Sarah E. Fraser
- Associate Professor
- Northwestern University
Between Qinghai and Gansu: new directions in Chinese paintings and archaeology
New Directions in Chinese Painting and Archaeology in Twentieth –Century China is a book-length study exploring the status of Buddhist art and archaeological studies in the 31940’s and 1950’s. During the period of this grant, I will read critical materials in Chengdu and Chongqinq libraries and, further, conduct fieldwork in Qinghai province. In my study I explore the relationship between archaeological inquiry, cultural policy, and rapidly changing perspectives towards Buddhist art. During the mid-20th c., the emerging field of archaeology reflected a nationwide revolution in politics and culture in China. Populist preferences encouraged the study of ‘folk’ and ’primitive’ expression. Scholars instinctively turned to Tibetan culture as a suitable research topic for the new multi-ethnic state. The activities of Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) at Dunhuang, where he deployed traditional Tibetan workshop techniques to copy and study a vast history of painting, and his subsequent exhibitions in wartime capital of Chongqing, reflect a growing but conflicted interest in Buddhist motifs and their place in a new China. My study focuses on the moment when scholars began to explore the importance of Buddhist art history albeit in an environment when the value of religious art was contested.
What is Chinese About Chinese Art? Archaeology, Politics, and Identity in Republican China, 1928-1947
The question of Chinese cultural identity was hotly debated during the three transitional decades (1912-1949) after the fall of dynastic China and before the establishment of the PRC. Scholars and artists actively shaped what we now understand as Chinese art in profound ways. In his quest to discover the origins of Han Chinese painting, Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), a painter central to this study, copied hundreds of Buddhist murals with the aid of Tibetan assistants in 1941-43. Reproducing Silk Road art was a national act of reclamation, establishing ownership of a forgotten monument that symbolized the glory of a multiethnic China. Zhang pioneered a new form of painting that was a dramatic response to modernity and China’s semi-colonial history, becoming a national hero in the process.