U3 | Chang Tsong-Zung, Jeffrey Shaw, Peng Lin: The Body of Confucius

The Body of Confucius: Installation #2 Re-making the Confucian Rites – Capping Ceremony


A 3-screen video of the remaking of the coming-of-age ceremony from the age of Confucius, 5th century BC. The video also contained a ‘vocabulary’ of ritual body movements.


Curators: Chang Tsong-Zung, Gao Shiming

Authors: Peng Lin, Chang Tsong-Zung, Jeffrey Shaw

Video production: CityU School of Creative Media, Paul Nichola

Project initiators and producers Re-making of the Confucian Rites: Jia Li Hall, Tsinghua University Research Center of Chinese Rites


Video in 3-screen projection, 15 minutes



Curatorial Statement

The traditional cosmology and system of knowledge known as li, usually translated as Confucian Rites, bore the brunt of critical attacks by modern reformers at the beginning of the 20th century. To the modern Chinese, li is now one of the most remote and unintelligible aspects of China’s cultural past. And yet li has always lied at the heart of China’s civilisational order: In pre-modern days, relations at all levels of society were informed by an intuitive understanding of li: whether it be court officials or village neighbours, literate or illiterate. As a cosmology, li has fostered the social and personal cultivation that allow the Chinese person to navigate the world. Any discussion of the ‘Chinese spirit’ would be incomplete if it fails to include the system of li.


Li research provides a conceptual framework for unwrapping concepts surrounding that area of experience and knowledge that in modern times has mainly been framed in Western terms of ‘art’ (yi shu) and ‘aesthetics’ (shen mei). As a system of awareness and ‘practice’, li offers a barometer for gauging the rapid changes that are taking place in Chinese people’s sensibilities in the course of modernisation, especially in terms of their physical body and their ‘livingness’. The tradition of li also highlights the potential of art as a harmonising force in attuning new sensibilities to society – a significant mission of art in view of the fluidity of social relations in contemporary times.


Confucian li is a civilizational framework that covers the realms of aesthetics, ethics and ideology. It is also a technique of the body, a skill that can be learnt and inscribed. ‘Re-making’ Confucian li is relevant today as an important alternative system of knowledge, and a shining historical example of ‘aesthetics as politics’ (not politicized aesthetics). Research projects we are undertaking address the following related issues:


1. The ‘archaeology of the modern’. Becoming ‘modern’ implies a radically revised regime of the body, and within this regime is embedded the ideology of the Chinese ‘modern’. A crucial question about Chinese modernity is: How was the ‘Chinese modern body’ constructed? What process did it take?


2. How does social order manifest itself physically in the social body? Asking the question in reverse: How does a Self come into its own through claiming a social-body as its own? What technique/skill must the Self acquire to negotiate with society, and maintain an appropriate distance from the State at the same time?


3. Within a State system, how might a social-body such as li be deployed for some form of tribal self-determination? (i.e. as a means for resistance and creativity?) How might a technique based on the Self become a national/international language of the social-body?



Chang Tsong-Zung. Independent curator, guest professor of China Academy of Art (Hangzhou, China), and director of Hanart TZ Gallery (Hong Kong). Recent curatorial projects include “West Heavens: Sino-Indian Exchange in Art and Social Thought" at the Shanghai Biennale 2010, co-curator of Shanghai Biennale 2012, co-curator of "Post-Pop: East Meets West" at Saatchi Gallery 2014.


Gao Shiming. Vice President of the China Academy of Art. He has founded at the China Academy of Art various research centers, including: the Center of Visual Culture Research, Institute of Contemporary Art and Social Thoughts and Research and Development Center of Media City.