Speakers: Nathan Woolley (N), Stephen Whiteman (S)
Location: National Library of Australia
N: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the National Library of Australia. My name is Nathan Woolley. I’m the curator of the exhibition Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644 to 1911. As we begin this evening I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land. I thank their elders, past and present for caring for this land that we’re now privileged to call home. Tonight we continue with the series held by the National Library as part of the events surrounding this exhibition, Celestial Empire, held in collaboration with the Australian Centre on China in the World at the Australian National University. Celestial Empire and its public programs would not be possible without the support of a range of collaborators. This exhibition and its associated events are very much the result of this collaboration between government, commercial partners and individual donors.
So first we have to thank the National Library of China many of their items with us. I might also mention that this week at the National Library of Australia we have a team from the National Library of China who have been involved in helping us turn some of the pages in some of the items in the exhibition so if you revisit the exhibition you’ll find that the many new items are on display or at least new pages of some of the items now on display. Also I’d like to thank the commercial partners who are collaborating with us in this exhibition. These are Shell in Australia, the Seven Network, Wanda One, Optus Singtel, Huawei, Cathay Pacific and TFE Hotels. Our event partners are the ANU’s Australian Centre on China in the World and Asia Society Australia. Our government partners are the federal government through the National Collecting Institution’s Touring Outreach Program and the Australian China Council and the ACT Government through Visit Canberra.
I’d like to thank you all for joining us this evening to listen to Dr Stephen Whiteman as he discusses printing at the Qing dynasty’s court. Stephen came to Australia in 2014 to take up the position of lecturer in the Department of Art History at the University of Sydney. He received his doctorate in art history from Stanford University in 2011, and he’s previously taught art and the architectural history of Asia at the University of Pennsylvania, Middlebury College and the University of Colorado. His research focuses on visual culture and the built environment in imperial China and Asia more broadly and he has a particular interest in gardens and the landscape. One of his most recent publications is Thirty-Six Views: the Kangxi Emperor’s Mountain Estate in Poetry and Prints, which is a book about one of the books we have in the exhibition.
In addition to his own varied research, he has also engaged in a range of collaborative projects and one of these is the New Histories of Southeast Asian Art which is a research program funded through the Getty Foundation. And he’s also involved in the curation of an exhibition of contemporary Chinese prints at the University of Sydney which will be held later in the year.
And just a very personal note, I’m very pleased to have someone of Stephen’s ability in Australia. Under the entire unSinological community in Australia I ... you’re all very pleased that we have someone of his interests to join us in our research about China. Stephen, I think, would be happy to answer questions at the end of our talk, so if you have any queries please wait until then. But please now join with me in welcoming Dr Stephen Whiteman.
[Applause] S: Thank you very much, thank you, Nathan, for that very nice introduction and for inviting me here this evening, thank you all for coming. I’d also like to join in thanking Nathan or join Nathan in thanking the Australian Centre for China in the World, and the National Library both of Australia of course and also of China. I took a spin through the exhibition this afternoon and saw new copies of many things that I’ve seen many times before which is always useful and wonderful and then real versions of things that I’ve only seen in photograph and reproduction which for an art historian like myself who tries to be very closely connected with real objects and real things was very, very exciting. And it’s a great honour to be here at the National Library of Australia. I am not Australian, of course, as my accent will undoubtedly reveal, but my brief time in Australia has already brought me here for work on a number of occasions and I think it’s really an incredible resource and a really incredible environment. I was going to make some political pitch about funding Trove but ... oh wait, I just did that. But it really is terrific to be here tonight so thank you very much.
Tonight’s talk as Nathan mentioned will focus on printing in the Qing court. And it’s such a pleasure to give it connected to an exhibition like this, because for those of you who have seen the show now we’re going to spend a fair bit of time, as much time as possible on objects, books that are in the exhibition and so hopefully they will be familiar to you. Many of the images are ones that Nathan kindly provided me and so may be different pages than the one you’ve actually seen, some of them will be familiar, some will be new but in any case hopefully these in conjunction with some other prints and images and maps in which I’m particularly interested and have been working on will help to sort of place this show into a larger court printing context if you will.
We’re going to focus tonight largely on printing in the court under this man, the Kangxi emperor who reigned from 1662 to 1722. And this is a good image to start with, I think to lay some of the key themes of the evening. You see here Kangxi seated in what’s called a xin—the genre of painting is called a xingle tu or a ... image of sort of recreation or relaxation. This is not a formal court portrait, it’s a casual portrait of him doing something in his own time if you will and he’s actually seated in what is a really a very cramped cubicle if you will, a pillow that you can just see there between his ... between the folds of his robe or the opening of his robe with the book on his lap and it’s a small library surrounded, he’s surrounded by stacks of books in their silk-covered wrappers and the book—sort of curiously blank—sits in his lap and one could indulge in all sorts of readings of that blankness. But for the moment let’s just assume that it just worked better or it was too much trouble to paint.
