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University mourns scholar who established study of Chinese art at KU

Thursday, September 25, 2014

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas is mourning the loss of Chu-tsing Li, Judith Harris Murphy Distinguished Professor of Art History, Emeritus. Li died Sept. 16 at the age of 94.

Arriving at KU in 1966, Li introduced Chinese art into the art history curriculum and made the Kress Foundation Department of Art History a major center for the study of East Asian art.

“I join the University of Kansas community in extending my condolences to Professor Li’s family, friends and colleagues,” Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said. “His work made a mark not only on the Department of the History of Art, but on the university as a whole. His efforts more than four decades ago to broaden the scope of the curriculum helped build KU’s global outlook today.”

Li used the world-renowned collection of Chinese art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art as a special attraction for potential students, and he recruited additional faculty specialists in East Asian art history. His efforts gave the art history department the largest number of Asian art specialists of any university in the United States except for the University of California-Los Angeles. This concentration of expertise and the Nelson-Atkins East Asian collection drew dozens of doctoral students from across the U.S. and East Asia, especially from Taiwan and Hong Kong. KU graduates, including many who studied with Li, are teaching and serving as senior curators at major institutions in the U.S. and abroad.

“Dr. Li’s scholarly résumé is truly impressive, but his students remember him most as a dedicated teacher, deeply concerned about their welfare,” said Marsha Haufler, professor of art history. “He and his wife, Yao-wen, often opened their home to his students, who still talk about the wonderful meals and friendship they shared around the Li family table. “

Li’s extensive list of publications includes groundbreaking books and articles, in English and Chinese, many of which are still assigned in graduate seminars.

In 1978, Li was appointed as the first Judith Harris Murphy Distinguished Professor of Art History in the department. He retired in 1990 with emeritus status.

The KU Endowment Association maintains a fund in Li’s honor, the Chu-tsing Li Award for Graduate Students in Chinese Art.  

An informal reception is planned for November in Milwaukee and a formal memorial service in May in Lawrence.

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