harvard University. His extensive publications cover a full range of Chinese art history from the early art and archeology to modern and contemporary art and cinema. He has received Guggenheim, Getty and ACLS Ryskamp Fellowships. His book Shaping the Lotus Sutra: Buddhist visual culture in medieval China garnered the Academic Achievement Award (2006) from Japan. He is the art history editor of the Encyclopedia of Buddhism (2004). He has served on the advisory board of the Center for Advanced Study of Visual Art; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Getty Foundation; the Li Ching Cultural and Educational Foundation in Taiwan; and the editorial board of The Art Bulletin. His current research encompasses issues of visual programming, material forms of intelligence, and inter-subjectivity effects.

Wei-Cheng Lin is Associate Professor of Art History and the College at the University of Chicago, where he also received his doctoral degree in 2006. Lin specialises in the history of Chinese art and architecture with a focus on medieval periods. His primary research interests are visual and material cultural issues in Buddhist art and architecture and China’s funerary practice through history. He is the author of Building a sacred mountain: the Buddhist architecture of China’s Mount Wutai (2014). He has also published on a variety of topics, including collecting history, photography and architecture, historiography of Chinese architectural history, and contemporary Chinese art. Lin’s current book project, titled Performative architecture of China, investigates the ways in which Chinese architecture can be considered as actively engaging its users by structuring, affecting, evoking or shaping their spatial senses and imagination.

James A Benn is Professor of Buddhism and East Asian Religions at McMaster University. His research is aimed at understanding the practices and world views of medieval men and women, both religious and lay, through the close reading of primary sources in literary Chinese — the lingua franca of East Asian religions. He focuses on three major areas of research: bodily practice in Chinese religions; the ways in which people create and transmit new religious practices and doctrines; and the religious dimensions of commodity culture. He has published on self-immolation, spontaneous human combustion, Buddhist apocryphal scriptures, and tea and alcohol in medieval China in journals such as History of Religions, T’oung Pao, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies and Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. He is the author of Burning for the Buddha: self-immolation in Chinese Buddhism (2007) and Tea in China: a religious and cultural history (2015).

Chiew Hui Ho is a lecturer of East Asia Buddhism at the University of Sydney. He received his PhD in Religious Studies from Stanford University. Previously, he earned a BA (Honors) and an MA in Philosophy from the National University of Singapore, and an MA in Buddhist Studies (Distinction) from the University of Hong Kong. A former Chiang Ching-Kuo doctoral fellow, Chiew Hui is also a recipient of the China Times Young Scholar Award and a Japan Foundation fellow. Chiew Hui’s research focuses on medieval Chinese Buddhism, with an emphasis in Sinitic Buddhist narratives.

Tonia Eckfeld was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago and research fellow at Harvard University. She is project leader for University of Melbourne projects in Shaanxi and Henan Provinces, China on mural painting and earthen archaeological site conservation, and the author of the landmark book Imperial tombs in Tang China, 618–907: the politics of paradise (2005, 2011). She is also a documentary film historical consultant and appears on-screen in Empress Wu (2016, UK Channel 4, US Smithsonian Networks), Ancient secrets: China’s lost pyramids (2011, National Geographic) and Shaanxi TV’s Hello (2012) and Discovering Shaanxi (2013). Tonia works with the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology and other major institutions in China and internationally. The Chinese Government has awarded her the status of honorary professor at Zhengzhou University.

Image: Mural of females c710 (detail), Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology

Saturday 14 May 2016, 9.30am

$80 non member
$70 member
$50 student

Bookings and enquiries: 02 9225 1878


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Duration 7 hours, 30 minutes
Location: Domain Theatre

Related exhibition: Tang

Related gallery: Australian galleries

Power Institute China Studies Centre, University of Sydney