Decorative Arts, Architecture, and Manhua: Problematizing Exhibitions in Republican China (1912-49)

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: Decorative Arts, Architecture, and Manhua: Problematizing Exhibitions in Republican China (1912-49)
Stream: Art/Art History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Yiwen Liu, The Ohio State University, United States (organizer, presenter)
Jane DeBevoise, Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong and New York, Hong Kong (chair)
Xi Zhang, The University of Chicago, United States (presenter)
Felicity Yin, University of California San Diego, United States (presenter)


Scholars often grapple with how to study art exhibitions. Source materials are usually fragmentary, linkages between individuals are difficult to trace and verify, and the impact of the exhibitions are difficult to assess in isolated cases. In the case of modern China, exhibitions became a public space where different agents contested their visions of modernity and Chineseness. Exhibition participants did not just make commercial benefits but gained an opportunity to shape the future of modern China in their views. Thus, exhibition history, despite the difficulties, is an indispensable part of modern Chinese history.

This panel attempts to problematize the physical and conceptual space of exhibitions in the context of Republican China with three types of exhibitions as case studies. Xiaojian Yin’s work examines the 1929 West Lake Exposition in Hangzhou and explores its connection to the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris. Both Xi Zhang and Yiwen Liu’s works focus on exhibitions in Shanghai in 1936. Whereas Zhang’s work looks at different visions of modern Chinese architecture through the national exhibition at the city museum and their participation in the urban planning of a New Shanghai, Liu’s work analyzes a manhua exhibition, discussing the unique role of the exhibition in manhua artists’ career.

The three papers explore exhibitions’ interactions with local socio-political situations as well as international influences from Europe and Japan. They put three types of exhibitions in Republican China into a conversation, and challenge existing narratives of the rigid boundaries between artistic types.