Saturday, June 16 Morning Session Abstracts (9:30–12:50)


Chair: Delphine SPICQ (Institute of Advanced Chinese Studies, IHEC)


Artois University

Une décennie de vente aux enchères d’objets d’art et de fragments de textes tangoutes en Chine

Depuis 2008 les ventes aux enchères d’objets rituels, objets d’art, datant tous de la période du royaume de Xixia (ou Tangoute, 1038-1227), mais aussi de fragments de textes bouddhiques en écriture tangoute, ne cessent d’avoir lieu en Chine continentale. Les objets ainsi convoités proviennent pour la grande majorité de collections privées, selon les informations données par les commissaires-priseurs. Les questions qui se posent autour de ces matériaux de grande valeur historique et matérielle sont multiples : quelle est l’histoire de leur acquisition ? Sont-ce des fruits de pillage (encore très répandu dans cette région du nord-ouest de la Chine jusque 1920), de saisies gouvernementales ou bien encore de transmission par descendance ? Les ventes sont-elles destinées à un large public, comprenant collectionneurs privés, bibliothèques nationales (par exemple) et/ou des particuliers ? Le royaume de Xixia a duré 190 ans. Dix empereurs se sont succédés et ont laissé leur empreinte militaire, économique et culturelle dans l’histoire de la Chine. Anéantis par Gengis Khan en 1227, leur écriture a continué d’être en usage pendant plus de 200 ans. N’étant pas considérés comme de légitimes descendants de dynasties chinoises, leur royaume ne figure pas dans la chronologie officielle. L’intérêt pour cet empire si particulier n’apparaît qu’en 1804, lorsqu’un historien de la dynastie de Qing, Zhang Shu, découvre le premier artefact tangoute (une stèle). S’en suivront quelques études et publications scientifiques jusqu’au début du 20ème siècle, période marquée par l’arrivée des chercheurs étrangers (Pelliot, Stein, Kozlov) qui vont collecter un nombre important d’objets et textes tangoutes. Le gouvernement local, réalisant avec stupéfaction de l’intérêt des étrangers à se « servir » dans ce trésor jusqu’alors ignoré, décide d’interdire toute visite en ces lieux. Longtemps (et encore) considéré comme une fuite de la culture matérielle chinoise vers l’Occident, l’objet tangoute prend alors une dimension sociale importante, qui joue dans la politique nationale de reconnaissance et d’appartenance du patrimoine culturel et matériel de la Chine, et par extension entraîne une réaffirmation de son appartenance historique.

A Decade of Auctions: What Place for Tangut Objects within the Cultural and Historical Legacy of China?

Artefacts and Buddhist textual fragments from the Xixia, or Tangut kingdom (1038-1227 AD) began to appear at auctions in mainland China over a decade ago. These coveted historical objects are mostly owned by private collectors according to the information provided by the auctioneers. However, these objects of great historical and material value raise a number of questions: What is their provenance? Are they the products of looting (which was widespread in north-west China until 1920)? Of governmental seizures or even by inheritance? Are the sales aimed at a larger public of private collectors, national libraries (for example) and/or individuals? Ten emperors ruled over the Tangut Xixia kingdom for 190 years, leaving their military, economic and cultural mark on the history of China. Although the kingdom was annihilated by Genghis Khan and his troops in 1227, the Tangut script remained in use until the 15th century. As the Tangut were not considered legitimate descendants of Chinese dynasties, their kingdom does not appear in China’s official historiography. The first scholar to pay attention to this kingdom was the Qing scholar Zhang Shu in 1804, who discovered the first Tangut artefact—a stele. There followed several studies and academic publications up to the beginning of the 20th century, a period marked by the arrival of foreign explorers (Pelliot, Stein, Kozlov), who started to excavate and collect a large number of objects and Tangut texts. The local government, amazed by the interest of foreigners in “taking possession of” these long-ignored treasures, decided to put an end to this drain and to stop the outflow of these artefacts to the West. Long (and still) considered as the dispersal of Chinese material culture to the West, Tangut objects now take on an important social dimension, which figures in the national politics of identification and the role of cultural and material patrimony of China and by extension brings about a reaffirmation of their historical presence.


