Beijing and Beyond: Art and Empire in Early Modern China

Stephen Whiteman, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London

A focus on the early and high Qing period encouraged students to seek explanations for what they observed in the period's materials and words in place itself and to tell stories of relation and connection rooted in local temporalities.

Since 2020-2021, Stephen Whiteman has taught the year-long, research-intensive MA course, "Beijing and Beyond: Art and Empire in Early Modern China," at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. The course focuses on connected histories of art and architecture in and beyond the Chinese court in the early and high Qing period, which Whiteman notes was effectively the long eighteenth century in China. He has partnered with Sussan Babaie to engage students from each of their MA courses at the Courtauld on a collaborative project for which they produced trans-Asian histories of objects for potential publication on "Things That Talk." He also leads a seminar for the team-taught interdisciplinary series, “What Makes the Early Modern?”, which every student in the "Early Modern" period section at the Courtauld takes in addition to their primary course of study. Whiteman explores the particularities of local time with his students by seeking both to undermine the hegemony of Eurocentric modernities and to explore notions of regional modernities.

In his teaching, Whiteman continues to query how to situate the study of Chinese art in local and world historical time. As his MA course progressed, Whiteman found that shifting the focus from the broader Early Modern to the early and high Qing period was productive. In the context of his course, the period emerged as a liminal space between the early modern and the modern periods, in which eras and epistemologies overlap and encounter one another just like people and cultures. As a result, the period provided a framework in which Whiteman could explore the intersecting problems of space, identity, ethnicity, and empire to which he was drawn, and one in which his students could more successfully root their learning in China itself.

Stephen Whiteman is Senior Lecturer in the Art and Architecture of China and Head of the Research Degrees Program at the Courtauld Institute of Art. A scholar of the visual and spatial cultures of early modern China in their global context, he is a member of trans-regional and global early modern clusters of the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Image credit: Emperor’s face painted by Giuseppe Castiglione, Imperial workshop, The Qianlong Emperor as Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Qing dynasty, mid-18th century, ink, color, and gold on silk. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.