Hall Center For The Humanities


The Power of Color in Early and Medieval East Asia
The Commons Interdisciplinary Research Initiative in Nature and Culture

The Commons

Thu., Sep. 23, 2010, 9:00am - 5:00pm
Location: The Commons, Spooner Hall


  • Mary M. Dusenbury, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
  • Sunghee Kim, consultant, artist, independent scholar and president, Shanghai Lanzhen, Shanghai, China
  • Guolong Lai, School of Art and Art History, University of Florida, Orlando, FL
  • Richard Laursen, Department of Chemistry (emeritus), Boston University, Boston, MA
  • Amy McNair, Department of Art History, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

We propose to assemble a team of scholars from the arts, humanities and sciences to explore the roles that color played in the social and political life, thought, art, and ritual practices of East Asia and to examine the dye plants and mineral pigments that produced the colors. The source material is rich, including dynastic histories, court documents, travelers’ journals, merchant ledgers, literature, tomb paintings, paintings in Buddhist grottoes, paintings on silk or paper, pottery, textiles, and the inherited knowledge of twenty-first century farmers, processers, dyers and painters who work with traditional plant dyes and mineral pigments.

Color was a critical element in ancient and medieval East Asian life and thought. Philosophically, the classical ‘primary’ colors (the so-called ‘correct’ colors) were not associated with a spectrum of light, but were earth-bound, linked to specific plant or mineral substances. Many were also potent medicines or primary ingredients in Daoist elixirs of immortality. The idea that these colors shared the transformative powers associated with the substance they came from, that they possessed a life-force or energy of their own, permeated early religious, political, and social practices, enabling color to function in a variety of significant roles.

Thursday, September 23

9:00: Welcome and introductory comments: Leonard Krishtalka, Biodiversity Center and The Commons and Mary Dusenbury, project coordinator.

9:30-11:00: Guolong Lai. Colors and Color Symbolism in Early Chinese Ritual Art + discussion

Break for lunch.

1:30-3:00:  Amy McNair. Chinese Painting Pigments in Medieval Times: Uses and Symbolism  + discussion

3:00-3:30: Break

3:30-5:00: Mary Dusenbury. Color in Ancient and Classical Japan + discussion


Friday September 24

9:00-10:30: Richard Laursen. What can we learn from the analysis of dyes in textiles? + discussion

10:30-11:00: Break.

11:00-12:30: Sunghee Kim The Classical Colors of China: Jiang Nam region’s dyeing culture + discussion.




Wk Su M T W Th F Sa

Event Categories

Click for Archived Categories