But the notion of Kangxi, someone who was a voracious learner, a voracious reader, is very much in keeping with what we understand about him as a historical person. He was greatly interested ... he used native language, he was the second Manchu emperor and was the last for his—insofar as I know—for his first tongue to be Manchu. But he learnt Chinese, he developed a tolerable hand as a calligrapher and was both very interested in Chinese history and Chinese literature and also what in Qing language was known as western learning: knowledge that was being brought over from Europe by missionaries, particularly Jesuits, but also people of other denominations to the Qing court where they felt they were trying to convert ... Well they didn’t think that, they were trying to convert the emperor and the emperor was sucking up information about the outside world at a rather rapid rate.
And this last piece is also represented in the sort of curious perspective with which this painting is constructed, pictorial perspective in which actually the point of recession—if you think about optical perspective all converging on a single point—the point of recession is actually in the bottom button in his robe and so there’s a sort of weird vertiginous thing going on in this picture where we’re both sort of looking down and looking up at him at the same time. And the reason I mention that is because we’re going to come back several times tonight to not only notions of Chinese knowledge, knowledge generated in ... within a Chinese tradition or a Chinese history but also its sort of very careful hybridisation with if you will ... with forms of western learning and the creation of something new out of that idea and why that might have been a significant notion.
The other reason we’re going to focus on Kangxi, or the primary reasons we’re going to focus on Kangxi, from a printing perspective are two. The first is that printing during the Kangxi era was both of extraordinarily high quality as you’ll see and also in many ways quite innovative. The court during Kangxi era was using printing in a way that I think we can say even from a modern perspective as a form of media in very interesting ways. It was encoding or building ideology or complex ideology into original productions in ways that are quite new to Chinese printing and particularly into the use of printing in the court. And the other reason that we’re focusing on Kangxi tonight is that because of the way in which precedent tended to work in Chinese courts which is to say that the sort of broad vocabulary of rulership or emperorship if you will, the terms on which the dynasty operated philosophically were often set by the first, or in the Qing’s case, the second emperor, because Kangxi’s father, Shunzhi, died quite young. Because those terms of rulership tended to be established early on and then built on, copied, expanded, amplified, however you like to think of it, by later rulers, understanding the ways in which Kangxi was innovative and the types of genres and technologies he established will serve as a sort of key for understanding a lot of the ways in which print was used by the Qing court later on.
But in order to understand that fully we’ll also be looking a little bit at a few books particularly by the Qianlong emperor, the man who’s sitting here on the left when he was still Prince Hongli, the Prince Hongli. And also I think there are a couple of works from the Jiajing and Guangzhou reigns, which is to say the nineteenth century. And these paintings sort of ... also sort of set up another theme that I want to talk about some more this evening which is the idea of printing like manuscript which is to say writing by hand specifically ... printing like manuscript, one way of understanding it as being a process of preservation and transmission, that the notion of copying something by hand, whether you’re a medieval scribe in a castle in Europe or a monk in a monastery in China the first and foremost issue is the preservation of a text that itself we don’t want to ephemeral but that is being preserved in a media, paper, silk, bamboo, whatever it is, in a medium that is ephemeral. So the notion that we preserve a text or tradition through copying in some form or another and printing is of course a form of that copying.
But the other thing that’s interesting about ... and again here we see ... I you know just sort of [unclear] chose two images of these two emperors both doing essentially the same thing, which is preparing to practise calligraphy, they’re both avid calligraphers. Kangxi supposedly practised calligraphy every day for 30 years or something, some monumental time. In any case here they are practising calligraphy. [The other thing that’s interesting about them] is that this notion of printing as a process of transmission and preservation is a sort of interesting metaphor for dynastic and imperial succession. Printing was practised by courts because when we think about Chinese sort of political economy, the notion of dynastic succession, the move from the Song to the Yan to the Ming to the Qing is a notion of essentially in part custodianship, a sort of series of successors that rise and fall within the sort of grand arc of Chinese culture.
And so printing is a way of demonstrating receipt of and preservation of a sort of custodianship of the broad textural tradition over the long durée. And it also is a way of understanding imperial succession in the sense that I was talking about, this notion that precedents in the dynasty are established and then they’re repeated and carried forth and modified but that there is in all these sort of three layers, printing, dynasties and emperors a sort of idea of a model being copied or transmitted or relayed forward through time.
Just to give you a brief sort of two slide crash course in the history of printing in China, which I think is useful for a couple of reasons. Printing was invented in China in the sense that we think of printing which is to say a wood lock that’s been carved and layered with ink and then printed. Printing was invented in China in the seventh century and we believe now principally arose more than anywhere else around the copying and transmission of Buddhist texts as they came across from India. It was a way of sort of disseminating texts more broadly first.
