Theses Doctoral

Born in a Golden Light: Omens, Art, and Succession in the Southern Song (1127-1279)

Zhu, Cathy Muyao

In 1126, the Song Dynasty (960-1279) was faced with an exigent political crisis: after testing the borders for years, the neighboring Jin state marched its armies south, destroyed the capital city Bianjing, and reduced its territories by half. The dynasty’s collapse and reconstitution in southern China has prompted ongoing scholarly debate about what types of political, economic, and cultural differences emerged between the Northern and Southern Song periods.

My project uses the narrative handscroll Illustrations of Auspicious Responses to study the development of the imperial cult and images of rulership in the Southern Song. It is the first monograph length study of the scroll since it was rediscovered in 2009 and examines how the reigning Zhao house effectively used visual and material culture to argue for its legitimacy, employing the rhetoric of moral justice and acculturation, rather than overt depictions of military dominance, to describe the establishment of the Southern Song and its first ruler.

Works such as Illustrations demonstrate that the sophistication of court-based art was not destroyed along with its physical structures. Rather, with the move south artists became essential to promoting the political aims of the court: using cultural legacy as the most expedient way to purchase political legitimacy in a time of uncertainty. Illustrations acts as an expertly articulated defense of the court’s right to rule, echoes of which have filtered through the late imperial period and can be seen in how China positions itself in relation to the world today.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Harrist Jr., Robert E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 3, 2022