Hong Kong Baptist University

Maritime Matters: Oceans, Objects and Collecting in Early Modern China

While Chinese pictorial representations of aquatic creatures have received recent scholarly attention (Greenberg 2016; Wang 2017), the collecting and artistic integration of the three-dimensional products of marine organisms and animals in China remain under-studied (with the exception of the study of coral in Lacey 2015; Grasskamp 2016; Grasskamp forthcoming 2018). Examining shells, pearls and sponges this paper intends to reconstruct the notions that early modern Chinese collectors and painters associated with oceanic objects; how they understood, but also creatively invented aspects of these special objects’ relationships to animals and humans, their “social” and “global lives” (Appadurai 1988; Gerritsen and Riello 2015).

Fred Yi SHAN

The Ohio State University

Dust of the Song Dynasty: Huang Pilie (1763-1825) and His Collection of Song Editions

In 1802, after a fire destroyed his house in west Suzhou, Huang Pilie 黃丕烈 (1763-1825) moved his renowned collection of Song-edition books to the east side of the city where literati households and bookshops concentrated. Naming his collection Baisong yichan 百宋一廛 (lit. One hundred Song editions in one residence) Huang at once expressed a sense of humbleness about this new space and took pride in the quality and size of this collection. In a rhapsody dedicated to this place and Huang’s collection, his friend Gu Guangqi 顧廣圻 (1770-1839) defended the special value assigned to Song-edition books by pointing out that they were indispensable for collating texts (jiaoshu 校書), which was like “sweeping dust (fuchen 拂塵).” The Buddhist concept of fuchen, meaning “sweeping away” mental afflictions, had long migrated into the Neo-Confucian vocabulary to explain the process of spiritual-moral self- cultivation for the literati. Gu’s rhapsody and Huang’s annotations to it have been studied as a bibliographic innovation, but I argue that metaphors such as “residence” and “dust” in these sources compel us to ask new questions about the materiality of books and their relationship with collectors. For instance, in my research on Huang Pilie, I ask: How do the biographies of the collector and his rare book collection intertwine in the records of dreams, desires, illness, and dislocation? How do the boundaries between the subject and objects become blurred in both tangible and intangible ways? Existing scholarship on book history has explored the materiality of books mainly in terms of their physical appearance, print technology, trade, and transportation. My dissertation work enriches the field by studying how what we call rare books were acquired, maintained, curated, and reproduced from the 1780s to 1937, thereby examining book collecting’s role in shaping Chinese intellectual, spiritual, and social changes. I show that a long process of “collecting” creates the reality of “rare books” and the identity of “the collector.” In this particular case study, by examining Huang’s networking with evidential scholars, his bibliographic and technological knowledge, and his spirituality, I demonstrate how continuous activities of researching, acquiring, curating, and duplicating rare books simultaneously transformed their value, status, and function and blurred the boundaries of the collector’s material, social, and spiritual worlds.


Chair: Valérie LAVOIX (INALCO)

CHEN Guangchen

Princeton University

A Name Searching for its Object: The Life of Jia and the Contestation of Authenticity