It fell within a very specific series of cultural practices however and if we look at the printing of Buddhist texts for instance in the Tang court and the Tang dynasty court because the Tang emperors were great patrons of Buddhism, it sort of runs parallel to the process or the habit of copying manuscript text ... of copying sutras by hand. Emperors would sponsor manuscript copying as a form of karmic ... of good practice, sorry, I’m not coming up with things I didn’t write ... a way of accruing merit. You would sponsor the hand-copying of Buddhist texts. But they also began to sponsor the production of printed text and this is actually a very, very famous frontispiece of a sutra called the diamond sutra now in the British museum, to relatively later production and it actually ... it’s not a court print. I offer it here simply because it’s such a fine work of printing.
But this sort of idea that manuscript and printing, both repetitive practices, that through their sort of cyclical habit can accrue merit for the donor or the supporter or even the person actually doing the copying suggests an idea that I want to sort of emphasise tonight which is the relationship between manuscript or a unique object and printing or on multiple. This is important for two reasons, first as the print scholar, Roger Chartier has pointed out—he’s a European print scholar—every premodern book started its life as a manuscript. Which is to say, the first they did was they wrote it down and then they took it, in Europe they took it to the print shop and someone laid out the print. After, Guttenberg laid out the print and created a multiple item of this manuscript. But in China it’s actually ... they’re even in a sense more intimately related. To create a wood block you create a manuscript and then you flip it over on the top of this blank block and you glue it down using rice paste and then you take a cloth and you rub it until it’s very, very, very thin and then you carve right through the paper and leave and then you wash off the remainder of the paper and there you have your block.
And so every book literally starts out as a manuscript and the manuscript actually sort of gives up its life to become the book, if you like. I don’t mean to be too dramatic about that but there is a sort of integral relationship between these things, and the reason I stress that is because often we talk about printing, and I'm going to return to printing later, as somehow diametrically opposed to and divorced from manuscript. We talk about the idea of the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. Roger Benjamin’s famous essay in which Benjamin proposes that the essence of the work of art, the aura in the work of art is destroyed when it becomes a multiple, when it’s sort of reproduced mechanically but actually I want to argue that the essence of the manuscript remains in the printed object in some really important ways for how objects operated in the world.
And so as a result that leads to the second point of significance, this relationship between manuscript and [unclear] which is that the two, the manuscript and the multiple, the manuscript and the printed work can actually end up doing remarkably similar types of ideological work or bearing similar levels of ideological significance. Whether that is karmic significance, the sponsoring of a sutra or cultural significance in form or, as we’ll see, in the court political significance.
In the thousand years between, let’s say, the invention of print and the rise of the Qing, printing exploded in China particularly from the Song dynasty on so roughly the tenth, eleventh century and then again very much in the Ming, the fifteenth century, the scale of printing, the volume of printing, the types of printing, the things that were printed over and over, all of this stuff just explodes such that the book and the imprint becomes essentially a ubiquitous part of at least Chinese urban life, but actually even Chinese rural life through different genres and different types of printing.
The court particularly as I mentioned really latches onto this as a form of preservation, reproduction and dissemination of knowledge, if you will. And so, as I mentioned, this sort of process of transmitting or copying text is in one sense a form of dynastic legitimacy. It becomes a key activity in the claiming of what’s now known as ... well what’s now translated as the mandate of heaven, tian ming, the signs that heaven has bestowed upon a new dynasty the right to rule. And they do ... and it represents a sort of form of receipt of the mandate of heaven or a demonstration of one’s legitimacy for receiving the mandate of heaven because of the dynasty’s therefore demonstrated interest in preserving Chinese culture.
But it also actually forms a sort of real politique for new dynasties because new dynasties have to attract the loyalty of the scholar official class, the elites who are so-called remnant subjects or whose parents are remnant subjects from the previous dynasty. And although the court sponsors these activities or the emperor pays for these books, he of course doesn’t actually make the books. Who makes them? The scholars in the court whose scholarship, whose work, whose editing, whose compiling, all these sort of essential tasks in creating a new edition of the Confucian classics, a new edition of the dynastic histories. They’re the ones who are being sponsored in essence, and so this is also a habit of sort of ... or technique of imperial patronage especially in new dynastic settings but even further on into given dynasties.
What we see here are an internal page, probably ... not the first page but the first page of the 38th volume or fascicle of a book called a unified gazetteer or the great gazetteer of the Ming dynasty. And it was a sort of geography of the Ming dynasty in a very generous sense of geography, which is to say not only a sort of lay of the land but also ... well I guess sort of how I learned geography and we all learn geography as kids you know the ... you know what the sort of big productions, where the minerals were, where the famous mountains were, who the famous people were, the sort of history of the empire so to speak.
