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Jin Xu Assistant Professor of Art

I grew up in a small town on the Silk Road in Northwest China; living on such an important trading route in history meant that I had the opportunity to observe the interaction of Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetan, and Islamic cultures. Consequently, I was still very young when I began to develop a keen interest in the arts and architecture that resulted from cultural exchange in the ancient world. While studying international relations as an undergrad at Renmin University of China (Beijing), I began to explore my interest in ancient arts from a global and contemporary perspective. After graduation, I went on to study art history at Peking University and the University of Virginia. I received my PhD from the Art History Department at the University of Chicago. Before coming to Vassar, I taught Chinese art history at U of C (2013-2015) as a graduate instructor. I also worked at the Art Institute of Chicago as a curatorial fellow (2015-2016).

  • BA, Renmin University of China, Beijing; MA, Peking University, Beijing; PhD, University of Chicago
  • At Vassar since 2017


Research and Academic Interests

  • Arts of the Silk Road
  • Early Medieval Funerary Art
  • Sogdian Arts in China

Departments and Programs


  • ART 258: The Arts of China
  • ART 259: Art, Politics and Cultural Identity in East Asia
  • ASIA 260: The Silk Roads: Visual and Material Culture
  • ART 358: Art in China from 1900 to Today: Empire, Revolution, and Globalization


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Photo: Karl Rabe / Vassar College

My research has focused on religious and funerary art in early medieval China (220-589 CE). During this period, Chinese culture was transformed by the arrival of immigrants from the Mongolian steppes and Central Asia. I am particularly interested in stone objects, such as sarcophagi and Buddhist steles. Grounded in close studies of carved stones in museums in China and America, my research addresses a wide array of issues. I investigate questions related to the sources of artistic materials, technical processes, and provenance, as well as questions regarding visual-verbal dynamics, spatial strategies, cultural identity, and cosmopolitanism. I am now preparing a book manuscript on stone coffins and mortuary couches in sixth-century China.

As a teacher of art history, I am an advocate of object-based learning. That being said, I also have great enthusiasm for the innovative use of technology in the classroom. With the help of museum curators and private collectors, I strive to create opportunities for students to investigate art history by looking at real art and handling authentic artifacts. Sometimes this means bringing objects to class, other times it means taking the class to objects preserved in local collections. To reach a broad range of students, I try to align my lectures with current ways of understanding art and culture; I often discuss popular documentaries and digital interfaces as I present art historical material.