Jia (斝) is a type of drinking vessel that exists only as a name in historical texts, but no material evidence binds it to any specific object. And yet its “life” has included several significant moments: the Song Dynasty 宣和博古圖 for the first time suggests its material correspondence; in Dream of the Red Chamber Cao Xueqin plays with a Jia’s provenance to construct a curious narrative; the discovery of the Oracle Bone Script at the end of the 19th century allows Luo Zhenyu and Wang Guowei to reexamine its philological roots; and lastly, informed by his research in material culture, the modern writer Shen Congwen provides a reading of Cao Xueqin’s fictional depiction to open up the debate about authenticity. This paper will show that these moments, which together constitute the biography of Jia, are connected to important developments in intellectual history. I argue that the act of naming contains both a regime of meaning-value production and a narrative sequence. At the center of the issue is the correspondence (or the lack thereof) between the nominal and the substantial: do names properly denominate objects? Is the act of naming, with its inherent authorizing power, accurate and legitimate? The disconnectedness between names and objects is resolved through narrative, but how can the latter’s reliability be guaranteed? By examining these diverse approaches to the vessel, this paper will demonstrate that, although the establishment of historic authenticity relies heavily on object-based evidence, the interpretation of the latter is conditioned by a discourse of provenance, which renders the line between history and fiction rather blurry. Even more importantly, it argues that authenticity is itself historicized as a result of a changing episteme.


State Library of Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Facets of the Mountain Censer in Early Medieval Chinese Poetry

The so-called boshanlu 博山爐, or mountain censer, is a particular type of incense burner which appeared in a fully developed form during the Western Han period. Its most distinguishing feature is the high mountain-shaped lid adorned with animal and human figures and vegetation motifs. The spectacular shape and complex iconography of this vessel, as well as its sudden appearance, raised in the last decades questions about its significance and function. Mountain censers are generally interpreted as representations of Penglai or other mythical island of xian-immortals in the Eastern Sea. The origins and employment of the vessel are frequently brought into connection with cults of immortality during the Western Han. These modern interpretations of the boshanlu, however, largely obscure the multiplicity of meanings the vessel possessed in various contexts. The present paper examines extant pre-Tang textual records on the boshanlu, with a special focus on lyrical poetry shi from the Six Dynasties (222-589). In these compositions the incense burner is connected with the themes of feasting, erotic love, abandoned women, or with the frustrated ambitions of an upright official. The metaphoric meanings associated with the vessel in poetry are thus very different from the religious symbolism scholars have discerned in the material object. The paper examines this discrepancy, considers the ways metaphoric meanings are engendered in these poems, and explores how particular iconographical motifs are re-interpreted and imbued with new connotations in poetry. To what degree are these poetic depictions determined by referential accuracy and to what degree are they conditioned by the traditional system of allegorical connotations and by conventional associations of topics and imagery in poetry? Consideration of these issues would also allow a better understanding of the nature of verbal representations of material objects in early medieval “poetry on things” (yongwu).


University of Bologna

Lu Xun’s Sense of Objects: Exchange, Consumption and Commodity Fetishism in Lu Xun’s “Medicine” (1919) and “Soap” (1924)

Lu Xun is the inevitable figure in every canon of modern Chinese literature. (Wang, 1992: 1) One of his many accomplishments is that he describes the transformation of modes and processes of exchange and consumption in fine detail throughout the short stories “Medicine” and “Soap”. The former narrates the purchase of a mantou dipped in human blood by a desperate father who wants to cure his sick son while abiding by traditional Chinese healing practices. The latter recounts the purchase of a foreign soap by a lustful husband, enchanted by bourgeois manners and lifestyles, who wishes to transform his dull wife into an attractive woman. Don Slater has suggested that exchange and consumption are both social and cultural practices and that commodities can be understood either in terms of their functions or semiotically. These two readings are often at odds with each other because “[s]ocial practice is properly acknowledged as cultural, but then disappears entirely into the sign system”. (1997:147) My presentation contends that Lu Xun wrote “Medicine” and “Soap” to suggest that only after fully grasping the proper function and the semiotic of commodities will the Chinese be able to become modern citizens endowed with agentivity: in both stories there is certainly a clear metonymy between verbal and material exchanges. However, the emphasis with which Lu Xun describes the materiality of both the medicine and the soap, the sensuality (e.g. the scent) emanated by both these commodities, the analysis of the processes of fixation and the mystifications of these commodities on the part of the protagonists of the tales, together with the active relationship between these two things and the living bodies of the protagonists, – all inherent parts of the notion of the very concept of the fetish, (Pietz 1987: 23) – further complicate these two complex stories.


