Chen Shen

Dr. Chen Shen (沈辰)

Chen Shen

Co-Chief Curator, Art and Culture; Senior Curator, China

Interests: Palaeolithic Archaeology and Human Origins; Art and Archaeology of Early China; Technology and Material Cultures of Ancient China; Culture Heritage; Museum Studies

Exhibitions & Galleries: Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of China; Gallery of Korea; Prince Takamado Gallery of Japan; Gallery of Chinese Architectures

Phone: +1 416 5865647


After receiving his BA from Wuhan University, China, Dr. Shen studied anthropological archaeology at Tulsa University, Oklahoma where he received his MA. Dr. Shen studied anthropological archaeology at Department of Anthropology University of Toronto for his PhD. Graduating in 1997 Dr. Shen joined the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), as the inaugural Bishop White Curator of Eastern Asian Archaeology, and since 2011serves as Vice President of Art and Culture.

As the Senior Curator of Chinese Art and Culture, Dr. Shen is responsible for managing and researching over 41,000 Chinese artifacts. The ROM preserves the largest collection of Chinese artifacts among North American museums, and the second outside China (next to the British Museum, London). Dr. Shen’s curatorial research focuses on making ancient Chinese objects relevant to our understanding of Chinese cultures in contemporary society.

Dr. Shen views objects in the museum galleries and storage rooms as communication tools to bridge the past into the future. Recently at ROM, Dr. Shen have organized the international workshops: Relevance and Application of Heritage in Contemporary Society (2017), and Chinese Object Study Workshop: Objects in Archaeological Context (2019).

Dr. Shen has curated many exhibitions at the ROM, including 2002’s critically acclaimed Treasures from a Lost Civilization: Ancient Chinese Art from Sichuan, and The Warrior Emperor and China’s Terracotta Army (2010) which garnered one of the best attendances in ROM’s history. The most recent exhibition from China is Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors (2014). Dr. Shen, working with ROM colleagues and his Chinese museum partners, has successfully organized ROM’s Egyptian art and culture exhibitions at the Nanjing Museum (2016), Jinsha Archaeological Site Museum (2017), and the Xuzhou Museum (2019).

As an archaeologist and scholar, Dr. Chen Shen has organized and participated in multiple archaeological digs in China, US, and Canada. He continues excavations at several sites in northern China, including field investigation at the World Heritage Zhoukoudian (Peking Man) site near Beijing. Dr. Shen began Canadian-Chinese collaborative fieldwork projects in Paleolithic archaeology in 1997. Over the past two decades, his team discovered and studied the earliest hominid occupation site in East Asia, dated 1.6 million years ago.

Since 2011, Dr. Chen Shen serves as the Vice President of Art & Culture at ROM, responsible for research and management of a collection comprising nearly one million artifacts, representing cultures from around the world across the centuries into the modern era. Dr. Shen is a member of ROM’s senior management team, in this capacity he champions and organizes activities and programs at the Art and Culture Department, especially educational programs for the public. He promotes inter-disciplinary scholarship at the ROM and academic exchanges with other global institutions. Dr. Shen collaborates with the ROM Governors to manage the 3 million dollar per year department budget, cultivate donors and improve the museum’s ability to serve the community – all this with an eye towards the security and preservation of the museum’s irreplaceable collection. Dr. Shen also serves on the Board of Directors for the Chinese Culture Centre of Great Toronto, the largest non-profit community organization promoting Chinese culture in Canada. He served as an Academic Trustee member at the Archaeological Institute of America from 2010 to 2016.

In addition to his other appointments, Dr. Chen Shen is a professor at the University of Toronto, teaching two popular courses in the East Asian Department: Art and Archaeology of Early China and Technology and Cultural Materials in Ancient China. Dr. Shen is the author of Anyang and Sanxingdui: Unveiling the Mysteries of Ancient Chinese Civilizations and Ancient Chinese Jades from the Royal Ontario Museum. He serves as the co-editor of Current Research in Chinese Pleistocene Archaeology, The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors and Relevance and Application of Heritage in Contemporary Society. He has published numerous academic papers in both English and Chinese journals focusing on the field of prehistoric technology, Palaeolithic archaeology, human evolution in East Asia, culture heritage and museum studies. His most recent book: Entering the World of Wonder: Thoughts on Contemporary Museums (2019 printed in Chinese) has become popular reading in China.

