Jin Xu

Jin Xu

Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2017
Art and Architecture in China


Jin Xu specializes in pre-modern Chinese art history, with a particular interest in art and architecture during the imperial period (221 BCE–1911 CE). His research focuses on the artistic expressions of migrants and their communities, including both non-Chinese immigrants in China and Chinese emigrants in border regions. He seeks to understand how the experience of migration shaped perceptions of art and how art, in turn, helped individuals make sense of their migratory lives and heritage. In his research, he also emphasizes the significance of material properties and technical processes in influencing the ways of seeing. 

Over the years, he has been examining stone coffins and funerary couches from the Northern Dynasties (439–581), which saw an influx of Central Asian immigrants, notably the Iranian-speaking Sogdians from present-day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. His first book project is titled Beyond Boundaries: Sogdian Sarcophagi and the Art of an Immigrant Community in Sixth-Century China. It demonstrates the various ways (material, pictorial, and architectural) in which Sogdian immigrant leaders and their families expressed their multifaceted life experiences through mortuary stones.   

He is currently working on a subsequent book, Miraculous Transformation: Pictorial Narratives in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386–534). This book centers on figural representations under the rule of the first major dynasty founded by nomadic immigrants in Chinese history. It covers a variety of artistic mediums—commissioned by people from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds—and addresses some critical issues in Chinese art history, such as the aesthetics of natural stone, images of the deceased, the emergence of landscape paintings, women’s roles as patrons and viewers, and the interaction between Buddhist and indigenous Chinese artistic practices.  

His teaching covers a wide range of topics, including inter-regional artistic exchanges within East Asia, religious and funerary art, the art of the Silk Road, artistic materials and techniques, objects study, images and texts, rubbings and prints, and architecture and gardens. Before joining Columbia, he taught in the Art Department at Vassar College.

Selected Publications

“Echo of a Distant Past: Sino-Sogdian Elements in Persian Book Illustrations,” co-authored with Taylor Chisato Stewart, Oreinations, no.1 (2022), 61-68.   

Symbol of Universal Kingship: A Study of the Imagery on the Brocade with Lion Hunting in the Horyuji Temple,” Sino-Platonic Papers, no. 307 (2021).

A Journey across Many Realms: The Shi Jun Sarcophagus and the Visual Representation of Migration on the Silk Road,” The Journal of Asian Studies, no.1 (2021): 145-65. Chinese translation by Huang Wen-Yi, in Newsletter of Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica, no.1 (2023): 27-51.

“Evanescent Temple, Eternal Dharma: The Wanfa Guiyi Hall in the Post-Qianlong Era of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911),” Orientations, no. 1/2 (2021): 21-29.

“Recovering the Honor of a Royal General: The ‘Yuan Mi’ Sarcophagus Reattributed,” Orientations, no.7/8 (2020): 58-65.  

The Funerary Couch of An Jia and the Art of Sogdian Immigrants in Sixth-Century China,” The Burlington Magazine, no.10 (2019): 820-29.

“A Natural Approach to Nature: Two Late Northern-Wei (494-534 CE) Pictorial Stones in the Art Institute of Chicago,” Orientations, no.11 (2017), 82-90.  

孩而至孝: 北魏孝子棺考證” (Child of Supreme Filial Piety: A Study of the Filial Piety Sarcophagus), 《美術大觀》, no.1 (2022).

“美國藏洛陽北魏孝子石葬具墓主身份略考” (A Study of the Owners of Northern-Wei Funerary Furniture with Filial-Son Illustrations from Luoyang in American Collections), co-authored with Ma Xiaoyang, 《書法叢刊》, no.1 (2021).               

美國納爾遜博物館藏北魏孝子石棺床圍屏圖像釋讀” (A Study of the Filial-Son Illustrations on a Northern-Wei Stone Funerary Couch at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art), 《中國國家博物館館刊》, no.10 (2019).

波士頓美術館藏北魏孝子石棺床的復原和孝子圖像研究” (Reconstruction and Study of a Northern Wei Stone Mortuary Couch with Filial Piety Illustrations at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston), 《古代墓葬美術研究》, no.3 (2015).