ChairAlain THOTE (EPHE)


Seattle Art Museum and University of Washington

A Dunhuang imaginary: The case of mistaken identity in the biography of a Tang dynasty votive tablet

Nicholas Thomas writes, ”As socially and culturally salient entities, objects change in defiance of their material stability. The category to which a thing belongs, the emotion and judgment it prompts, and narrative it recalls, are all historically refigured.” A 7th-century clay votive tablet in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum initiates such a refiguration in the collection of late-Qing dynasty bibliophile, Ye Changchi 葉昌熾 (1849-1917), where it was categorized by a paper label as something from the “stone caves of Dunhuang.” Comparative Tang-period Buddhist votive tablets are well-represented in the material record. There is a standardized evocation on the reverse of several examples, including the words shanyeni (good-deed clay images). Xuanzang’s (602–664) return to Xi’an had reinvigorated this image-making practice, and those carrying inscriptions in an imperial calligraphic style are contemporary with the Great Goose Pagoda, built by Emperor Tang Taizong to house the scriptures and votive images that the monk brought back from his travels. After Liu Yanting 刘燕庭 (1793–1852) rediscovered clay tablets near the Great Goose Pagoda in the 19th century, they became a staple resource for those in jinshixue studies. Current East Asian scholarship continues a lively debate on the etymology of the name(s); probable roots in Indian “pledge plaques”; the comparison to Tibetan tsha tsha; and the iconography and visual categories of votive tablets. None of this scholarship, past and present, suggest any connection to Dunhuang. The simplest explanation that Ye Changchi simply made a mistake in the label would not take into account his uncommon access as Gansu’s Provincial Education Commissioner 提督学政 from 1902 to 1906. He not only made rubbings of local monuments but also collected sutra manuscripts and paintings from Mogao’s Library Cave. This paper describes our tablet’s objecthood in two notable aspects—artistic (the calligraphy) and bodily (the added cremation ash and the maker’s fingerprints). We also reflect upon its mistaken identity in the label, appearing anomalous given Ye’s significant expertise. Was it Ye himself who located the tablet thus, outside his habitual world of interactions, that is, his world of books and epigraphical study? Or his descendants and their agents, who made it available in the marketplace after the Second Sino-Japanese War, as a reminder to recall Ye’s Dunhuang experience? A moment before it was labeled, the tablet prompted “emotion and judgment,” becoming, momentarily, a locus for an imaginary Dunhuang.

KIM Moonsil Lee

Rhode Island College

The Capacity of Ancient Vessels: Vessel Volumes in the Catalogues from the Song to the Qing Periods, and Now

No ancient object was ever designed to sit in a museum case. Vessels, in particular, were originally made and used for cooking, serving, storing, or offering food before they were purchased and stored by collectors. In order to understand the original function of vessels as food and drink containers in the context of the history of food and diet, it is significant for researchers to know the actual capacity of the vessels, i.e., the amount of food or drink each vessel could contain. However, as the original function for containers has been lost and the new functions of decorative displaying and appreciation have been emphasized, modern museum catalogue systems generally do not record the capacity of vessels. This change in perspective on vessel capacity can be detected by reviewing Chinese catalogues from the Song to the Qing periods. In Kao gu tu, which was compiled during the Northern Song period, the descriptions for each vessel contain not only its dimension (height, depth, diameter or length), but also its actual volume. Meanwhile, Xi Qing xu jian jia bian in the 18th century contains the dimension and weight of each vessel instead of its capacity. This paper examines the convention of cataloguing ancient Chinese bronze vessels from Kao gu tu, Bo gu tu, and Xi qing xu jian, in order to trace changes in the ancient Chinese recognition of the function of vessels from the Song to the Qing periods. Also, this paper introduces my own experimental research conducted at the Freer and Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian Institution in order to propose a proper method of measuring vessel volumes so that museum systems can include volume information for researchers.