And you’ll note just some things that we will look at in greater detail in just a moment, the colour of the cover in a sort of blue silk that was used often for imperial binding, the very white quality of the paper, even now six centuries later basically, which is because this paper ... as you’ll see again in a second ... it has a very high wood pulp content and so is relatively low acid and doesn’t brown and doesn’t start to flake. And also the very, very nice calligraphy, it’s very legible but it also has very nicely shaped characters, it looks a lot like a brush which is a key quality of finer Chinese printing, is the capturing of calligraph qualities.
So this is the historic backdrop to printing in the Qing so to speak. Now just very briefly I want to introduce the Qing and I don’t know whether earlier lecturers in this series, whether perhaps Professor Barmé talked about this at all. David Brophy hasn’t come yet, has he? So you’ll hear more about this when David Brophy comes—my colleague, David Brophy—comes from Sydney. The rulers of the Qing were ostensibly Manchu, and we won’t get into the meaning of ostensibly into his particular case, but they came down from northeast Asia They came down from ... from ... well from Manchuria, with a group of allies, Mongolians and some Chinese and conquered basically the red part, which you see there which is roughly the Ming territory, or what we now sometimes call China proper.
And keeping in mind that the Great Wall which is dotted up there in purple was as much a .. or even more frankly a conceptual and cultural barrier than it was a physical barrier. Didn’t really stop very many people from crossing into China. You can imagine the degree to which the Manchus as a so-called conquest dynasty faced a sort of challenging situation when they went to establish both the mandate of heaven and actual pragmatic rule. They were a relatively small population of non-Chinese who were trying to conquer a really. Really large population, a very large territory of people who actually were a wide variety of different ethnicities but sort of identified as China now we see. And this was a sort of cultural conquest, this was a military and territorial conquest and it was very much also a sort of conceptual conquest and a lot of the early printing that occurs speaks to this precise project.
Now on the upper right we see ... these are both works that are in the exhibition ... in the lower left ... we’ll start there ... is something called the Illustrated Manchu Rituals,which I was a little bit unsure about including and then Nathan and I confirmed when looking at it today that it’s actually manuscript. I mean it’s handwritten, it’s not a printed book, but in any case it demonstrates sort of quickly this notion of Manchuness at some point being a distinct ethnic identity and also something that we’re sort of constantly in play over the course of the dynasty, what was Manchu? How do you preserve Manchu? How do you define Manchu? How does it fit within Han culture, Han Chinese culture as a whole? And I’ll sort of say just very broadly that the Manchus were trying to maintain a distinctive Manchu identity while also acknowledging and incorporating Han culture as well as looking at places like Europe and Mongolia and eventually Tibet and various other places to grade ... this sort of ... if not high grade than a very multifaceted ruling identity.
But of more immediate purpose to demonstrating this and a sort of very important genre within Qing printing you see the book on the upper right which I’ve translated it as the mirror of the Qing language. [unclear] For the moment what it is is a Manchu Chinese dictionary, it’s a way of helping people learn to read Manchu, it’s a dictionary that was intended to help people learn to read Manchu, and Chinese officials learned Manchu, and Manchu officials learned Chinese, and they basically ran parallel Manchu Chinese bureaucracies. Every position had a Manchu person and a Han Chinese person occupying it on ostensibly equal footing. And so dictionaries were very, very important part of this and dictionaries are a regular production of the court throughout the dynasty.
But printing also started as an outgrowth of Manchu language—here you can see a little bit more clearly—which was actually an invented script in the early seventeenth century. It was derived from Mongolian, adapted from Mongolian in effort to build up the apparatus necessary for dynastic rule. And so Manchu as an identity became translated through printings; processed and promulgated through printing on a variety of different levels from quite early in the dynasty.
So language certainly was one major genre of things that were being printed but there were many, many others. These included the classics, the Confucian classics, the histories, things like this. The first book actually produced by the Qing court was a history of the Jin which was a Jurchen dynasty, people [who] also came down from Manchuria some centuries earlier. They produced that first in an effort to demonstrate their legitimate succession to Jin rule, if you will. But also great poetry. On the left here you see a page from the imperially selected Tang poems. This was a book that Kangxi ... Kangxi actually published sort of two editions around this, he published the Complete Tang Poetry, which is a massive 900 volume set and then he also produced sort of desktop versions which was the Emperor’s greatest hits of Tang poetry. And ... which of course both of those ... the Quan Tang shi, the Complete Poetry of the Tang of course, is about sort of this idea of preservation that I’m talking about. Although Tang poetry was not in danger of disappearing by the Qing it nevertheless has that sort of symbolic import. The Yuxuan Tang shi, the imperially selected Tang poems conversely have the function of demonstrating to sceptical Han officials that the Manchu emperor knows a thing or two about poetry. Well the fact that someone else probably selected those poems for him is not the point, it’s that he ... then he says that they’re imperially selected poems.
