Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, University of California / Berkeley

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2013
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Art History/Architecture, University of California / Berkeley
Cultural Exchange and the Heavens in the Arts of Liao-Yuan China and Inner Asia

In pre-modern China, the heavens were understood as an active agent of fortune and misfortune, and a barometer of the court's moral rectitude. They were thus a major preoccupation among elites and a frequent subject of visual representation. This preoccupation underwent major changes between the collapse of the Tang dynasty (618-907) and the Mongol conquest of Eurasia in the thirteenth century, a period that saw the rise and fall of the Inner Asian "conquest dynasties" of the Khitan Liao (907-1125), Tangut Xi Xia (1078-1227), and Jurchen Jin (1115-1234) in addition to the Northern and Southern Song (960-1276) dynasties understood to be natively Chinese. The Song and Mongol-ruled Yuan (1276-1368) periods have been described as "the heyday of Chinese astronomy" for their technical advances in instrument production and calculations. Meanwhile, worship of astral deities became widespread across the cultures of China and its evolving northern frontier. These parallel developments involved a host of practices that spanned cultural strata, variously aimed at political and soteriological goals, and by states and private individuals alike. Correspondingly, the material evidence of these practices straddles the disciplines of art history, history, and the history of science, and unsettles modern conceptual distinctions between astronomy and astrology, science and superstition, and art and religion. Consisting of both received texts and objects transmitted through collectors, and objects that were scattered around the globe after being excavated in the early 20th century, these materials have yet to be addressed as a coherent body. In my dissertation, I hope to reintegrate these materials and reconstruct the context of their production. My foremost concerns are the aesthetic dimensions of premodern astronomy and the role of religious concepts in shaping how the cosmos was represented and understood.