Hsueh-Man Shen

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2018/2019
discipline Archaeology
Associate Professor, Ehrenkranz Chair in World Art at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Research project

Art, Space, and Mobility: Reconfiguring Cultural Boundaries of Maritime East Asia, 12th-14th Centuries


As one of the few port-cities in premodern China that were characterized by their openness to overseas commerce, Ningbo in present-day Zhejiang province had its prime time during the 12th-14th centuries. In 999 CE a maritime trade bureau responsible for seaborne trade control was established in Ningbo. A century later Ningbo developed into a major center of artistic production, focusing on export to Japan. Numerous paintings, stone sculptures, and fine ceramics made in or around Ningbo were shipped to Japan for use at Buddhist temples where wealth concentrated. Many of the objects were only found in Japan and not within China.


A similar situation is found in Quanzhou (Fujian province), a major port visited and praised by Marco Polo (1252-1324) and Ibn Battuta (1304-1368) as one of the most prosperous cities in the world. Artifacts were assembled from production centers within reach via inland waterways and shipped from Quanzhou to Southeast Asia. The dense concentration of Quanzhou products at sites along the Southeast Asian coast manifests a material culture linking the region with southern Fujian, and most importantly, it underscores the role played by Chinese immigrant communities there.


Focusing on oceanic and seaborne connectivity, Art, Space, and Mobility: Reconfiguring Cultural Boundaries of Maritime East Asia, 12th-14th Centuries examines the ways in which port city environments facilitated artistic production and the circulation of artworks across territorial boundaries. I will study the Chinese objects recovered from shipwrecks, temples, as well as burials and settlement sites in Northeast and Southeast Asia, and explore how such circulatory systems reconfigured cultural boundaries of maritime East Asia. Specifically I use the case studies of Ningbo and Quanzhou, two of the most important trading ports in Song-Yuan China, to investigate: (1) the eastern Indian Ocean circuits of exchange that facilitated the trade, circulation, and flow of Chinese artifacts within sub-regions like the South China Sea and East China Sea, (2) the intermediary role played by immigrant communities at entrepôts like Palembang in Indonesia and Hakata in Japan, and (3) the port city environments that not only created an overseas market but also inspired unique forms of art unseen elsewhere in China.


With the understanding that such regional designations as Northeast and Southeast Asia do not account for the flow of people and ideas, I propose a new model of cultural movement, which accounts for graded dispersal of objects, ideas, and peoples along the routes. This conceptual framework will be termed “cultural banding” and will be used as an analytical tool for my study of the relationship between art, space, and mobility in the age of maritime commerce. I hope this book project will lead to a re-evaluation of regionalism or inter-regionalism that has dominated the discourse on travelling arts in the past decades, and to a reconfiguration of cultural boundaries of maritime East Asia.




Hsueh-Man Shen is Associate Professor: Ehrenkranz Chair in World Art at the Institute of Fine Arts at the New York University. She holds a D.Phil. in Archeology from the University of Oxford.


Hsueh-Man Shen’s area of specialization is the art and archaeology of medieval China, with a focus on the contacts and exchanges along the ancient Silk Road and beyond. Her published work ranges from decorated tombs, reliquaries, to Buddhist cave-temples, and shipwrecks. She has also written on the role of translation in establishing the intellectual genealogy of Chinese art, and the meaning of originality and authenticity in the Buddhist art of China. Hsueh-man Shen was fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin during the 2008-2009 academic year.



Selected publications


Authentic Replicas: Buddhist Art in Medieval China, University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, 2018.


'The China-Abbasid Ceramics Trade during the Ninth and Tenth Centuries: Chinese Ceramics Circulating in the Middle East', in G. Necipoglu & F. B. Flood (eds), Blackwell Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture,   Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, 2017, pp. 197-217. 


'Familiar Differences: Chinese Polychromes in the Indian Ocean Trade during the Ninth Century', in J. Gonnella, R. Abdellatif, & S. Struth (eds), Beiträge zur Islamischen Archäologie, vol. 4: A Hundred Years of Excavations in Samarra, Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2014, pp. 107-122.


'Indian Makara or Chinese Dragon-Fish? Textual Translation and Visual Transformation of Makara in China', Art in Translation, vol. 5, no. 2, 2013, pp. 275-298.


Gilded Splendor: Treasures of China’s Liao Empire (907-1125), Asia Society, New York; 5 Continents, Milano, 2006.



junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Anthropology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Linguistics
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Political Science
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline History