Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type



Art History

First Advisor

Molly E. Aitken

Second Advisor

I-Hsien Wu

Third Advisor

Craig Houser


Chinese art history, 20th century art history, Zheng Wuchang, Liang Qichao, Teng Gu, Republic of China


At the dawn of the twentieth century, the Chinese formulation of art history underwent dramatic changes. It moved away from the traditional narratives that did not follow a strict chronology to adopt the Western linear model which emphasizes progress and national identity. Based on the premodern tradition, the modern formulations of Chinese art history began as a political strategy for nation building amid the political upheavals, including military attacks on China that led to the end of Qing imperial rule and the beginning of the Republican era (1912-1949).

In the early 1900s, while exiled in Japan, Liang Qichao 梁啟超 (1873-1929), published essays and brought ideas of “national spirit” and “civilization” into the consciousness of revolutionary intellectuals both abroad and in China. Liang and his fellow intellectuals embraced this Western framework not just because it affiliated China with the other “civilized” nations but, more important, because it would enable China to rival other nations in the global arena. This, along with his ideas on “specialized history” and “linear progression,” went on to influence the formulation of Chinese art history in the first half of the twentieth century. The two main protagonists of this thesis, Zheng Wuchang 鄭午昌 (1894-1052) and Teng Gu滕固 (1901-1041), adopted these ideas and aimed not only to show progressive development in Chinese art but also to change the notion of antiquities from objects of bygone eras to treasures of national heritage.

Therefore the modern formulation of Chinese cultural history came as a result of concerns for the country’s future, that is, to become a nation recognized as equal to those that were technologically advanced.



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