Design By the Book: Chinese Ritual Objects and the Sanli Tu

Exhibition Website

Mar 24 2017 - Jul 30 2017

Design by the Book will explore the medieval Chinese book Xinding Sanli tu (Newly Determined Illustrations to the Ritual Classics) and its impact on Chinese material culture. 

Completed in 961 by Nie Chongyi (fl. 948–964), it is the oldest extant illustrated study of classical Chinese artifacts from musical instruments, maps, and court insignia to sacrificial jades, ceremonial dress, and mourning and funerary paraphernalia. It brings to light the significance of this long overlooked book, which served as a guide both to the material culture of the Classics and to the design of Confucian ritual paraphernalia in postclassical, imperial China. 

The exhibition will also address themes that go beyond the book itself, including Confucian ritual as a means to legitimate the monarchy, the birth of antiquarian scholarship in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, Emperor Huizong's ritual reforms, and the role of the art market in driving the reproduction of artifacts illustrated in the book.

Curated by François Louis, Associate Professor, History of Chinese Design and Visual Culture, Bard Graduate Center

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website

Whether or not you go, Design by the Book: Chinese Ritual Objects and the Sanli Tu is richly illustrated, to bring renewed focus to one of China’s most fascinating medieval works. The Sanli tu survives in a version produced around 960 by Nie Chongyi, a professor at the court of the Later Zhou (951–960) and Northern Song (960–1127) dynasties. It is now mostly remembered—if at all—for its controversial entries and as a quaint predecessor of the more empirical antiquarian scholarship produced since the mid-eleventh century. But such criticism hides the fact that the book remained a standard resource for more than 150 years, playing a crucial role in the Song dynasty’s perception of ancient ritual and construction of a Confucian state cult. 

Design by the Book: Chinese Ritual Objects and the Sanli Tu

  • Books / Manuscripts
  • Asian
  • Medieval
  • Culture / Lifestyle
  • Chinese

Exhibition Venues & Dates