Pushing the Boundaries lecture

The University of Sydney China Studies Centre
Pushing the Boundaries: Assessing the Potential of Intersections between China’s Current National Self-image, Tianxia (‘all under heaven’) and the Traces of Confucian Morality and Aesthetics
Date: Wednesday, 8 September 2021
Time: 1:00PM-2:00PM AEST
Location: Online
This seminar is free and open to the public!


In recent years, the People’s Republic of China has become increasingly assertive in the upholding of its national territorial limits. The reasons for this assertiveness are not far to seek. Exponential domestic economic growth over the last four decades has greatly enhanced the PRC’s confidence on the world stage in addition to strengthening the country’s military reach, regionally and internationally. Alongside a desire to re-establish Greater China’s former geographical integrity following the divisions wrought by civil conflict as well as Euro-American and Japanese colonialism/imperialism there is also a necessity to secure vital trading routes and access to resources. Less materially to the fore, but also important, are intersections between the PRC’s current national territorial assertiveness and the recent revisiting by Chinese academics of an uncertainly bounded governmental authority signified by the term tianxia (‘all under heaven’)—and by association cognate Confucian conceptions of morality and aesthetics—during China’s dynastic-imperial past as the basis for a new harmonious, non-interfering “post-West” world order. It will be argued that while those intersections are open to interpretation as tracing a durable Chinese civilization-specific cultural habitus in support of the PRC’s contemporary national self-image they have by turns a potential to shape China as a renascent world power deconstructively/reciprocally—as a matter of parallaxic discursive positioning—somewhere (and nowhere) between the dual imaginaries of empire and the nation-state.

About the speaker

Paul Gladston is the inaugural Judith Neilson Chair Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. He was previously Professor of Contemporary Visual Cultures and Critical Theory at the University of Nottingham (2015-2018) and, prior to that, Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham (2010-2015) and inaugural Head of the School of International Communications at the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China (2005-2010). He has written extensively on contemporary art and culture with respect to the concerns of critical/cultural theory. His numerous book-length publications include Contemporary Chinese Art: A Critical History (2014), awarded ‘best publication’ at the Awards of Art China (2015), and Contemporary Chinese Art, Aesthetic Modernity and Zhang Peili: Towards a Critical Contemporaneity (2019). He was an academic adviser to the internationally acclaimed exhibition ‘Art of Change: New Directions from China’, Hayward Gallery-South Bank Centre, London (2012), and co-curator—with Dr Lynne Howarth-Gladston—of the exhibitions, ‘Dis/Continuing Traditions; Contemporary Video Art from China’, Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart, Tasmania (2021) and ‘New China/New Art: Contemporary Video from Shanghai and Hangzhou’, Djanogly Gallery, University of Nottingham (2015). He is co-editor of the forthcoming collection, Visual Culture Wars at the Borders of Contemporary China and founding co-editor of the scholarly book series, Contemporary East Asian Visual Cultures, Society and Politics.

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