Cary Y. Liu - Curator of Asian Art, Princeton University Art Museum
The fledging practice of Chinese architectural history in the early twentieth century focused on identifying, documenting, and categorizing surviving monuments into distinct typological, material, and stylistic groupings and periods. Different “modern” criteria were used as the basis in constructing stylistic periods. In hindsight, the subjective selection and interpretation of materials for classification and periodization betrays partisan nationalism, Sino-Marxist historical materialism, and even concerns for local tourism. Much present-day research into pre-modern Chinese architectural history still adheres to these early attempts at periodization– constructed modern images of China’s traditional architectural history. A reevaluation of the so-called modern criteria for stylistic periodization is now required. The important contributions of the architect and architectural historian Liang Sicheng (1901-1972) will be examined in relation to influences from his father, the renowned journalist-scholar-reformer, Liang Qichao (1873-1929); and in reaction to the role of Japanese scholarship in determining many lasting myths about Chinese architecture– including the notion that it is primarily built of wood. After briefly reviewing nationalist and other modern constructs for periodizing Chinese architecture, an attempt will be made to suggest new directions for periodization that may be more suited to Chinese traditional conceptions of architecture.