The other thing that I want to point out to you here, and I’m going to have a really hard time doing this without leaving the microphone ... I’ve been told not to leave the microphone but the other thing that I want to use this comparison for is an opportunity to compare a little quality. Because one of the ways of understanding Qing printing is its relative quality. And I’m going to have to speed up here, but on the right you’ll notice that the characters, and we’ll see it better in other images in a second, they’re all kind of square, they don’t really have a greatly calligraphic quality to them. The lines are quite straight, there’s not much variation in width, etc, etc as compared to say these characters which look a lot more like brushwork.
These characters are much faster to cut. Early in the Song, once commercial printing started to explode, they developed a particular printing font, so to speak, in which you would lay out the sheet and then the cutter—the block cutter—would cut all the cuts in one direction all the way down the sheet then he’d turn the block and cut them all in the other dir ... turn the block and finish it off. There was a very, very fast way to cut but it produced the sort of blocky script. This on the left is a much more painstaking way to cut because the goal is to produce the effect of handwriting and indeed we’ll see in a second a preface that actually is supposed to capture the emperor’s handwriting. It doesn’t, because it’s much nicer than the emperor’s handwriting, but that’s not the point, it’s supposed to look like the imperial brush.
The other thing you’ll notice is that this paper around the bottom on the right is browned and we’ll see some other examples of this and you may have noticed a couple of pages in the exhibition that were quite brown. Cheaper paper, paper with a very high bamboo content and so it’s a higher acid and so it gets brown, I mentioned that earlier. The paper on the left is very, very fine paper, it’s called kaizhi, it’s a sort of ... broad category’s called kaizhi paper, it’s paper with a very high mulberry content in it and so it remains very white and very soft. It’ll still fox, which is getting those brown spots on it, but it doesn’t degrade in the same way. It’s more expensive and the run of a book like the Yuxuan Tang shi—the imperially selected Tang poems—was much, much smaller and so ... and the run of something like the dictionary, which is really the court sponsoring knowledge production, right? We want lots of people to have this so they’ll learn how to read Manchu, it’s much larger, the materials are cheaper, the production is cheaper and so there is this sort of scale of quality that helps us to judge certain things about the books.
Another really important genre of printing was that related to calendars and the closely related subject of astronomy. And before I go on with that I’ll just note so that is also on the left ... on the left of the left is a very good example of the sort of blocky Song script, it’s slightly nicer version of it but nevertheless it’s a sort of very square cut calligraphy but you can see on the right it’s much sort of higher calligraphic lines, you can see that again. The left was a Kangxi period calendar, the right is a Qianlong period star chart and both of these are important for a variety of reasons. The first is the practical aspect, you got to know what day it is because while operating a lunar calendar it’s a slightly more complex calendar, there are leap months, several leap months a year, varying numbers of days, changes from year to year so the publication of the calendar is actually a really, really important thing to make sure your empire ... to make sure the trains run on time, right? You got to have a good calendar. But connected to this intimately is an imperial function. The emperor is the ritual setter of the calendar and if the emperor sets it correctly that means he’s in communication with heaven and if the emperor sets it incorrectly that’s a serious blow to legitimacy.
What’s interesting about this is in the 1680s, in the mid Kangxi reign, there’s something that we now know is the calendar controversy, in which the Jesuits at court, in an effort to curry favour with the emperor, pointed out that the imperial astronomers had gotten the date of a key eclipse wrong. And the emperor said mmm, I don’t know, why don’t you both predict this? And we’ll see who's right. Now the Jesuits turned out to be right and therefore ... and that sort of won them a sort of serious place in Kangxi’s mind, if not hearts if you will, I mean he started to take Jesuit science very seriously in a lot of ways because it was more accurate in many regards. What's significant about this and the reason that I wanted to ... one of the sort of key ideas about this interaction between Qing and the west that I want to sort of set with you is he notion that the overall ritual structure doesn’t change, right? The emperor remains the key setter of the calendar, that remained his ritual responsibility, all that changes is the gear inside, the way the math is done and switches and as we move forward we’re going to see a couple more examples of this idea, of the idea that global thinking about knowledge and global thinking about printing is substantially a way about switching out a few parts and making them work a little bit differently but the sort of broader structure of the notion that the emperor is the ritual setter of the calendar or anything else like that, that remains consistent within this global context.
You’ll have noticed that the exhibition ... if there is one thing that this exhibition is... I mean it’s stunning for so many things, Nathan, but one of the things it is just full of is amazing maps. And I could have shown the map that was used on the advertisement for this talk, which was not printed, I thought was humorous, but then I was sort of seduced by this map, which is also not printed so I am just violating the printing part twice. But this is a really wonderful map in a broadly, if you will, traditional Chinese fashion, traditional Chinese cartographic fashion of the empire that’s produced during the Jiaqing reign. But it really highlights what I want to emphasise which is that mapmaking ... in printed maps the disseminating of geographic knowledge is also really important, sort of like the calendar, you got to know what date it is, you also have to know where you are. And geography is a key and very longstanding body of knowledge in China. I’m really doing terribly on time.
