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Pastimes: From Art and Antiquarianism to Modern Chinese Historiography

Shana J. Brown
Copyright Date: 2011
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    Book Description:

    Pastimesis the first book in English on Chinesejinshi,or antiquarianism, the pinnacle of traditional connoisseurship of ancient artifacts and inscriptions. As a scholarly field,jinshiwas inaugurated in the Northern Song (960-1127) and remained popular until the early twentieth century. Literally the study of inscriptions on bronze vessels and stone steles,jinshicombined calligraphy and painting, the collection of artifacts, and philological and historical research. For aficionados of Chinese art, the practices ofjinshioffer a fascinating glimpse into the lives of traditional Chinese scholars and artists, who spent their days roaming the sometimes seamy world of the commercial art market before attending elegant antiquarian parties, where they composed poetic tributes to their ancient objects of obsession. And during times of political upheaval, such as the nineteenth century, the art and artifact studies ofjinshilegitimatized reform and contributed to a dynamic and progressive field of learning.

    Indeed, the paradox ofjinshiis that it was nearly as venerable as the ancient artifacts themselves, and yet it was also subject to continual change. This was particularly true in the last decades of the Qing (1644-1911) and the first decades of the twentieth century, when a diverse group of cosmopolitan and science-minded scholars contributed to what was considered at the time to be a "revolution in traditional linguistics." These antiquarians transformed how historians used literary sources and material artifacts from the ancient past and set the stage for a new understanding of the longevity and cohesiveness of Chinese history.

    The history ofjinshioffers insights that are relevant to Chinese cultural and intellectual history, art history, and politics. Scholars of the modern period will find the resiliency and continuing influence ofjinshito be an important counterpoint to received views on the trajectory of Chinese cultural and intellectual change. We are accustomed to think that Chinese modernity originated in the great tumult of the turn-of-the-century encounter with foreign learning. The example ofjinshireveals the significance of local transformations that occurred much earlier in the nineteenth century. Its combination of art and historiography reveals the full range of scholarly appreciation for the past and its artifacts and provides a unique perspective from which to define "modern China" and illuminate its indigenous origins.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6009-7
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    THE GREAT EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY NOVELA Dream of Red Mansionsbegins with a curious episode. A monk discovers a stone dropped from heaven and, instead of feeling satisfied with its unadorned beauty, wants to “engrave some characters” on it so “people can see at a glance that you’re something special.”¹ This preference animated many forms of Chinese connoisseurship, including the desire to possess ancient objects. Indeed, in the discourse of the eighteenth century, artifacts without texts hardly merited collecting.

    A century or so later, another fantastic, perhaps apocryphal, discovery seemed to affirm this preference. In 1899, the paleographer Wang Yirong (1845...

  5. 1 Antiquarianism and Its Genealogies
    (pp. 13-32)

    SINCE THE QING DYNASTY, scholars have insisted thatjinshibegan with Northern Song historians, who are praised for integrating inscriptions into historical research and establishing a tradition of empiricist scholarship. Yet since its inception, the pastime incorporated many other important elements, particularly ritual studies and calligraphy. Indeed, the great collector andjinshischolar Ruan Yuan (1764–1849), who started a new trend in appreciating stele calligraphy, admired not only the historical research of Northern Song antiquarians but also their attitude of ritual orthodoxy.¹ A full understanding of modernjinshirequires us to consider art, ritual, and historiography simultaneously in order...

  6. 2 Antiquarianism in an Age of Reform
    (pp. 33-50)

    IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY,jinshientered a period of remarkable growth, with some nine hundred works produced before the end of the dynasty.¹ This burst of enthusiasm was animatedly chronicled by the political reformer Kang Youwei (1858–1927):

    After the Jiaqing reign [1796–1821], antiquarianism was extremely popular, with scholars referencing bronze and stone inscriptions as evidence to verify the Classics and emend the Histories. More and more people specialized in collecting inscriptions and published works on them. Excavated materials were found on mountain cliffs and inside walls, from remote and isolated areas, dug up by farmers’ hoes, or found...