Recent Talks

  • Craft and Technology: Knowledge of Ancient Artisan at the 84th annual conference of Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM, April 10 – 14, 2019
  • The Future of Museum Diplomacy: Skill and Knowledge for a Connected World at the annual meeting of Canadian Museum Association, Toronto, Ontario, April 14 – 16, 2019.
  • Globalizing Chinese Art and Globalization in Museum Invited Talk by Denver Museum of Art, Feb. 23, 2019.
  • Jade Bi Disc: Ancient Fashion from Tradition at the International Conference on Chinese Jade Study, Xuzhou, Jiangshu, China, Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2018
  • Chinese Art at Global Turn at 6th Beishantang Forum for Curators of Chinese Art, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Oct 19 – 22, 2018. 
  • Chinese Jade Collection at Royal Ontario Museum, Canada, Invited Talk by Shanghai Museum, March 18, 2018.
  • Objects of the Past: Relevance of Cultural Heritage in 21st century Museums Research Talk at School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Sept 25, 2017

Recent Publications


2019: Entering the World of Wonder: Thoughts on Contemporary Museum. Cultural Heritage Press: Beijing [Chinese Language: 众妙之门:六谈当代博物馆].

2018(co-editor) Relevance and Applications of Heritage in Contemporary Society Routledge, New York and London.

2016: Chinese ancient jade collection from the Royal Ontario Museum. Cultural Relics Publishing House, Beijing. [Bilingual]

2016: (co-editor) Forbidden City: Inside Court of China’s Emperors. Palace Museum Press: Beijing. [Bilingual]

2014: (section editor) Human Evolution and Peopling of American section for Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. New York: Springer.

2008(co-author) Use-wear experiments and functional study of stone tools in archaeology  Science Press: Beijing [Chinese Language]

2007: (co-editor) Origin and Spread of Microblade Technology in Northern Asia and North America. Simon Fraser University Press: Vancouver. 

2003: Current Research in the Chinese Pleistocene Archaeology. BAR International Series 1179, Oxford: Archaeopress.

2002: Anyang and Sanxingdui: Unveiling the Mysteries of Ancient Chinese Civilizations. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum.

2001: The Lithic Production of the Princess Point Complex during the transition to agriculture in southwestern Ontario, Canada. BAR International Series 991, Oxford: John and Eric Hedges Inc.

Recent Articles  

2020: (co-author) A study of the Western Han intaglio pictorial hollow brick tomb tiles of Louyang. Palace Museum Journal 214(2):52-65.

2019: Navigating cross-cultural collaborations – a curatorial perspective.  in Museum Development in China: Understanding the Building Boom Edited by Gail Dexter Lord, Guan Qiang, An Laishun, Javier Jiménez. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers:Maryland Pp69 – 73.

2019: Building the Royal Ontario Museum’s Korean Collection. In The Korean Collection of the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada. Edited by Minseon Lee and Songhee Je, Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage, Seoul. Pp.16-23.

2018: Age of the Territorial Lord, in Routledge Handbook of Early Chinese History, Edited by Paul R. Goldin, Routledge: New York and London, Pp. 108 – 145.

2018: Objects of the Past: Relevance of Cultural Heritage in 21st Century Museum, in Relevance and Application of Heritage in Contemporary Society, Edited by Pei-Lin Yu, Chen Shen and George S. Smith. Routledge, New York and London, Pp35 – 43.

2016: Zhoukoudian in Transition: Research history, lithic technologies and transformation of Chinese Paleolithic archaeology Quaternary International Vol.400:4-13

2015: Hafted woodworking tools from an Upper Palaeolithic site in Northern China: prehensile wear experiments and archaeological implications. In Works in Stone Edited by Michael Shott. University of Utah Press. Pp78 – 95.

2014: Objectives and Challenges: Past, Present, and Future of Collecting Chinese Antiquities in the Royal Ontario Museum. In Collectors, Collections & Collecting the Arts of China: Histories & Challenges. University Press of Florida, Editors: Jason Steuber with Guolong Lai, pp.245-264

Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China's Emperors

ROM Blogs

Magpies, Hand axe, and Highway - Dr. Chen Shen and the ROM-China Luonan Project
ROM’s archaeologists at the Maya ruins of Ka’Kabish and Lamanai in Belize

Research Projects

Upper Palaeolithic microblade technology

Lower Palaeolithic settlement of the Middle Pleistocene

The Early Pleistocene hominid occupations in East Asia (1.8 – 1 million years ago)