China in Western Minds exhibit to move locations

GVL / Sara Carte
“China in Western Minds” is now showing at the Blue Wall Gallery in the DeVos Building Downtown Grand Rapids on Oct. 23.

Sara Carte

GVL / Sara Carte “China in Western Minds” is now showing at the Blue Wall Gallery in the DeVos Building Downtown Grand Rapids on Oct. 23.

Marissa LaPorte

While walking through the halls of the Richard M. DeVos Center, students can experience 21 centuries of history between China and Western culture. The Blue Wall Gallery is currently home to a chronological display that was planned out a year ago and took about five months to create. However, the display will temporarily move out of Grand Valley State University this week. This display showcases Chinese culture and its influence on Western minds through images, decorative art and textual interpretations.

The display was given the name China in Western Minds in relation to a graduate course the GVSU English department offers, also called China in Western Minds.

Sufen Lai, who is teaching the course, said she created this art gallery display to use as a teaching tool and to show her students that there are other ways to learn from history rather than solely from literature and textbooks.

“What I like about (China in Western Minds) is that it’s multidisciplinary,” Lai said. “It has literature, it has history, it has decorative art and it has multimedia. It covers different forms to deal with the same subject. I try to communicate to my students that besides text there are a lot of other genres that also deal with these issues.”

China in Western Minds is on display at the GVSU Pew Campus on the Blue Wall Gallery until Thursday, Oct. 29. However, China in Western Minds will find its new home at GVSU’s Allendale Campus in January and will be on display there until March. The exhibit will include at least one extra image in Allendale because there was not enough room for it on the Blue Wall Gallery, Lai said.

David Newell, GVSU’s curator of exhibitions, worked with Lai in order to make the display possible. Lai said Newell gave suggestions about what images to use and how to shorten the textual interpretations in order to make them less lengthy than they initially were. The display is broken up into sections by the century, and each century has its own textual interpretation.

“It’s a really broad-based show,” Newell said. “(The gallery displays) an arch of 21 centuries, from the first contact by the Romans and trade, up to current television.”

Newell said that China in Western Minds documents China’s insolence in Western thought, both in literature, in the arts and in music. He mentioned that, overall, China has had a strong influence on decorative arts and philosophy in the 17th and 18th centuries.

“(China in Western Minds) is introducing another concept of world history and just how integrated it is into our lives whether we realize it or not,” Newell said. “I think the section in the 19th century about the repercussions against the Chinese community is really important and something that people really should look at. It’s probably kind of surprising to a lot of people, especially given the current focus on immigration issues that our country is dealing with. It has come in waves throughout history.”

Newell said he hopes that by viewing this display it will increase students’ awareness so they can realize the cycles in society and begin to move forward.

Lai hopes her students can learn from the process she went through to create the display along with learning from the gallery itself. Lai had to do research, find images and create a concise textual interpretation, but she also had to acquire permission to display the images.

Most of the images she chose were in public domain, but she said some of the images on display required her to buy licensing fees due to copyright laws. Lai said it was a learning experience for her, and she hopes that her students will learn a little about copyright laws as well.

For more information about GVSU’s art gallery exhibitions, go to