Chinese Iconography Thesaurus (CIT)

A taxonomic vehicle to explore the Chinese visual culture

About the Project

The CIT combines sinology, art history and information studies to create the first thesaurus of Chinese iconography, a valuable research tool enhancing the accessibility and understanding of Chinese art. Launched with a grant from DCMS and subsequent sponsorship from the Bei Shan Tang Foundation.


Traditionally considered a methodology rooted in European art history, iconography has been historically employed to index and access images related to Euro-American art. Because of the lack of alternative models for documenting non-western artefacts, Chinese art objects housed in European and North American collections have often been catalogued according to Eurocentric classifications. The CIT presents a unique opportunity to create an alternative classification scheme rooted in the specificity of Chinese visual culture and foster systematic comparison between Chinese and European art.


CIT aims to create an indexing standard that will facilitate access and inter-operability of Chinese digital images across collections. It will provide professionals in museums, libraries and image archives with a controlled vocabulary that will improve the quality of cataloguing practices for Chinese collections. An online database of Chinese art images indexed with the CIT terminology will deliver a dynamic and open-ended research tool that will enable a wide spectrum of users to explore the contents of, and connections between, individual works of art.


The CIT database, first released in 2019, is freely accessible and regularly updated. Currently, it contains more than 11,000 concepts extracted primarily from pre-1900 sources and ca. 6,000 images of objects from five collections, including the V&A, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Palace Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Harvard-Yenching Library. The website is developed by POSTHUMANITIES ( in Amsterdam and is published by Brill.

The Team

Dr Hongxing Zhang

CIT Chief Editor & Project Lead

As Project Director Hongxing Zhang spearheads the editorial team of CIT and the development of the initiative. He is a senior curator of the Chinese collections at the V&A, where he has been the lead curator of several headline exhibitions such as Mas ... Read more

Dr Jin Gao

CIT Project Coordinator & Data Standard Editor

Jin Gao completed her PhD at the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, and she is working to discover the intellectual and social structures of the Digital Humanities communities. Her research interests lie primarily in the bibliometric and social networ ... Read more

Dr Yi-hsin Lin

CIT Data Standard Editor

Before joining the CIT Project, Yi-hsin Lin had been working as a Research Assistant at the V&A and at the British Museum for exhibitions focused on Chinese painting, and at Academia Sinica in Taipei as Research Assistant for digital archives. After s ... Read more

Bingjun Liu

CIT Data Standard Editor

Bingjun Liu is a current PhD candidate at the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, Department of Information Studies. Her research focuses on the user engagement with museums' digital information services and resources in relation to both historical con ... Read more

Francesca Girelli

CIT Project Coordinator (2016 – 2018)

Francesca Girelli read her BA and MA in Art History at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, and obtained a MA in Cultural Management from the International University of Catalunya, Barcelona. Over the past ten years she has worked for auction houses, mus ... Read more

Yangruxin Liu

CIT Editing Assistant (2017 – 2018)

Currently Yangruxin is a PhD candidate in Sinology at SOAS, working on the transmission and reception of Sima Qian's (ca. 145-ca. 86 BC) Shiji (The Scribes' Records) during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). She is also a Senior Teaching Fellow in ... Read more

Guest Editors

Hui-Wen Lu
- Director, Graduate Institute of Art History, National Taiwan University, Taipei
Ching-Fei Shih
- Professor, Graduate Institute of Art History, National Taiwan University, Taipei
Yun-Ru Chen
- Associate Professor, Graduate Institute of Art History, National Taiwan University, Taipei
Chong-Ci Wang
- Doctor, Graduate Institute of Art History, National Taiwan University, Taipei

V&A Steering Group

Zoë Hollingworth
- Collections Systems Lead
Anna Jackson
- Keeper of the Asian Department
Shoshanna Isaacson
- Research Grants Manager
Richard Palmer
- Technical Lead of Digital Media and Publishing
Kati Price
- Head of Digital Media & Publishing
Evgeniya Ravtsova
- International Initiatives Coordinator


Participation in the Getty Advanced Workshop of Network Analysis and Digital Art History

CIT is chosen by the Getty Foundation and the University of Pittsburgh to join a two-year Network Analysis and Digital Art History Workshop. The NA+DAH Workshop brings together art historians, network scientists, and digital humanists.

Launch of the CIT Database at the conference 'Changing Frontiers' in Beijing

The conference 'Changing Frontiers: Iconographic Archives in the Past and Present' looks deeply into the critical issues central to historical and contemporary practices in Europe and North America in building image archives for iconographic studies.