Print Study Room: Chinese Civilization

‘Material Culture and the Literature of China’ with Professor of Chinese Language and Literature and the Courtney and Steven Ross Chair in Interdisciplinary Studies Mao Chen

In this course, a study of Chinese civilization allowed us to examine “all under heaven,” including topics as varied as: scrolls and paintings from late medieval China, the art of writing, healing and medicine, traditions of music and poetry, the Confucian canon, gardens of delight in the Ming court, and trade and the exchange of knowledge by land and sea. The class explored different approaches to the study of Chinese civilization through an interdisciplinary lens and critical analysis.


Students in Professor Chen’s class conducted research on material objects from China in order to create label text for works in the Tang collection. We hope you enjoy reading the results of their research below.

A rectangular piece of ivory with a small arch on top is inscribed with black Chinese text on one side as well as a deeper engraving located on the bottom.
Feng Wu, seal with Chinese lettering and design, mid 18th century, ivory, 2 1/8 x ¾ x ¾ in., Tang Teaching Museum, 1998.134
Jodie Xu ’24
A Chinese seal, or yìnzhāng in Chinese, is a stamp containing Chinese characters and is used like a signature to prove identity on documents, art, or any items where authorship is considered important. Ancient Chinese seals are typically made of stone, metal, wood, bamboo, plastic, jade, or ivory, and are used with red ink or cinnabar paste. This seal from the Tang Museum collection is carved from ivory.
A light rough gray naturally formed stone, flat and rectangular shaped, sits atop a dark brown wooden base.
Unrecorded artist, scholar’s rock, n.d., stone on wood, 2 x 3 3/8 x 2 in., Tang Teaching Museum, EL2019.2.2a-b
Maya Manaktala ’21 and Ella Siff-Scherr ’24
The Scholar’s Rock, also known as gongshi, is an important object of Chinese Civilization. Gongshi represent mountain ranges in a small, tangible form. Individuals, many of whom practiced Taoist ideology, admired and meditated with these objects indoors in small studios when being immersed in nature was not possible.
Ceramic statue of a horse reeling back with a blue, green, and yellow saddle.
Unrecorded artist, rearing Bactrian horse, c. 680-750, terracotta with three colored glazes, Tang Teaching Museum, ML1982.273
Arthur Lin ’23
Horses are an animal that represent nobility and character in China, and for this reason they were often depicted in art and sculpture throughout many Chinese dynasties. This particular piece, a stallion in a ready position, highlights both the elegance of the horse and its abilities. With three main colors (green, grey, blue), it resembles a Bactrian steed.
A white jar, with black lid and base, depicts colorful paintings of different shaped vases with the center one being the largest and full of peacock feathers.
Unrecorded artist, ginger jar, c. 1800, porcelain, wood, and jade, 10 ¾ in., Tang Teaching Museum, LS101
Colin Mahoney ’21 and Maxim Sussman ’23
This ginger jar was created during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) and likely would be used to hold herbs. The jar is painted with the famille rose (pink family) color palette which is thought to have originated in Europe and introduced to China by Jesuits in the early 18th century, where it would then supplant the dominant blue and white porcelain style.
A light blue glass bottle decorated with painting of a flowering tree and Chinese lettering with green stone stopper on top.
Unrecorded Chinese artist, snuff bottle, paint on glass with green stone, 2 ½ x 1 ¼ in., Tang Teaching Museum, 1979.21
Elissa Miller ’24 and Matt Williams ’24
This Snuff Bottle was likely created during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912), the final imperial dynasty of China. Snuff bottles were produced in China during the early 18th century. Originally, these small jars were made for the emperor and court, often a symbol of middle or higher status, however, over time they became more common among all social classes.
A rough gray naturally formed stone, thinner at the bottom but expands at the top into a curve, sits atop a dark brown wooden base.
Unrecorded artist, scholar’s rock, n.d., stone on wood, 6 1/8 x 3 ¾ x 2 ½ in., Tang Teaching Museum, EL2019.2.1a-b
Ben Simon ’23 and Livi Schmahmann ’23
Scholar’s rocks aren’t carved, but instead are chosen for their natural form. The rocks are limestone that was shaped by mildly acidic soil in its environment; this along with water erosion and calcification processes is what sculpted the Scholar’s rock. Scholar’s rocks first appeared during the Tang Dynasty (618–907) and most of the limestone found for these objects came from the Yingde and Lingbi caves, as well as in the Quinshi Mountain mudflats in Eastern China.
An ornate porcelain vase painted in a floral motif depicts a scene of seven men together under a tree.
Unrecorded artist, moon flask, early 18th century, porcelain, 14 in., Tang Teaching Museum, LS91
Lindsey Raimondi ’23 and Audrey Powell ’23
The moon flask is a blue and white porcelain flask created in the early 18th century in Yangzhou. After the fall of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), Yangzhou became an artistic center known for painting. Within this artistic center, artwork was painted both on canvas and on moon flasks. Instead of being used to hold liquids, this flask was likely admired as a decorative artwork.
A square bone china base depicting blue storks and clouds forming a circle around the center of the piece.
Unrecorded artist, stork bone china stand, late 19th century, bone china, 10 x 10 x 1 ½ in., Tang Teaching Museum, LS92
Pablo Rodriguez ’24 and Teddy Seguin ’23
This artifact depicts stork birds encircling one another in a cloudy sky. The material used, bone china, is a mix of bone ash, clay, and stone. Bone china is much harder than traditional porcelain, and is called bone china due to its resemblance to ivory and because of the use of bone ash.
A lumpy naturally formed gray stone, with two diagonal offshoots pointing upwards in opposite directions forming a letter V shape, sits atop a dark brown wooden base.
Unrecorded artist, scholar’s rock, n.d., stone on wood, 2 ½ x 2 ¾ x 1 7/8 in., Tang Teaching Museum, EL2019.2.3
Amr Fatafta ’23 and Ethan McNamara ’23
This Scholar’s Rock is made of wood and stone, most likely limestone. Objects such as this date back as far as the Tang Dynasty (618–907). Such objects were owned and collected almost exclusively by those with extensive literary knowledge, as reflected in the name, and were considered a status symbol. Scholar’s Rocks were displayed as a sign of great knowledge and were judged, during the Tang Dynasty, on four key features. These features were thinness (shou), openness (tou), perforations (lou), and wrinkling (zhou).
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