Spectral belonging: artisanal reproduction of landscape imagery in nineteenth-century chinese tombs

Spectral Belonging: Artisanal Reproduction of Landscape Imagery in Nineteenth-Century Chinese Tombs

In 2001, five extravagant nineteenth century stone-carved tombs were excavated in Bayu Village of Dali County in Shaanxi Province, an inland region in northwest China. These underground eternal residences belonged to a well-off merchant and local elite family with sir name Li. The most stunning feature of the Li family tombs is their close replication of aboveground house structures and the naturalistic representations of architectural decor, wooden compartments, scroll paintings, calligraphic couplets, screens, embroidered valances, furniture, and other decorative objects. The pictorial details of landscape painting or in Chinese shanshui hua (mountain and water painting) and the material forms of hanging scrolls and screen panels are especially striking as these are meticulously reproduced on the surface of the limestone. Chinese archeologists of Li Family cemetery have considered these lavish underground structures and decorations reveal tomb occupants’ longing for continuity of above ground lives and hence imitated the above ground physical space and material objects. However, a close examination of the details of relief suggests that the approaches of duplicating the worldly things for the dead cannot fully explain various alterations made by the tomb designers and artisans. This talk suggests that we can understand these alternations more fully through examining how a spectral belonging was created on the surface of limestone. In particular, I will focus on a material turn taken through transmedial practice, namely from painting and prints to stone carving.

Yuhang Li (PhD, University of Chicago) is Associate Professor of Chinese Art in the Department of Art History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests cover a wide range subjects and mediums related to gender and material practice in late imperial China, mimesis and devotional practice, textile art, and paper as an efficacious medium. She is the author of Becoming Guanyin: Artistic Devotion of Buddhist Women in Late Imperial China (Columbia University Press, 2020), which was awarded the 2021 Religion and the Arts Book Award by the American Academy of Religion. She also co-curated and co-edited with Judith Zeitlin the exhibition and resulting catalog Performing Images: Opera in Chinese Visual Culture (Smart Museum and University of Chicago Press, 2014).

  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
  • Image Credit/Caption: The façade of the entrance of Li Tianpei and his wives’ main tomb chamber, limestone, constructed between 1870-1875 (Photo courtesy of Li Haoxun)

Attendance at SOF/Heyman events will follow Columbia-issued guidelines as they continue to develop. Given the current recommendations, we plan to allow in-person attendance for COLUMBIA AFFILIATES only. For everyone else, we’re planning to livestream this event, allowing for virtual attendance.

This event also will be recorded. By being electronically present, you consent to the SOF/Heyman using such video for promotional purposes.

Please email disability@columbia.edu to request disability accommodations. Advance notice is necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.


Apr 28 2022


12:15 pm - 1:30 pm

Formats (virtual, in person, hybrid)



Columbia University - The Heyman Center
74 Morningside Dr, New York, NY 10027


Columbia University - Heyman Center for the Humanities
(212) 854-8443

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