• Staff writer, with CNA

Jessica Rawson, a British art historian and curator specializing in ancient Chinese art, has been named this year’s winner of the Tang Prize in Sinology for “her gift and mastery of the craft of the visible to read the art and artifacts of Chinese civilization.”

Tang Prize selection committee for Sinology chairman David Wang (王德威), a Chinese literature academic and Academia Sinica academician, made the announcement at a news conference in Taipei yesterday.

“By giving voice to the ancient world of objects, Jessica Rawson has taught generations how to see when they look at things, and her acuity and vast visual learning have given a new insight into the world of the lineages, transformations and migrations of mute things,” Wang said.

Photo: CNA

The 79-year-old British academic said she was “incredibly honored” to be awarded the prize.

Rawson is considered a leading art historian of ancient Chinese art, with a particular interest in the cosmology of the Chinese Han period and its relationship to tombs and their decorations.

She has written numerous books on topics such as Chinese jade, Chinese poets from the 7th to the 13th centuries and Chinese silver of the Tang Dynasty, and was a renowned keeper of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum.

After many years at the British Museum, Rawson was Warden of Merton College, University of Oxford, from 1994 until her retirement in 2010. She served as pro-vice chancellor at the university for five years from 2006.

She is currently an honorary research associate at the university’s School of Archaeology.

Her achievement in Chinese studies has also won her a number honors in China, among them an honorary professorship at Peking University.

“I started to be interested in China at a very, very young age when I was in primary school,” Rawson said after learning she had been awarded the prize.

She said her mother, who was interested in art and culture, introduced her to East Asian art, in particular the art of China and Japan, and that was when she fell in love with Chinese characters.

That interest evolved when she was a student at the University of Cambridge. While studying there, Rawson did her first major excavation in Jordan, where archeologists unearthed Chinese ceramics that had arrived through trade with the Middle East.

“I started to see archeology was the way to learn more about China,” she said.

The Tang Prize Foundation said that Rawson’s contributions show that “besides the written word, there is another talent, another craft, which, by reading the arts and artifacts of the world, allows us to interpret and understand distant and ancient societies, with their beliefs and interactions.”

Rawson also develops and promotes exchanges in the field of sinology to help the public better understand Chinese civilization with the exhibitions she curated at the British Museum, it said.

The Tang Prize is a biennial award established in 2012 by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin (尹衍樑) to honor people who have made prominent contributions in four categories — sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, sinology and rule of law.

The Tang Prize in Sinology recognizes the study of sinology, and awards are given for research on China and its related fields, such as Chinese thought, history, philology, linguistics, archeology, philosophy, religion, traditional canons, literature and art, excluding literary and art works.

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