Dr Yue Zhuang

Research interests

My main research interest is in the landscape art history of China and Britain in the early modern period, within the broad cultural context of philosophy, rituals, health and wellbeing, and social practices.  I am particularly interested in Chinese-European contacts in relation to landscape imagination in the early modern and how such contacts engaged the changing ideas in the discourses of philosophy, religion, economy and politics that constitute the process of modernity.  

Research Projects

Nature Entangled

I am Principal Investigator for an EU Marie-Curie research grant, ‘Entangled histories of nature in the landscape discourses between China and Europe in the 16th-18th centuries’ (2014-2018).

This project explores the history of conceptualising nature as shared between China and Europe in the landscape discourses during the early modern period, with a focus on the complexity of the often hidden interrelations between China, ‘the ancient’ and ‘the modern’ associated with the idea of ‘imitating nature’. Investigating the landscape discourses within the broad social and cultural contexts, the project aims to demonstrate how this shared historical legacy of landscape imitating nature between China and Europe has shaped and continues to shape our environment and our perceptions of man and nature relations.

Among my contributions to the project will be a monograph on the imagery of Chinese landscapes in the British imagination from 1685 to 1772, with a focus on how a multifaceted image of ‘oriental Arcadia’ was used by the British radical conservative elite to assert a Neo-Platonic utopian regime, counteracting the democratic-capitalist  development mobilized by the middle class.  The grant involves two PhD studentships and a series of workshop or symposia in conjunction with the Chinese Studies Seminar Series at the University of Exeter.

Entangled landscapes

With Professor Andrea Rimenschnitter (Asian and Oriental Institute, University of Zurich) and Professor Hans Thomson (East Asian Art History, University of Zurich), I am the lead editor of a book entitled Entangled landscapes: early modern China and Europe, developed from an international symposium which I convened at the University of Zurich in 2013.The book initiates an innovative research diagram ‘entangled landscapes’, investigating how the exchange of landscape – imagery and knowledge – between early modern China and Europe was moulded by their complex interrelations at the different levels of economy, society, politics and morality and how the exchange contributed to the formation of their citizens' social and cultural identities.

Matteo Ripa’s ‘Views of Jehol’

Between 2011-2013, I was the leader of the Marie Curie research project ‘Matteo Ripa’s “Views of Jehol”: Entangled Histories of 18th Century European and Chinese Landscape Representations,’ funded by Marie Curie Actions, European Union hosted at the University Research Priority Programme ‘Asia and Europe,’ University of Zurich.

This project examines the dialogues between Matteo Ripa’s copperplate engravings of the ‘Views of Jehol’ and the original woodcuts of Qing Emperor Kangxi’s Yuzhi Bishu shanzhuang shi designed by Shen Yu, so as to reveal this visual art exchange taking place at the Qing court as an encounter of Kangxi’s imperial project within a syncretist framework of Neo-Confucianism and the Catholic Church’s expansion underpinned by Neo-platonic tenets. This project also scrutinizes the 18th-century British conservative elite’s receptions of the missionaries’ images and their descriptions of Qing imperial gardens. I argue that the English landscape movement appropriated Christian-interpreted ‘Chinese’ elements from their desire to build a Neo-Platonic imperial power.

The project highlights the complex connections between European and Chinese landscape gardens within their social, political and economic contexts. It thereby enriches the trans-cultural historiography of landscape gardens and helps to anchor the notion of an interlinked Eurasian art history.  Research results of this project appear as a chapter in Qing Encounters (Getty Research Institute) and journal articles in Transcultural Studies and Architecture and Culture.

Research collaborations

With Professor Shaoxin Dong (National Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies, Fudan University), we are co-organizing an international Fudan–Exeter advanced workshop ‘The Senses in Chinese and European Cultural Exchange in the Early Modern Period,’ to be held in 15-18 May, 2015 in Fudan University, Shanghai. We plan to develop a research network based on the workshop theme, promoting interdisciplinary research on the transcultural processes that shaped sensory cultures between China and Europe.

With Professor Feng Qing (School of Architecture, Tsinghua University), we organised a workshop on ‘Encounters and Entanglements: Sino-British interactions in contemporary architecture and urbanism,’ funded by University of Exeter-Tsinghua Fellowship (2014). Research outputs appear in peer-review journals such as Cities: international journal on urban policy and planning.

With Dr Zhiguang Yin (Modern Languages) and others, I co-organize the Chinese Studies Seminar Series at the University of Exeter.