Seminar - Shanshui in the Anthropocene: Comparative Ecocriticism in Chinese Visual Culture

Artwork by Yang Yongliang, Yangyongliang Studio, Shanghai

Jointly hosted by ACIAC and ICS, Western Sydney University


Date: Thursday, 8 March 2018
Time: 11.30 am - 1.00 pm
Venue: EZ.G.23, Conference Room 1 (Female Orphan School), Western Sydney University Parramatta South campus
RSVP HERE (opens in a new window) . Please register by Tuesday, 6 March 2018.

Dr Kiu-wai Chu, ACIAC Postdoctoral Research Fellow


Chinese philosophers and scholars have long argued traditional culture of China is rooted in the harmony between Human and Nature. Beyond Chinese scholarships, however, we are constantly reminded by ecocritics and environmental historians that Chinese civilization had not been as ecological as many would assume. (Shapiro 2001; Elvin 2004; Thornber 2012). How do we make sense of the different understanding of human-nonhuman relationships within Chinese discourses and beyond? Is it possible to find common grounds among them?

Dr Kiu-wai Chu's project delineates a cross-cultural framework in comparative ecocriticism, by revealing and bridging some of the gaps between ecocritical approaches in Chinese and Western scholarships. It examines the concept of shanshui (山水, literally “mountain and water”) in a range of landscape-themed photography, film and performance, to challenge the long standing ideal of harmony between human and nature, and explores the changing notion of shanshui in the Anthropocene epoch.

In what ways can we reframe the Anthropocene geographically, culturally, and temporally, from Chinese perspectives? (Elverskog 2014, Duara 2016) Pushing towards planetary perspectives, how does the emerging Anthropocene discourse facilitate better dialogues between ecocritical thoughts between China and the World?

By and large a concept to reflect current ideological thoughts of the time, this project examines shanshui’s present understanding, representations, material presence and cultural significance in China at the time of the Anthropocene. Eventually it is argued that the notion of shanshui has long been defined by the literati elites, yet the Anthropocene marks a time for the Chinese public – the population suffering most directly from environmental degradations and eco-disasters – to redefine the discourse, the narrative, and the understanding of shanshui and human-nonhuman relations through representations and expressions of “shanshui from below”.


Kiu-wai Chu is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture, Western Sydney University. He was previously SNSF Postdoctoral Fellow in University of Zurich. He earned his PhD in Comparative Literature in University of Hong Kong, and his previous degrees from SOAS, University of London, and University of Cambridge. He was a visiting Fulbright scholar in University of Idaho. His research focuses on contemporary Chinese cinema and art, environmental humanities and ecocriticism. His work has appeared in Transnational Ecocinema; Ecomedia: Key Issues, Journal of Chinese Cinemas, Journal of Chinese Governance, Oxford Bibliographies and elsewhere.