The search for aesthetic modernity in China and Japan: the case of Chen Shizeng and Omura Seigai
Free Public Lecture
Theatre A (G06)
Keynote presentation by Dr Olivier Krischer, Deputy Director, China Studies Centre, University of Sydney & Macgeorge Fellow, the University of Melbourne.
In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries in China and Japan aesthetics was debated not only by artists but also political thinkers, social reformers and revolutionaries. Aesthetics became intimately tied to cultural and national identities, often framed as a state of being rather than a question of style. While most reformers advocated the adaptation of Euro-American realism to modernise national culture, some argued for a deeper, more thorough understanding of traditional intellectual culture, on which to build an indigenous modernity; a critical reappraisal, rather than rejection, of Asian intellectual tradition.
This lecture examines the art and art history of Chen Shizeng in China and Ōmura Seigai Japan, both of whom championed literati ink painting around 1920, and briefly collaborated. While their collaboration may have been mutually beneficial at that time, numerous factors leading to outright war made such pan-Asian initiatives increasingly untenable. While the idea of shared aesthetic and cultural legacies might echo in Japan today, in China, it isn’t surprising perhaps to find a surge of interest in Chen’s once apparently anachronistic call to look deeper into China’s historical tradition for a modernity with Chinese characteristics.
Supported by the MacGeorge Bequest
Image by Chen Shizeng, 1917