Event — IIAS/Rijksmuseum Annual Lecture

Water’s Way: Female Agency and the Artful Legacy of Chinese Imperial Women

We warmly invite you to join us for this free public lecture at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam by Professor Hui-shu Lee. Everyone is welcome to attend.

The lecture

Water, the embodiment of yin femininity that complements yang masculinity, has been the most enduring element of Chinese cosmological thought since the Book of Changes.  It is the metaphor of the supreme yin in Laozi’s Daode jing, venerated as the highest good, close to the Way or Dao. Water’s pliable nature, however, belies its true power. Water not only signifies the ultimate female image but the powerful presence of Chinese imperial women.  

Utilizing a wide range of diverse historical sources and materials, this interdisciplinary study pieces together a lost history of female creativity by recounting the oft-hidden but critical role imperial women played as patrons, collectors, tastemakers, and artists in imperial China.  Their artful legacy is evident from temple building, sculpture making, and capital planning to the arts of writing and painting, or in other words every aspect of art production. This gendered mode of expression, or the “way of water,” provided a lasting model for the conveyance of Chinese female imperial agency. 

Portrait of Empress Yang (1062 – 1233). National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan

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》。

Ma Yuan, “Reverse Currents in the Yellow River”, from the 12 Scenes of Water, poetic titles by Empress Yang, dated 1222, Palace Museum, Beijing



14:45 – 15:30  Registration, coffee/tea

15:30 – 15:40  Welcome & Introduction by Dr Ching-Ling Wang, Curator of Chinese Art at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

15:40 – 16:30  Lecture by Professor Hui-shu Lee, UCLA

16.30 – 17:00  Q&A guided by Dr Ching-Ling Wang

Registration required

Everyone is welcome to attend. Admission is free, but registration is required. Please use the web form on this page.

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


Professor Hui-shu Lee will teach a masterclass for students on Thursday 30 November 2023, titled: Picturing West Lake: the Representation of An Iconic Place in Tu圖 and Hua畫