  7. 3 A Passion for Antiquity, in Two Dimensions and in Three
    (pp. 51-72)

    WHAT WAS IT LIKE to be ajinshiexpert in the late Qing? On a daily basis, the pastime entailed three activities—shopping for artifacts and rubbings, appraising them, and publishing catalogs of their inscriptions and images—all of which gave moments of extreme, if elusive, pleasure. The greatest luxury for any specialist was time. As Liu E recounted,

    At most, our lifetimes only last seventy or eighty years. In our youth, we strive for official rank; in old age, our ears, eyes, hands and limbs are useless. In between are thirty or forty years when we are worn out...

  8. 4 Wu Dacheng’s Paleography and Artifact Studies
    (pp. 73-86)

    THE DAILY ACTIVITIES of late-Qing antiquarianism focused on collection practices and the production and appreciation of visual culture, but one more ingredient was essential to the pastime—the methodologies used to interpret inscriptions. Asjinshitechniques in general evolved in the late nineteenth century, so too did paleography. We see this particularly clearly in the work of Wu Dacheng, one of the most widely admiredjinshischolars of the period, whose efforts impressed scholars both within China and in the international community.

    Wu Dacheng’s research illuminates the degree to whichjinshistudies remained supple, responsive to contemporary political and intellectual...

  9. 5 The Discovery of the Oracle Bone Inscriptions
    (pp. 87-102)

    ORACLE BONE INSCRIPTIONS are among the oldest Chinese historical sources.¹ Up to some four millennia old, they predate the earliest bronze texts by centuries. Carved onto a variety of surfaces—the bottom shells (plastrons) of tortoises, the scapulae of cows or sheep, and occasionally human skulls—they record the results of divination ceremonies conducted at the behest of the Shang kings. Given turn-of-the-century debates—including accusations by Japanese scholars that ancient Chinese historiography was largely myth—they had the potential to become peerless documentation of the ancient period. For Wang Guowei, their discovery was comparable to the emergence of the...

  10. 6 Luo Zhenyu and the Dilemmas of the Private Scholar
    (pp. 103-120)

    AFTER THE ABDICATION of the last Qing emperor Puyi (1906–1967) in 1912, many talented scholar-officials lost their professional identities. For every former bureaucrat who made a fortune in banking or was admitted into bureaucratic service of the new Republic, scores more found work as editors, in the trades, or even as managers of rickshaw companies. The capital was soon teeming with impoverished Manchus, whose pathos was captured by the writer Lao She (1899–1966).Jinshischolars like Luo Zhenyu were among those who had to find new careers. With his expertise in ancient artifacts admired by even political opposites...

  11. 7 Wang Guowei—From Antiquarianism to History
    (pp. 121-140)

    WHEN WANG GUOWEI returned from Kyoto, he entered a contentious intellectual world. On May 4, 1919, students took to the streets to protest the pro-Japan provisions of the Treaty of Versailles and to demand political liberalization. They also called for a critical reexamination of the country’s philosophical, historical, and artistic traditions, and this broad program, referred to as the New Culture Movement, advocated Western science and philosophy as crucial to national development. Traditional learning seemed so much in decline that the historian Chen Yinke (1890–1969) appeared almost comically out of step when he composed an entrance exam to Qinghua...

  12. Epilogue: The Future of a Pastime
    (pp. 141-144)

    ON OCTOBER 13, 1928—a little over a year after Wang Guowei’s suicide—Dong Zuobin and other members of the Academia Sinica began to excavate a site northwest of Xiaotun village, hoping to find any oracle bones that might have eluded decades of peasant excavators. They were unsuccessful. But after Li Ji took over the digs the following year, the team unearthed quantities of artifacts as well as the remains of temples and royal tombs that suggested the site was indeed Yinxu, the last Shang city. This moment marked the triumphant arrival of a patriotic archaeology, whose purpose was to...

  13. Glossary
    (pp. 145-150)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 151-178)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 179-210)
  16. Index
    (pp. 211-219)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 220-221)