Event — IIAS/LIAS Masterclass

Picturing West Lake: the Representation of An Iconic Place in Tu圖 and Hua畫

This Masterclass for students is taught by Hui-shu Lee, Professor of Art History at University of California (UCLA), Los Angeles.

It is followed on 1 December by a public lecture in the Rijksmuseum by the same speaker, titled Water’s Way: Female Agency and the Artful Legacy of Chinese Imperial Women.

The Masterclass

Picturing West Lake explores how a pictorial tradition in the representation of an iconic place was emplaced, fashioned, refashioned, transmuted and transmitted over time to convey cultural value, historical memory, political ideology, and artistic expression.   

Adjacent to the historically affluent city of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province and long celebrated for its natural beauty, West Lake became iconized for its singular role in the expression of art and culture with the establishment of Lin’an (Hangzhou) as the capital for the latter half of the Song dynasty (1127-1279). By the thirteenth century, a unique visual paradigm had evolved and over time the representation of West Lake in words and images proliferated as it was immortalized as a site of memory and culture. This reached an apogee during the eighteenth century of the Qing dynasty, when the representation of the place witnessed a renaissance in myriad forms and media of artistic production.

Li Song (att.), West Lake. Handscroll, ink on paper, 15.8 x 81.6 cm. Shanghai Museum

In Professor Lee’s pursuit of the study of West Lake and its visual representation over time, some essential inquires have arisen. Looking beyond its physical charm, what factors were at play to make West Lake a unique cultural space and a locus in the representation of famous place? How was the representational paradigm in the visual depiction of the place established and how was the place iconized to become a site of memory after the downfall of the Southern Song? What insight can an investigation of the evolution of a single site through history – such as its changing representational status in mapped or painted media – provide? How are the salient features of a Chinese famous place like West Lake revealed, represented, emplaced, and “re-implaced” to become iconic? And lastly, how and why could a sustained mode in the pictorial representation of West Lake so prominently persist in the collective Chinese imagination for over six hundred years and beyond?

Focusing on the two quintessential visual modes in the representation of a Chinese place, linear/planimetric maps, tu圖, and painterly/lyrical paintings, hua畫, this talk is an attempt to address some of these inquires. At the same time, Professor Lee hopes to demonstrate the uniqueness of West Lake as a microcosmic site in a multifaceted cultural discourse involved with the poetics of representing place.

Map of West Lake (engraved by Wang Yao), Xianchun Lian’an zhi (Gazetteer of Lian’an), dated 1268 – 1273. National Library of China, Beijing

The speaker

Hui-shu Lee is Professor of Art History at UCLA. She received her doctorate degree from Yale University in 1994 after first studying at National Taiwan University and working in the National Palace Museum. Her field of specialization is Chinese painting and visual culture in the pre-modern era, with a particular focus on gender issues. She also works extensively on representations of place, cultural mapping, and gardens. Among her publications are Exquisite Moments: West Lake & Southern Song Art (New York: China Institute, 2001) and Empresses, Art, and Agency in Song Dynasty China (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2010). She is currently completing a book titled Picturing West Lake: the Poetics and Representation of An Iconic Place.

李慧漱,美國耶魯大學藝術史博士。曾任職於國立故宮博物院,目前任教于美國加州大學洛杉磯校區藝術史系。專長為中國繪畫、視覺文化、與性別議題,尤其側重宋畫與南宋時期的藝術。學術論著與出版涉及宋代書畫與園林、南宋杭州與西湖、女性與中國藝術史的建構、性別發聲與轉換, 以及晚明文化與八大山人; 偶亦涉獵現代與當代藝術。代表著作有: Exquisite Moments: West Lake & Southern Song Art 西湖與南宋藝術 (New York: China Institute, 2001). Empresses, Art, and Agency in Song Dynasty China上善若水:宋朝的后妃与女性藝術推手(Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2010).以及即將付梓的《圖畫西湖:勝景山水之呈現與再造》。


15:15 – 15:20 Welcome & Introduction by Dr Lin Fan, University Lecturer Chinese Art and Material Culture, LIAS

15.20 – 16.00 Masterclass part I

16:00 – 16:15 Coffee/tea break

16:15 – 16:45 Masterclass part II

16:45 – 17:00 Q&A

17:00 – drinks in the IIAS conference room

Registration required

This masterclass is intended for students from the Leiden Institute for Area Studies (LIAS) and other students with a special interest in the topic. 

Please register for this masterclass using the web form on this page. To prepare for the masterclass, we will send you a digital syllabus, including some background readings.

Please note that this is an IN PERSON event on location only. It will not be streamed or recorded.

The maximum number of participants is 30. Registrations will be processed in order of arrival. If you register after the maximum number of participants has been reached, we will place you on a waiting list. We will e-mail you if this is the case.

In case of full capacity, we will give priority to students. If you are a student, please indicate ‘student [your university]’ in the affiliation text box.


Public lecture by Professor Hui-shu Lee at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, 1 December 2023, 15:30-17:00:  Water’s Way: Female Agency and the Artful Legacy of Chinese Imperial Women