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Global China Research Centre Graduate and Early-Career Research Seminar Series

ExGCRC Seminar

Event details


'Realism and the World Beyond: Murals and Ontological Exotica in Early Modern North China'

In the autumn of 1865, five years after the end of the second Opium War, the Scottish missionary Alexander Williamson visited the City God temple of the north Chinese provincial capital of Taiyuan. The realism of the images there shocked him: “We instinctively felt at the flat mud-backs of the monsters to see if they were really nothing more than clay. [...] Outside the doorway and in other parts of the buildings were pictures, a sort of frescoes, [...] the painter must somehow have got hold of foreign sketches, probably of continental cities, for the buildings have hardly an English look, and many of them have crosses on them. Then again the native artist had succeeded wonderfully well with the perspective. These pictures had given great offence to the officials, and all the larger ones were more or less defaced by order of the Fu-tai.”

This presentation excavates a lost history of realism and representation as productive problematics in Chinese visual culture, focusing on temple and opera-stage painting during the long early-modern and modern periods. I begin by briefly introducing my field-survey of early-modern murals in north China, conducted in 2013-4 and 2018. Examining painted temple halls and rock grottoes from the tenth century onward, I argue that these assemblages evoke the semblance of interior space, the visual verisimilitude of which was understood to induce somatic and affective “response.” This superimposition of true and false, depth and surface, interiority and expression, was understood as akin to the fictional space of theatre. With the introduction of European visual techniques like point-perspective, chiaroscuro, and cast shadows into the Chinese village world from the eighteenth century onward, this efficacious verisimilitude became a specific visual architecture that structured encounters with powerful and ontologically “exotic” spaces and beings, whether divine, fictional, or European.

Chinese museum text translation studies: the past, present and future

Museums, nowadays, are developing towards inclusive, community-involved and sustainable institutions. Museum translation, or to be more specific, museum text translation, is one of the main tools deployed by museums around the world to cater to their international and multilingual audiences. Despite its increasing salience, museum text translation remains an under-explored research topic especially in its research scope and methodology. This article reviews the museum text translation scholarship in the Chinese context through statistical analysis, which reflects its three stages in its over three decades’ development and three features, namely, limited research scope, simplistic application of theories, and an emerging transdisciplinary tendency. It is argued that the transdisciplinary collaboration between translation and museum communities will lead to further and better development of Chinese museum text translation studies.

Hannibal Taubes, UC Berkeley in California.

Title: 'Realism and the World Beyond: Murals and Ontological Exotica in Early Modern North China'

Xinyi Fan, University of Nottingham Ningbo City.

Title: 'Chinese museum text translation studies: the past, present and future'


Forum Seminar Room 06