SOAS University of London

History of Art and Archaeology

Critical Themes in East Asian Art

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Final Year
Taught in:
Term 1

This module critically explores the multi-polarity of the field of East Asian art history today by investigating the historical methodologies, canons, practices and other forces by which it has been shaped. The module is designed to explore themes centred on East Asian art visual and material culture from premodern to contemporary times.

There is emphasis throughout on developing skills of visual analysis, and on understanding current events and initiatives in the field of East Asian art history, including the ways art is collected, displayed, accessed and communicated through exhibitions, conferences and websites. The module aims to bring together theoretical perspectives and practical examples and to raise questions so as to enable students to engage critically with the material and to pursue their own lines of enquiry.      

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

LO1) Demonstrate knowledge of the distinctive material forms and contexts of art, as well as the social roles of its makers and audiences, during the period studied
LO2) Explain and analyse the debates and methodological issues linked to the study of East Asian Art
LO3) Critically interpret the production, use and appreciation of visual material, using a range a analytical methods
LO4) evaluate varied approaches to the study of the arts of East Asia

The learning outcomes for this module are in line with those of the BA History of Art program as a whole with its emphasis on the analysis of visual and material culture from a range of themes and within an understanding of the social, political, religious and cultural contexts for the production and use of art.  


  • Lectures: 2hrs per week
  • Independent study: 130 hrs (over 10 weeks)

Scope and syllabus

Depending on staff availability, the module may primarily address a single region (China, Korea or Japan) and/or period or may cover a specific theme linked to the module LOs.

Potential topics include:

  • Art and its definitions
  • Theories of the arts
  • Materials and materiality
  • Historiography
  • Production and consumption

Method of assessment

  • 900-1000-words critical object/literature analysis (worth 30% of marks)
  • 2,200-2,500-word essay (worth 60%)
  • Logbook entries (worth 10%)

Suggested reading

Wen Fong, ‘Why Chinese Painting Is History’, Art Bulletin Vol. 85, No. 2 (Jun 2003): 258-280.(online resource)

Jerome Silbergeld, ‘Chinese Painting Studies in the West: A State of the Field Article’, Journal of Asian StudiesVol.46, No. 4 (1987): 849-97. (online resource)

Katharine Burnett, ‘A Discourse of Originality in Late Ming Chinese Painting Criticism’, Art History 23.4 (2000): 522-558.(online resource) 

Pierson, Stacey. True or False? Defining the Fake in Chinese Porcelain. l’UMR 5136 (Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès / CNRS), 2019. (online source) 

Park, J. P. A New Middle Kingdom: Painting and Cultural Politics in Late Chosŏn Korea (1700-1850). Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2018. [e-book available] 

Christine Y. Hahn, “Unearthing Origins: The use of art, archaeology, and exhibitions in creating Korean national identity, 1945-1962,” Visual Resources 28, no. 2 (2012): 138-170 

Youngna Kim, “Whither Art History? Korea's Search for a Place in Global Art History,” The Art Bulletin 98, no. 1 (March 2016): 7-13

Dōshin, Satō, and Sarah Allen. "From "Art and Identity: For Whom, For What?" The "Present" Upon the "Contemporary"." Review of Japanese Culture and Society 26 (2014): 341-61. (online resource)

Kondo, Ariyuki. "Creativity within a Geographical-National Framework: From Modern Japanese Design to Pevsner’s Art Geography." In Designing Worlds: National Design Histories in an Age of Globalization, edited by Fallan Kjetil and Lees-Maffei Grace, 93-107. NEW YORK; OXFORD: Berghahn Books, 2016. (online)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules