SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Lia Wei

  • Overview
  • Research


Lia Wei
Lia Wei
Email address:
Thesis title:
Rock-cut caves in the Upper Yangzi River: Identifying a stone working tradition (2nd to 3rd century CE)
Year of Study:
Internal Supervisors

External Supervisors

Andrew Bevan (Institute of Archaeology, University College London)


I studied Calligraphy, Seal Carving and Landscape Painting at the China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, and Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Chongqing (2007-2010). I took part in a collaborative experiment in contemporary ink painting – ‘Biface Graphy/Open Scroll’ (2009-2013) and in a China Ministry of Education funded research project on Buddhist epigraphy in Shandong Province – ‘Great Vacuity Buddha-King : Sutra Engravings and Visual Culture under the Northern Dynasties’ (2012-2016).

In 2010, I started my studies in Prehistory, Protohistory and Non-European Art at Brussels Free University, Belgium. After a MA in Religious Arts of Asia at SOAS, University of London, I am now conducting my PhD research on rock-cut burials along the Upper Yangzi River.

In 2014 and 2015, I lectured at the Art Theory department in Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Chongqing, for a one-term BA class on the ‘History of Sinology : The Study of East Asian Art in the West’, and at the Archaeology department at Renmin University, Beijing, for a two-terms MA class on ‘Comparing Values in Cultural Heritage : Landscape, Identity and Authenticity’.

PhD Research

My research focuses on rock-cut burials on the Han empire Southwest frontier. Inscriptions date the man-made caves and carvings South of the Yangzi to the end of the Eastern Han empire (late 2nd to 3rd century CE), a moment of transition in political geography and of reconfiguration among cultural identities.

Although technologically related to earlier rock-cut ensembles in the neighbouring Sichuan Plain and along the main course of the Yangzi, in the Three Gorges area, the caves and carvings produced in this frontier region demarcate themselves in terms of their location in the landscape, their layout and iconography.

Survey in the Qi River valley conducted in 2014-2015, which connects the Sichuan Plain and the Guizhou Plateau, is here combined with case study comparisons accross several other Southern tributaries of the Upper Yangzi from Southern Sichuan to Western Hubei. Several of the burial ensembles which had been misattributed to later periods and labelled as non-Han practices, are in fact datable by both epigraphy and iconography to the late 2nd century CE, but they retain their specificity.

My thesis investigates this specific tradition of handling the dead as highly visible statements rooted in local landscapes, opening a window in the thousand years’ long process of culture change in the area.


  • 2014. ‘玲珑山:仙窟洞天的升仙象征/Linglongshan Mountain: Metaphorical Ascension to the Grotto-Heavens’. 中国艺术 Chinese Art 2014(02) :116-121. (co-written with Zhang Qiang).
  • 2014. ‘东莱名山:意境化的神仙道场/Mount Donglai: a Textualized Ritual Field’. 中国艺术 Chinese Art 2014(01) :121-127. (co-written with Zhang Qiang).
  • 2014. ‘复古与地区创新—绵阳汉阙在六世纪佛教中的再利用 /The Mianyang Pillars: a Case of 6th century Re-use of a Han Que Funerary Gate : Archaism and Regional Innovation)’. In Qin Zhen (ed.) 理论、方法与实践——美术考古与大足学研究 Theory, Method and Practice in the Art Historical and Archaeological Study of Stone Carving in Dazu. Chongqing chubanshe: 160-176.
  • 2013 August. An Experiment in Abstract Ink Painting : The Biface Graphy Project II. Black Book. Chongqing chubanshe. Chongqing. (co-written with Zhang Qiang).
  • 2012 March. An Experiment in Abstract Ink Painting : The Biface Graphy Project I. White Book. Chongqing chubanshe. Chongqing. (co-written with Zhang Qiang).
  • 2011 文本之外——僧安道壹佛名书刊方式及其意图探讨/Beyond Text :Gesture and Intention in the Epigraphy of Seng’an Daoyi’. 中国艺术 Chinese Art 2011(03). (co-written with Zhang Qiang).
  • 2011 July. ‘. (安公之碑———一个佛教大沙门的文本分析). Journal of Taishan University. Taishan xueyuan xuebao. 33 (4): 7-15. (co-written with Zhang Qiang).
  • 2011 May. ‘大空王佛——书法史逻辑语境之中的僧安道壹/ The Stele Inscription of Master An’. 中国艺术 Chinese Art 2011(2) : 16-23. (co-written with Zhang Qiang).


  • 2015, November. ‘Rock-cut Caves in the Upper Yangzi River: Identifying a Stone Working Tradition (2nd to 3rd century CE)’. International Centre for Chinese Heritage and Archaeology’ ICCHA. UCL Institute of Archaeology, London, UK.
  • 2015, September. ‘Local cave-making practices on the Han Empire Southwest Frontier : Spatial Connections and Acculturation’. Presentation at the session ‘Human Remains in Caves: Reconfiguring Identities of the Dead’ by Eugène Warmenbol and Lindsey Burster, European Archaeologists Association EAA 2015. Glasgow, Scotland.
  • 2015, September. ‘Recording Rythm and Process in Experimental Archaeology’. Presentation at the session ‘Creative Archaeologies’ by Anthonia Thomas and Dan Lee, European Archaeologists Association EAA 2015. Glasgow, Scotland. (in collaboration with Rupert Griffiths).
  • 2015, August. ‘Waterways and Frontiers : Cliff Burials in Long Term Spatial Dynamics’. Presentation at the session ‘New Discoveries and Landscapes from Archaeological Rock Art Frontiers’, by Rachel Hoerman and Andrea Jalandoni. International Federation of Rock Art Conference IFRAO 2015. Caceres, Spain.
  • 2015, May. Between Earth, Air and Water: Reimagining Peripheral Landscapes through Abandoned Defensive Architectures and Rock Cut Burial Sites, at the International Association of Visual Urbanists conference, British Library, London, UK. (in collaboration with Rupert Griffiths).
  • 2015, March. Reimagining the Ruins of Defensive Architectures at the Reimagining Rurality conference, Westminster University Architecture Department, London, UK. (in collaboration with Rupert Griffiths).
  • 2014, July. ‘A Technological Analysis of the Eastern Han Rock-Cut Burials in Citangpo (Anyue County, Sichuan Province)’ (川中地区东汉崖墓的刻石过程:以四川省安岳县祠堂坡崖墓群为案例). Presentation at the session ‘Rock Art in Southwest China’. International Federation of Rock Art Conference IFRAO 2014. Guiyang City, Guizhou Province, China.
  • 2014, February. ‘Highlands meet History : Fragmentary Narratives of the Han Empire Southwestern Frontier. A Study on the Funerary Cliff Inscriptions in Qijiang County (2nd to 3rd century CE)’. Lecture at Institut Belge des Hautes Etudes Chinoises, Musée du Cinquantenaire, Brussels, Belgium.
  • 2013,November. ‘The Biface Graphy project and Open Scroll installations’. Presentation at ‘Sharing the Field : Landscape Art and Archaeology’ symposium convened by Hilary Orange. Institute of Archaeology, University College of London, London, UK.
  • 2013, April. ‘The Mianyang Pillars: a Case of 6th century Re-use of a Han Que Funerary Gate : Archaism and Regional Innovation’ (复古与地区创新—绵阳汉阙在六世纪佛教中的再利用). Lecture on the occasion of the inaugural conference series for the ‘Center for Dazu Studies’, Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Chongqing City, China. 
  • 2012, March. ‘Quest for Ancestors : Contemporary Calligraphy in East Asia’. Talk at weekly event I Mercoledi’ Coreani, convened by Enza d’Urso. Department of East Asian Studies, Ca’ Foscari University, Venice, Italy.


  • Funerary art and Early Chinese Religion
  • Literacy
  • Calligraphy
  • Epigraphy
  • Sigillography/ Seal carving
  • Tradition (Learning and Transmission)
  • Technological style and the Art of making
  • Landscape Archaeology
  • GIS