University of Cambridge

The Humanitas Visiting Professorship in Chinese Studies is one of the leading voices in the study of China within the U.K.

Ambitious in its scope, the initiative holds Visiting Professorships that engage with many aspects of a country and culture that has become of increasing global importance, yet has not traditionally received the study it merits.

The Visiting Professorship in Chinese Studies is hosted by St Catherine’s College, Oxford. It has been made possible by the generous support of Sir David Tang.

Xu Bing 2014-2015

Xu Bing is a Chinese-born artist, most known for his printmaking skills and installations pieces, as well as his creative artistic use of language, words, and text and how they have affected our understanding of the world. He currently resides in Beijing, where he serves as the president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

While in Cambridge Xu Bing led two public lectures. The first of these was The Reactivation of Tradition which traces the influence of ancient Chinese traditions on contemporary culture. The second was The Energy of Reality and the Creativity of Art which addresses the motivation of artistic creation and explores where the artist find his source of inspiration.

Xu Bing also took part in a discussion of his Bird Cages at The Fitzwiliam Museum with Shelagh Vainker, who curated his exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in 2013. His series was concluded with a symposium entitled Chinese Tradition: Chinese Reality and discussed the fast-changing face of Chinese culture.

David Wang 2013-14

David Wang is Edward Henderson Professor in Chinese Literature at Harvard University, Director of CCK Foundation Inter-University Center for Sinological Studies, and Academician, Academia Senica

David Wang’s Humanitas Visiting Professorship asked What is Chinese about Chinese Literature?

His opening lecture, From Mara Poet to Nobel Laureate: On Modern Chinese Literary Culture, examined modern Chinese literature not as a corpus of texts but as a constellation of tastes, discourses, occasions, and productions contested by historical dynamics.

Professor Wang’s second lecture, The Lyrical in Epic Time: On Modern Chinese Literary Thought, proposed that we rethink the critical paradigm of modern Chinese literature in terms of “literary thought”.

His closing lecture, Sailing to the Sinophone World: On Modern Chinese Literary Cartography, examined the recent developments of Sinophone Studies and offered reflections on their theoretical premises and geopolitical implications.

David Wang’s Humanitas tenure ended with a symposium entitled On the Chineseness of Chinese Literature, in which Qian Jun (University of Newcastle), Michel Hockx (SOAS), Julia Lovell (Birbeck College, University of London), Susan Daravula (University of Cambridge), and Hans van de Ven (University of Cambridge) offered responses and rebuttals to the lectures, focusing on the question: is the modern Chinese language a suitable medium for modern Chinese literature?

Chen Yung-fa 2012-2013

Chen Yung-fa is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Modern History at Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan, and Professor of History at the National Taiwan University.

Professor Chen’s first lecture, entitled Maoist Rectification during Wartime, threw new light on Mao’s devastating campaign against party adversaries and his subsequent rise to power within the party leadership.

In this talk, Professor Chen painted a fascinating picture of Mao as a canny strategist, revealing the genius of Mao’s mobilization of high ranking cadres and existing discontent to pressure and ultimately discredit his adversaries.


Wu Hung 2011-2012

Wu Hung is a Professor of Art History, and East Asian Languages and Civilizations. Professor Wu spoke on ‘contemporaneity’ in present-day China, delivering three lectures and participating in a colloquium, all on the topic of ‘Reading Absence in Chinese Art and Material Culture’.

The first lecture on ‘Absence and Subjectivity’ focused on the treatment of largely material culture – especially on mirrors and pillows- where the absence of the body is part of the object’s conceptualisation and display. The second on ‘Absence and Memory’ looked at mainly seventeenth-century paintings and the use of ghostly figures, blank steles, and empty landscapes. The final lecture, ‘Demolition Projects: Absence as Contemporaneity’, focused on the avant-garde art of the 1980s and 1990s in Beijing and its engagement with tradition and particularly with architectural destruction.

In the concluding symposium, Professor Wu was joined by other prominent experts in the field: Professor Craig Clunas (History of Art, University of Oxford), Alfeda Murck (an independent scholar from Beijing), Dr Adam Chau (Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge), Dr Joseph McDermott (Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge), Dr Shane McCausland (History of Chinese Art, SOAS), and Professor Tim Barrett (East Asian History and Research, SOAS).

Each of the speakers made a valuable contribution on the general theme of the lecture series. The discussion was extended, and the event ended with a guided tour of the Fitzwilliam Museum exhibition on Chinese mortuary art.

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