The sort of major first atlas and major first printing exercise in the Kangxi court was this atlas known as the Huangyu quanlan tu, The Complete Atlas of the Imperial Territories. I’m showing it to you here in a somewhat ... in an inaccurate way. This was done by a student of mine who tied all the different sheets—the 41 sheets of this atlas—together and then geo-rectified it to actually show how it looks on earth, which is interesting for a variety of reasons. What’s most interesting about this map though is from a printing perspective, is first that it was produced by teams of Jesuit and Chinese or Manchu surveyors using European surveying, latitude and longitude technique, so really the cutting edge of surveying technology and cartographic technology in the world at that time. And it was printed in copperplate, not wood block and it was actually the second copperplate production of the Qing court, we’ll see the first in a few minutes. But you can see that it shows in exacting detail once you get in from this huge global view is 41 sheets and this shows the Willow Palisade, which is that thing that looks like a train track sort of cutting across the middle of it. And it was the traditional barrier between Manchuria and China. It shows the geography of at least the core territories of Qing in just unbelievably exacting detail. Both Yongzheng, Kangxi’s son, and Qianlong produce atlases also just like this showing the expanding territory of the Qing.
One of the interesting things about the Yongzheng atlas, version of this atlas which my student in this project demonstrated was that Yongzheng switches instead of to a receding grid switches to a square grid sort of like the Mercator projection. What’s the effect of that? It makes the north, or Manchuria, look much, much larger so suddenly Manchuria isn’t this little province off on the edge, it’s actually like it’s big as China, which it’s not. So this again speaks of the same idea of printing things that are of both strategic or practical use and also printing them in ways that are ideologically meaningful. I think we're going to come back to this print later ‘cause I want to make sure that I don’t keep you as long as Geremie Barmé. But if you have questions about when I just zoomed by we can absolutely come back to it.
This notion of ritual roles, the emperor as chief timekeeper if you will, is played out in a number of other settings. The prints I just showed, there’s no showing the notion of the emperor as a righteous ruler, but also echoed here in another very, very important production, really actually perhaps the finest single work of printing arguably from ... if one can make such a statement ... from the Kangxi court, the so-called Illustrations of Tilling and Weaving or the Gengzhi tu. This is printed in a really ... if you’ve seen it in a very sort of luxurious and quite thick paper, a very luxurious edition and it bears the emperor’s poems, Kangxi’s poems, written across the top and then seams on the bottom. And it’s drawn from a series of 43 scenes of risiculture (rice production) and sericulture (silk production) that date back to the Song dynasty. And nowhere were rice and silk, of course, really ... I mean they were key products of Chinese agriculture but they also had this sort of you know tokenistic quality to them. They were the representative products of Chinese agriculture from a ritual point of view.
And so the Kangxi emperor’s production if you imagine of a very small edition ... and I don’t know precisely the edition. You don’t know, do you? I think the answer is around 200 copies of this were printed. The emperor’s production of a very, very fine edition of this and distribution to a variety of people would have been a demonstration of the seriousness with which he took his role as the chief agriculturalist of the Qing or of the dynasty, that was one of the emperor’s ritual roles. And indeed this was very important for Kangxi. If you think about ... the Ming falls in 1644, the population of China in 1630 so about 10 years, a decade or around the time of the Ming fall and the population a hundred years later is give or take exactly the same. The reason I mention that is because, actually, warfare and famine during the seventeenth century were awful, were terrible. China suffered terribly during the Qing conquest and so a lot of the really important things that Kangxi had to do was not only feed the country and rebuild the country, but also demonstrate the seriousness with which he took that role.
One of the things that Kangxi is particularly remembered for in history is the invention—I don’t know how much time he actually spent out there in the garden—but the invention of an early harvest form of rice, which meant that they were getting two rice crops a year. Which was, at least in Qing hagiography, was an extremely important moment for the feeding of the empire. This is—speaking of succession—is a sort of rift on by Kangxi’s son, the Yongzheng emperor, who has a version of Kangxi’s album. So now we’re going backwards in terms of multiple to unique, but Yongzheng, sort of creepily, has himself painted into the album. That’s Yongzheng there pouring the water onto the rice paddy and he appears in all the scenes doing sort of key things. This is a sort of combination of an acknowledgement of again the importance of the emperor in this role, the idea that the emperor like everybody else needs to farm, needs to eat and also a sort of reflection of Yongzheng’s playfulness.
