Arts science and artifacts in Chinese cultural heritage: An exciting new HKU led innovative interdisciplinary pedagogical project – Quentin Parker

I’m here to say a few words about an exciting new UGC Teaching and Learning grant recently awarded to an interdisciplinary team I lead at HKU that spans the faculties of Arts, Architecture and Science. The rather long title of the grant is “Capitalizing on Hong Kong’s position in the Art world: An innovative platform for objects based Science and Arts learning with a world-class collaborative incubator for future educational teaching resources”. It encapsulates what we want to do for the UGC process but a more digestible title is “Arts Science and Artifacts in Chinese Cultural Heritage” which is in fact the title of our related and newly approved Common Core Course that we will run next year.

This major grant is for a project related deeply to Chinese cultural heritage. Amazingly perhaps this project is led by an Australian who also happens to be a research active astrophysicist! How can this be?

Well first and foremost I am a scientist but I have always had a long-term interest in ancient cultures with a strongly emerging focus on Chinese artifacts and bronzes in particular. However, rather than a purely qualitative approach to such things, I adopt a forensic and quantitative scientific approach that is coupled with an aesthetic and artistic appreciation of the incredible wealth, beauty and technical capacity of Chinese cultural heritage items.

People may not realize it but Hong Kong is rightly regarded as the world centre of the Chinese antiques trade with over 896 Million Euros (~$7.8 Billion HKD) traded to Europe in 2015 alone (see: However, much of this trade is problematic and many items distributed globally via Hong Kong are often of uncertain provenance or have been acquired via other non-standard routes. Chinese cultural heritage is being compromised while the historical and archaeological contexts of the items traded are often unknown or highly uncertain. Many people are unaware of the cultural significance of the traded objects nor the artistic, historical, contextual and financial importance of this topic.

A warring states bronze (c 475 BC to 221 BC) from the Parker family private collection
A warring states bronze (c 475 BC to 221 BC) from the Parker family private collection.
The Vessell is a food “steamer” with a lower and upper part and a lid. In this side view of the upper bowl, apart from the elaborate “Panchi” design there is “dragon-like beast” attached to the side with aerial elements emanating from the head as antlers.n

Our key project objectives are to inform and educate on this important process as widely as possible. We will innovatively and synergistically combine arts, art practice, preservation and science and scientific testing and evaluation. Together these elements will unite to provide a powerful, collaborative, interdisciplinary, multi-component educational platform that will capitalize on Hong Kong’s key position in the Art and materials culture world and educate people in a fresh, holistic but also scientific way.

We do not believe anything like this has been done quite in this way before but it touches the very essence of the new HKU 3+1 I’s vision for innovation and interdisciplinarity with the third ‘I’ internationalization addressed by our strong project links into the mainland and elsewhere. We believe our interdisciplinary, cross-faculty, inter-university collaborative project has an innovative design framework based around a solid vision that has true cultural relevance for the modern world. We also believe the cultural and social significance of this project are high such that broader public outreach beyond students at HKU and Hong Kong Baptist University (our partner in this enterprise) are important aspects of the overall program.

I hope some readers may be interested in what I have to say and stay tuned for updates as our project emerges from the planning and development stage into bloom across HKU and HKBU.

Ming Dynasty Altar Bowl 1368-1644:Yongle/Xuande Periods circa. 1403-1435.
Ming Dynasty Altar Bowl 1368-1644:Yongle/Xuande Periods circa. 1403-1435.
Jingdezhen: 14cm (Rim-dia.) 5.5cm (Foot ring dia.) 6.5 cm (height).
Bowl is decorated with two Feiyu, flying-fish dragons in flight, set amongst waves and clouds.
Acquired in Asia by the Cosgrove family from a Private Family Collection in 2007.
Prof. Quentin Parker
Prof. Quentin Parker

Associate Dean (Global)
Faculty of Science
The University of Hong Kong

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