About the book

This collection of profiles celebrates the artistic achievements of sixteen visionary women from a region of surprisingly diverse cultures despite their geographical proximity. From literary figures like Nieh Hualing and dance icons like Yang Meiqi, to bold contemporary artists Yin Xiuzhen and Lulu Hou, their creativity covers a wide range of literary, visual and performing arts. These courageous women often had to defy cultural expectations in order to heed their artistic drive. Their artworks delve into the social realities of their times, and their personal stories provide an intimate portrait of the historical trajectory of Greater China over three generations. Written by journalists and scholars with deep knowledge of the arts in Asia, and richly illustrated with images of art and historical events, the collection reveals the vibrance of women’s art in the region.

The profiled artists:

NIEH HUALING, born in Wuhan, China, is the author of more than two dozen books of fiction, critical essays and English translations. In 1967, along with her husband Paul Engle, she established the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, which was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1976.


LIAO WEN is an arts writer, critic and curator, whose unerring eye for emerging artists and trends helped to shape Chinese contemporary art. She curated one of the earliest exhibitions of Chinese women’s contemporary art (in 1995) and introduced a pioneering Chinese look at feminism in art with her book No More Nice Girls (2002).


CANDACE CHONG is a prolific, award-winning Hong Kong playwright, whose timely plays have captured the essence of the sui generis Hong Kong identity. Written in Cantonese, her works have resonated deeply with a new generation of theatergoers in Hong Kong.


YIN XIUZHEN is a leading contemporary artist in China whose installations have been exhibited in major museums across the world. Using recycled materials, she explores issues of globalization and seeks to preserve a memory of disappearing lifestyles resulting from excessive urbanization and development.


CHOI YAN CHI is an installation artist, painter, educator and cultural advocate, who has helped to build contemporary art in Hong Kong for more than thirty years. She was a pioneer of new art forms, from installation to cross-media performance, and founded one of the city’s first independent art spaces.

蔡仞姿,裝置與概念藝術家,在香港當代藝術三十多年發展中發揮了至關重要的作用。她是新藝術形式的先驅──從裝置、跨媒體表演到創立香港第一個獨立藝術空間1a space。

LULU HOU is a conceptual artist, scholar and educator, whose works raise awareness about the realities of marginalized people in Taiwan society. In recent years she has expanded her portfolio to include the preservation of architectural and cultural heritage in southern Taiwan.


JAFFA LAM is a Hong Kong artist who specializes in the creation of large-scale, site-specific works, mixed-media sculptures and installations, usually made with salvaged materials such as crate wood, old furniture and recycled fabric. Lam’s art involves and reflects strong elements of community, connection and collaborative processes.


YANG LINA is an award-winning filmmaker based in Beijing. A pioneer among contemporary Chinese directors, her unflinching documentaries have illuminated the plights of China’s marginalized, including women, children and the elderly.


BUN-CHING LAM is one of a growing number of Chinese women composers who are active on the international stage. A daughter of Macau, she is a passionate student of Chinese art, literature and aesthetics. Lam’s music is beyond East or West, dissolving boundaries to become an art that is truly representative of today’s interconnected world.


WANG XINXIN is a master performer of the musical genre called Nanguan. Originally from Fujian, she founded the Xinxin Nanguan Ensemble in Taipei in 2003 and performs traditional repertoire as well as contemporary adaptations of Chinese poetry and Buddhist sutra.


TIAN MANSHA is a master performer of chuanju (Sichuan opera) and a creator, teacher and director of xiqu, or traditional Chinese opera forms. Her repertoire includes classical pieces, Shakespeare adaptations, contemporary commissions and avant-garde xiqu works.


WU NA is a virtuoso performer and teacher of the guqin, an ancient stringed instrument that dates back nearly 3,000 years. Her personal and musical mission is to create a contemporary voice for the guqin, one that has relevance in today’s China and beyond, while still preserving the instrument’s core spiritual and aesthetic values.


YANG MEIQI, a renowned dance artist and educator, established China’s first modern dance troupe, the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, in 1992. Yang, who has been called the “Mother of Modern Dance in China,” nurtured the first and second generations of modern dance choreographers in China and is the leading force behind modern dance education.


PISUI CIYO is an award-winning choreographer, performer and educator born into the Atayal tribe in Taiwan. Her works of multimedia dance theater combine traditional indigenous art forms with Flamenco and modern performance art to create an expression of the contemporary indigenous artist.


MUI CHEUK YIN, a modern dance choreographer based in Hong Kong, is one of the leading dance-makers in East Asia today. She performed as principal dancer with the Hong Kong Dance Company for a decade and has created more than fifty works for ensembles in Asia, Europe and North America.


WEN HUI is a choreographer, actor, documentary filmmaker and founder of Living Dance Studio, which became China’s first independent dance theater collective in 1994. She has choreographed more than twenty groundbreaking multimedia productions that have toured the world.


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Praise for Creating Across Cultures

  • Creating Across Cultures: Women in the Arts from China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan is an indispensable resource for anyone seeking to understand the dynamism underpinning what some are calling the Chinese Century. In these portraits of sixteen extraordinary women, whose achievements in art, dance, literature, music, and theater have profoundly shaped contemporary aesthetic, cultural, and social discourses, we glimpse worlds upon worlds, any one of which may change the very ways in which we make meaning of our time on earth. This is a treasure.

    Christopher Merrill, director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa and author of Self-Portrait with Dogwood
  • Is there ‘something unexplained about women that only a woman can explain’ (to rephrase Georgia O’Keeffe’s statement into a question)? Under its chief editor, also a woman—Michelle Vosper, who was Director of the Hong Kong Arts Program at the Asian Cultural Council for 25 years—Creating Across Cultures explains it vividly and movingly. I find the life stories of these artists as fascinating as their ebullient creations. In particular, Vosper has done a most remarkable and touching portrait of the source of inspiration for them all—the inimitable Nieh Hualing.

    Leo Ou-fan Lee, The Sin Wai Kin Professor of Chinese Culture at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and author of Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China, 1930–1945
  • My heart is so full of joy reading this book. Creating Across Cultures is the result of many years of meticulous research, and it comprehensively documents the achievements of female aesthetics through the work of these important artists. The writing is also about real lives, their loves and struggles. Readers will connect with concrete life experiences that no abstract theories should replace.

    Eva K. W. Man, author of Bodies in China: Philosophy, Aesthetics, Gender and Politics

From the introduction

The ability to bounce back is a universal element in these stories. Sichuan opera performer Tian Mansha, for example, entered her chosen field as a latecomer and suffered one rejection after another before finding her own way. She never viewed these setbacks as reasons to give up.

Read on

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About the editor

Dorothy Tse portrait

Editor Michelle Vosper directed the work of 11 outstanding cultural journalists and Asia scholars to create the book's 16 profiles. Michelle spent 25 years as the Asian Cultural Council Representative in Hong Kong, overseeing an extensive program of fellowships for leading Asian artists to pursue advanced training, research and creative work in the United States. She is now an independent writer and editor specializing in Asian arts and culture, and lives on a farm in rural New Jersey with her family.

More about Michelle Vosper