Nature as Culture: Historicizing of Antiquity and Translated Modernity

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Chinese intellectual painters spoke to themes of nature’s profusion and envisioned assimilated social systems and conditions that would allow all to access it freely. Their understanding of beauty was linked to these ideas about the environment, socio-political ambience and collective orderliness. My study looks at the way that cultural relics and narrative in the paintings, by contributing to the aesthetic inspiration, can be understood to have social connotation against its complicated historical background. The advocacy of 'traditional' culture by both the on-going evidential learning and the antiquarian movement promoted by influential artists, appear antithetical to European-inspired modernist movements. To problematize the communication and translation of historical ideology and modern order, this talk will examine the delicate situation of modern Chinese artists testing the balance between Western and Confucian learning through new translation terms since the late Qing. (now at the collections of British Museum and Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew and Edinburgh). In seeking to tighten the focus and stimulate thinking about the role of translation within a specific linguistic realm and in particular in the field of art history and visual culture, my study investigates the unusual drawings of atypical ocean species and typical botany by both Chinese literati artists and Chinese export painting workshops commissioned by Western plant hunters. Through “historicizing” of new translations linguistically and visually from Japan and the West, how the drill of accumulating knowledge in bowu (broad learning about things) of evidential study was adapted and transformed into the new science of natural history, as a series of linked cultural practices and a translation process in modern China will be discussed.
Period3 Feb 2021
Held atUniversity of York, United Kingdom


  • modern Asian art
  • botanic painting
  • translation
  • Zhao Zhiqian
  • Chinese painting