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Lothar von Falkenhausen delivers Washington University's Nelson Wu Lecture

UCLA Art Historian speaks on "The Musical Archaeology of Ancient China: A Presentation of Art and Music"

By Clayton Dube

Lothar von Falkenhausen, professor of art history, delivered the Sixth Annual Nelson I. Wu Memorial Lecture on Asian Art and Culture at Washington University on October 23, 2003. Prof. Von Falkenhausen's presentation focused on bronze bells and music making in China from ancient times to the present.

Music was a critical part of state rituals in China. Different Chinese states had their own tonal systems and inscriptions on bells include markers indicating the tones they were capable of. This is a technological marvel, according to Prof. von Falkenhausen, as modern bell makers cannot be sure of a bell's tone prior to its completion. Among the most stunning of the surviving bells are those excavated in 1978 from the 4th century BCE tomb of Marquis Yi. It appears that musicians could use these bells to replicate the tonal systems of other states to honor visiting dignitaries. These bells were capable of two tones each, a capability that bell-makers seem to have lost in the ensuing century.

Prof. von Falkenhausen joined the UCLA faculty in 1993 after teaching at Stanford University and UC Riverside. He earned his bachelor's degree at Bonn University and took his master's degree and doctorate at Harvard University. Editor of the Journal of East Asian Archaeology, Prof. von Falkenhausen's many publications include his 1993 book Suspended Music (University of California Press), and articles and book chapters, including "The Waning of the Bronze Age: Material Culture and Social Developments, 770-481 BC" in the Cambridge History of Ancient China. Since 1999, Prof. von Falkenhausen has served as the co-director of a UCLA-Beijing University archaeological project examining Yangzi River Basin salt works. During his visit to Washington University he made a seperate presentation on the current excavation underway along the Ganjing River, a Yangzi tributary.

Nelson Ikon Wu was a Washington University professor of art and architecture, known for his extensive work promoting interest in and understanding of Asian art. He's was a widely published writer of fiction under his Chinese pen name Lu Chiao. His novel Song Never to End was published in 1958 and sold more than half a million copies. Prof. Wu passed away in March, 2002 at age 82. The talk was co-sponsored by the St. Louis Art Museum.

This report draws upon information from Jenny Bazzetta's report in the spring 2004 newsletter of the East Asian Studies program at Washington University (distributed Nov. 2004) and the Washington University Record.

Asia Institute