ZHANG Jinghong

Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen

Chinese Tea Serving Pitcher and the Debate Over Its Multiple Cultural Origins

This paper traces the complex origins and uses of Chinese tea serving pitcher in transnational cultural contexts. Tea serving pitcher is now popularly used in the practice of art of tea in China. Its main function is to ensure that each guest gets the average taste of tea. This tea utensil wasn’t formally used as a part of making and serving tea until the mid 1980s in Taiwan. Taiwanese tea persons declared their invention of this utensil, and since then they have been updating its forms and materials with ceaseless innovations. My recent investigation, however, discloses alternative versions of the origins of tea serving pitcher. For instance, it is said to be borrowed by Taiwanese artists from the Japanese utensil for sake, and as a matter of fact there are many ongoing co-operations between Japanese and Taiwanese artists for designing newer forms of tea serving pitcher. Another origin is declared to be England, where a similar form of serving pitcher has been used in English tea for milk. At the same time, tea serving pitcher also appears in Korean tea ceremony and is claimed to be associated with Korean cultural customs. Moreover, now China is the biggest market for various tea utensils. Under the current discourse of national cultural renaissance, Chinese actors are more actively than ever to declare that many tea elements could all be found their origins in ancient Chinese culture. But more interestingly, in some Chinese regional tea ceremony, the tea serving pitcher has continuously been rejected to use for specific reasons. This paper aims to provide an ethnography about how tea serving pitcher is used in various cultural contexts, how actors from different cultural background debate over its cultural origins, and what these variations and debates tell us about the transnational flow of “Chinese” objects and the meanings they are attached by multiple actors.


Chair: Daniela CAMPO (University of Strasbourg)

Fresco SAM-SIN

Leiden University

From Clan to Empire: The Manchu Shaman’s Changing Toolkit

In early Tungusic Jurchen societies (from which the Manchus emerged), shamans were crucial in keeping a community stable and safe. Their power, being both political and spiritual, clashed with the ambitions of Nurhaci who made it from clan chieftain to khan of the Aisin state in 1616. His khanic rule, eventually leading to the establishment of Qing rule by his son Hong taiji in 1636, did not tolerate the power of shamans. He started to cap their influence, with khan Qianlong’s 1747 codification of Manchu shamanism as the summum of control over Manchu religion. This paper explores how the devaluation of shaman power is reflected in the changes in the toolkit of Manchu shamans, once used to rule and shamanize. What changes have been adopted to the amount, the materiality, and the application of these tools? What can the changes to the Manchu shaman toolkit, every single one being a primary evidence in its own right, tell us that primary written sources cannot?

YANG Ya-ting

Freie Universität Berlin

Qipao: Femininity and Modern China

Among the costumes in Chinese sartorial tradition, none combines femininity and modernity better than qipao. Now a symbol of Chinese femininity, qipao is a dress characterized by an asymmetric yoke, stand-up collars, and high slits. The origin of qipao dates back to the early 1920s in Shanghai where Chinese women chose qipao over Western-style garments as a response to nationalism. Its simplicity in form and adaptability to different body shapes hastened its popularity in the late 1920s. Since then, qipao became a national and everyday dress on which Chinese women demonstrate their taste and creativity. The widespread usage and appeal of qipao derives from its functionality and versatility. It accommodates women of all ages and occupations and suits all occasions and bodily features. In 1930s Shanghai, qipao incorporates Western-style features such as fabric and accessories, a trend that reflects commercialism and cosmopolitanism of the city. Images of women in qipao circulated in posters, calendars, magazines, films, and became representative of the city. How does qipao evolves from a commonplace dress in the 1930s to a symbol of Chinese femininity? This presentation gives a brief history of qipao and its usage today, including stylistic differences, production, status, social meaning, and generational differences in the perception of qipao.