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Politics of Expression: Art in Twentieth-Century China




Admission Requirements



This course will give an introduction to twentieth century Chinese art with a particular focus on the politics of style in relation to the broader cultural and political agendas in twentieth century China. An underlying theme will be the negotiation between techniques, aesthetics and concepts defined as Chinese or ‘traditional’ and those perceived as ‘non-Chinese’ or Western.

The class starts with sessions that address the making of ‘Chinese art’ as a category. In studying the frameworks of Chinese and non-Chinese museums students will deepen their understanding of the politics of display; in discussing the position of Asian Modernism(s) in the historiography of twentieth-century art they will learn to recognize and disentangle the politics of canonization.

All following sessions are organized around artistic practices and media. Students will learn how to analyze print, painting, photography and sculpture through art historical methods and acquire knowledge on art in twentieth-century China with a special focus on the role of socio-political aspects.

Course Objectives

The student:

  • will be equipped with the methodological tools to interpret visual and material sources;

  • will learn how to recognize and analyze narratives of modernity in art and society;

  • will learn how to critically engage with museum display strategies;

  • will acquire historical knowledge on art in twentieth-century China.

Mode of Instruction

This is a discussion-driven seminar, based on readings that are mandatory for preparation. In each block (consisting of two sessions) each student is asked to write a small assignment (of circa 500-800 words). The assignment will help the students to digest the readings and serves to enable creative as well as informed classroom discussions.

In each session one or two students will give a PowerPoint presentation on an assigned artwork of circa ten minutes. These presentations provide space for experiment with individually chosen presentation ideas and methodological approaches. Building upon the mandatory and optional course readings the presentations are intended to enhance the understanding of the course’s subject matter, stimulate group discussion and help preparing the final assignment, an essay of circa 2000-2500 words.


Assessment: In-class participation
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7

Assessment: Weekly assignments (500-800 words)
Percentage: 30%
Deadline: Weeks 1 – 7 (Sunday at 24:00)

Assessment: PowerPoint Presentation (10 minutes)
Percentage: 10%
Deadline: Weeks 3 – 7

Assessment: Final research essay (2000-2500 words)
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Week 8 (25-03-2013 at 24:00)


An overview of all sessions and readings will be posted on blackboard. Reading materials will be made available at least one week prior to the session that they are assigned for. Due to copyright issues those readings that appear on a yellow background in the syllabus cannot be put on blackboard. They are made available in the Reading Room.

Contact Information

Email: a.k.grasskamp@hum.leidenuniv.nl
Office: Universiteit Leiden, Huizinga gebouw, 2nd Floor, Room 218 A
Office phone: 0715252548

Weekly Overview

Session 1
Introduction to the Course

Session 2
The Politics of Display:
Chinese Art and the Museum

Session 3
The Politics of Display II:
Chinese Art in Chinese Museums

Session 4
The Politics of Historiography:
Art in Twentieth-Century China

Session 5
The Politics of Historiography II:
Writing the History of Art in Twentieth-Century China

Session 6
The Politics of Expression:
Chinese Modern Woodcut

Session 7
The Politics of Expression II:
Chinese Modern Woodcut Movements

Session 8
The Politics of Documentation:
Photography and the Staging of Identity

Session 9
The Politics of ‘Tradition’:
Ink Painting

Session 10
The Politics of ‘Tradition’ II:
National Style Ink Painting (Guohua)

Session 11
The Politics of Realism:
(Abstract) Oil Painting

Session 12
The Politics of Realism II:
Mao in Oil

Session 13
The Politics of the Sculpted Body:
The Rent Collection Courtyard 1965 and 1999

Session 14
The Politics of the Sculpted Body II:
The Bronze Heads 1860 and 2009

Preparation for first session