Ishibashi International Symposium

Modern Japanese Art and China

Symposium Abstract


The genesis of this symposium goes back to a 2007 conference organized by Joshua A. Fogel, who subsequently edited the anthology The Role of Japan in Modern Chinese Art (University of California Press, 2012). This and other publications have made it clear that Sino-Japanese cultural exchanges were vital in modern times—a substantial number of Japanese Sinophiles visiting China, Chinese scholars and students visiting Japan, joint art societies and exhibitions flourishing. There was a large importation of Chinese art and artifacts to Japan—more evidence of the cultural ties between the two nations. These interchanges continued be vital well into the 1930s and, indeed, never ended, even in war time. We now have a fuller understanding of how the cross-national interchanges helped develop modern Chinese art and its institutions. 

But what were the benefits of these Sino-Japanese exchanges to the Japan side? This inquiry is the central focus of the present project “Modern Japanese Art and China.”

To the best of my knowledge, this topic has not yet been systematically studied. Some scholars still hold onto the long accepted—but overly simplistic—idea that Japan’s admiration for Chinese culture ceased after the mid-nineteenth century, when Japanese increasingly turned to Europe for their models. Studies dealing with Sino-Japanese interactions merely in the context of Japanese imperialism tend to underscore this belief. Given this perspective, historians of Japanese art are prone to think that Chinese art (and China, by extension) only belong to the realm of premodern but not modern art.

This view is obviously troubling—especially, in light of the vibrant artistic interchanges between the two nations, the large importation of Chinese objects, not to mention Japan’s long history of cultural affinities with the continent that served as the foundation for these modern interchanges.

This symposium will consider China and its art as active agencies that helped develop modern Japanese art. Our exploration will not only deepen understanding of Japanese art but, I believe, also help restore Chinese art in its proper place in modern history. Combined with previous studies, this project might ask if and how the cross-national cultural interchanges were, indeed, cross-fertilizing, and how the cultural bonds might have created a coherent sense of East Asian art. We might also ask how this symposium, along with existing research that has sought to transcend the national divide in the realm of cultural studies, shape the concept of world art, in particular, art of a colonial era.

Possible issues addressed in the symposium are by no means limited to these. But I hope this will provide enough to begin with.

                                                                                                                            (Tamaki Maeda)