Interiors in China

“Ah, when a man constructs a house, embellishes it with fine furnishings, and dwells therein, he finds it difficult to avoid an attitude of proud self-satisfaction. Since each of the things here is the finest of its kind, how can I not feel outwardly at ease and inwardly in harmony, my body at peace and my mind joyful.” —Bo Juyi (772–846)


The intellectual’s dwelling for study and recreation alluded to in these lines by one of China’s most celebrated poets will be but one of the various types of Chinese living spaces which this seminar intends to examine. We will look at the social norms as well as at the cosmological, philosophical, and political convictions that governed the layout, design, and especially furnishing of domestic and ritual spaces. But we also look carefully at furniture itself. Throughout the course we will be concerned with issues of gender and domesticity, luxury consumption and the negation thereof, ritual and propriety, cosmology and “nature,” ornament, and taste. Attention will also be devoted to concepts of rusticity and the interaction between interiors, gardens, and landscape design. The course touches on material dating from the eighth to the twentieth centuries, but the focus is on the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. There will be two field trips. 3 credits. Satisfies the non-Western requirement.