Performing Images: Opera in Chinese Visual Culture

"There is, perhaps, not a people in the world who carry so far their taste and passion for theatrical entertainments as the Chinese."—Abbé Huc

The spectacle of Chinese opera is well known, with its colorful costumes, props, and face painting. Yet the extent to which operatic characters and stories were reperesented in Chinese visual culture will surprise many.

This interdisciplinary catalogue for the Smart Museum of Art's exhibition Performing Images is a major contribution to existing scholarship. It features new essays by experts in the fields of traditional and modern Chinese literature, art, material culture, and history. In addition to the essays, it features full color reproductions throughout and over eighty illustrated entries on works in the exhibition—from courtly scroll paintings, popular New Year prints, illustrated woodblock books, and painted fans to carved utensils, ceramics, textiles, and dioramas—many published here for the first time in English. Together, text and image offer new insight into traditional Chinese culture, visual arts, and theater, and reveal how Chinese visual and performing traditions were aesthetically, ritually, and commercially intertwined.


By Judith Zeitlin and Yuhang Li with contributions by Bo Songnian, Jonathan Hay, David G. Johnson, Ni Yibin, Mei Mei Rado, and Wu Hung

Publication date

February 2014


Paper, 224 pages, 150 color plates, 9 x 12"



Purchase this catalogue 

Available for $35 online from the University of Chicago Press or in person at the Smart Museum Shop.