There also are very rarely hand-painted, hand-coloured versions of this album. I’ve read that they were produced in hand-coloured versions in the court. I actually can’t speak for that, I don’t know exactly how you would assess that and I haven’t seen enough of them to know whether the colouring is inconsistent. But the other thing this points to—I just wanted to mention very quickly—is again the integration of certain western techniques into an otherwise Chinese image. Here you can see, it’s quite illustrated through the railing of a fence that two women are leaning on while they watch the third woman weaving silk. You can see that these images are constructed using a form of modified perspective, that would have been taught by Jesuit painters in the court. And again this points to another example of the way in which printing was one environment in which western technologies, if you think about it, were integrated into images or ideas or contexts that are otherwise significant in largely Chinese or Manchu terms.
Depicting the emperor directly or indirectly as we just talked about is another key innovation to Kangxi printing and actually this is ... I should have stressed and I should stress again, while we normally think about court printing as you know the complete poems of the Tang, the 24 histories or however many histories you happen to be at in the moment of the reproduction, of the Confucian classics, one of the real innovations of Kangxi printing was the introduction of a lot of new genres and themes. Things like printing versions of the Gengzhi tu, the images of doing weaving, is not necessarily so new, the Ming also printed some essentially didactic or moral texts. But here we see something that’s totally wacky and it’s ... this is the Wanshou shengdian tu, The Magnificent Record of Longevity. It’s a book that shows a handscroll, so a long continuous painting but just leaf over leaf over leaf, and it actually started its life as a handscroll, which we don’t have anymore but we know from the copy. It’s a book that shows the long progression of the Kangxi emperor’s sixtieth birthday celebration in 1713, which stretched from the palace across some part of suburban Beijing, and was this sort of large, open–air festival for the people. And somewhere in this book is the emperor, though neither in this image nor in the page that happens to be open at the moment.
But you see here the sort of rich hubbub of Qing urban life, you see the elephants that at this point are probably a sign of tribute though once roamed all over China. You see the officials going around, children playing, festivities, entertainments, shops. This is all sort of the sort of grand celebration of the emperor even though he only appears in one moment. It was also copied in an old book that is also downstairs by Kangxi’s grandson, Qianlong, for his eightieth birthday. It was a very similar version done. And in both cases what I think they really evoke is a sort of longstanding genre of images of the prosperous realm that date back to the Song dynasty, the early twelfth century, and most famously a painting called Going Upriver at Qingming Time, the Qingming shanghe tu which is, some people would say, the most important or the most famous Chinese painting in history.
And this painting of which I’m only showing you sort of the most famous snippet, the rainbow bridge, actually starts in the suburbs of the Song capital of Bianjing and moves through the suburbs. Through from a rural area into the suburbs into the city, showing all the different classes of people from the very poor peasant to the urbanite to eventually the palace gates. So [it] sort of progresses and shows all of Chinese society ostensibly as a sort of harmonious continuum around a spring festival, the so-called cold food festival. And the point of that really is to say that a prosperous ... emperor or dynasty that possesses the mandate of heaven rules over a prosperous and harmonious realm. And that same image is very much evoked by the both formal and thematic similarities between something these birthday celebration books and the Qingming shanghe tu, neither of which show the emperor directly or at least very much but rather show the sort of trickledown effect—to borrow a terrible American phrase—the the effect of the benevolence and the righteousness of the emperor onto the realm.
Okay. The last book that I want to show you tonight, and a book that is especially near and dear to me because as Nathan said I just published a book on this book, is the Imperial Poems onBishu shanzhuang, or the so–called Thirty-Six Views of Bishu Shanzhuang. And you see here not the copy that we have downstairs, this is actually—if memory serves me correctly—the copy that’s in Taipei. But it’s useful for a variety of reasons, it shows the really white printing or the really white paper that survives actually shows some good foxing so you can see what that looks like which is that brown spotting that comes up. It shows what is most likely the original blue cover as well as the original title slip, so it’s a very good demonstration.
The Thirty-Six Views of Bishu Shanzhuang or the Thirty-Six Views of the Imperial Estate to Escape the Summer Heat is a book that shows 36 famous spots within the emperor’s recently completed summer garden palace in inner Mongolia, called the Mountain Estate to Escape the Summer Heat, which you can see here on the right. I can show you a better picture here, you can see here on the left. A short introduction that describes the particular view, then the emperor’s poem about the view in which he says the trees smell great, the birds are pretty, the water trails by and I sit here and contemplate the Dao and I row beautifully. It’s sort of ... that’s sort of the encapsulation of the poem. It’s a tour of the garden that presents the spaces within the garden as demonstrations of the emperor having attained righteous and attentive and careful rule. And as such provides the sort of very, very intimate view of the garden. The ... it’s printed in Manchu, in separate Manchu and Chinese editions, it’s in a very, very small run, about 200 copies of each were ordered, and I assume printed, I don’t really know. And as you can see in this yet different version ... different copy of it, it provides you sort of open empty views. Unlike the very, very populated birthday procession or birthday scroll here are these empty landscapes so the reader sort of reads this text that the emperor has written, gets in mind and then unfolds the image which is insofar as I know a unique production in Chinese print history, the idea that the image would not be spread over two separate sides but actually be folded within the book and then you would unfold it to reveal it. And allows you to sort of take in the text and then explore this view unhindered by the emperor ... the presence of the emperor or any other people just on your own. It provides a sort of virtual access to the garden and to the emperor and to the emperor’s thoughts that really is unprecedented insofar as I know is true in Chinese printing. And so this is an example of what I meant by the sort of innovative use of media to ... in the sort of very much modern sense of the word to frame Qing ideology. I’m going to skip by that, we can come back to it.
But what’s also really interesting as we talk about this is this book is—well here you have a sort of photocopied version, I apologise for the colour of black and white photography but that’s a colour print ... colour photograph of the copperplate engraved version of this book. Roughly the same time that the emperor orders wood blocks he also tells a papal legate, a member of Propaganda Fide, named Matteo Ripa, he says that he wants Ripa to teach some Qing artists how to engrave a thing that Ripa knows next to nothing about. And then to produce a copperplate-engraved version of this book for reasons that we aren’t entirely clear on, but we’re really happy to speculate about. Copies are given to Qing elites, presumably but also a number of sets go back to Europe with Ripa and clearly sell, if you will, the Qing court to European audiences. Lord Barrington comes into a copy relatively quickly. There’s now a copy in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, which for various reasons I won’t precisely go into, it’s reasonable to think may have been a gift directly from Kangxi to Louis Quinze, Louis XV. And so we start to see the propagation of a Qing message to an almost global audience.
What’s interesting is that about a decade before this is commissioned, Louis Quatorze’s very similar production comes to the Qing court in the form of a huge set of books which may be we ... I think we actually have here in the National Library of Australia called the Cabinet du Roi which is ... they’re like 10 volumes, like this big, they’re enormous, they take like two people to carry onto a table, they’re ridiculous. But they’re these massive, massive luxurious oversized engravings of various views of France, including royal palaces. Here you see part of Versailles but there’s Vaux-le-Vicomte, various other places. And you’ll notice ... and I will do something that I was told not to do but I’ll do it anyway. You’ll notice that there are actually some similarities compositionally between them. They both have this sort of slightly both elevated and frontal view. This composition for a Chinese landscape is sort of weird, especially the way in which this is constructed, very squarely and slightly prospectively, this architecture. Oh you can see if I point at the screen, that building on the left.
So there are reasons, just think that at least the idea of a king depicting his garden in print and perhaps even the composition of these prints may have been at least partially inspired by this gift that he got from Louis XIV. Not only that but when they go back to Europe, Barrington, sort of in exercising very poor judgement, allows his copy to be used to create copies ... or we think it’s Barrington’s copy ... to create copies by commercial publisher, John Bowles in London who creates these sort of crazy versions of the Ripa prints in which this is not Chinese enough, not recognisably Chinese enough. So we’re going to add some crazy junks and we’re going to add this like bird that looks like something out of Sesame Street in the top and we’re going to add fish jumping through the water, all sorts of things that never appeared to sort of make it look recognisably Chinese.
And so the thing that I want to sort of see just here is ... are a couple of things, first about this album and about the project as a whole. The first to go back to the original prints and the idea of sort of looking through the emperor’s texts and thinking about it, this all started as an album of paintings and it’s now lost but actually there was a unique album of paintings that was not destroyed in the making of this. But when you think about looking through an al ... a garden album, you’re thinking about looking through something in a sort of solitary environment, in a sort of individual environment, you’re looking at a book, you’re looking at some paintings alone ‘cause they’re smaller. And so this idea of touring the garden alone, looking at paintings alone, reading this book, suggests that there is a sort of real legacy across these different media, the individual experience, the ... of doing all these different things that carries from the ... actually being in the place through the unique object of the painting into the book and so that actually again, to return to one of the places I started, the multiple and the unique can be intimately related.
And then the second thing that I wanted to suggest is that printing in the Qing is really part of a global discourse, particularly copperplate printing. When we consider engraving moved from its invention in northern Germany to China in roughly 160 years, printing—especially engraving—is actually a global technology in the sort of early modern sense of things spreading across at least Eurasia quite quickly but that it also was a vehicle for Qing emperors engaging in a sort of global discourse, a global discourse of emperorship, what we might call cosmopolitan emperorship. This was a medium for not only engaging with his immediate constituents, the sort of here and now of Qing real politic, I need to deal with officials, I need to demonstrate my legitimacy, I need to communicate with the population. It is not only a medium for engaging with the past, I need to place Qing in this long dynastic history and see us as a legitimate successor to history by tying us backwards over time but I also need to do this horizontally, I need to be engaged in the discourses of power that are current in France, that are current in Russia and that are current in Qing and print is a medium by which the Kangxi emperor and the Qing court as a whole was able to do this. Thank you very much.
[Applause] [end of recording]