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China and Inner Asia
Public Secrecy: The Qing Emperor’s Deceptive Art
Individual Paper Presenter(s)
SOAS, University of London, Canada
The collection of the Qing imperial household, which is now mostly held by the Palace Museums in Beijing and Taipei, has been considered as indisposable material for understanding the Qing emperors' connoisseurial knowledge. Among the assemblages of the collection, which covers not only works of art but also natural specimen, rare ancient books, exotic objects, there was a particular group of artifacts, namely the Qing trompe l'oeil porcelain, which had been "hidden" away from the "public space." This genre was not physically "hidden" for the emperor's private enjoyment, such as those have been argued in Nicole Chiang's account, the hidden treasures of the Qianlong emperor, instead, the Qing trompe l'oeil porcelain had been arranged into the "feminine space" where the emperor was symbolically absent, and space was veiled with the notion of secrecy compared to those "masculine" and "public" rooms representing the sovereignty of the Great Qing Empire. The anthropologist Michael Taussig maintains the concept of "the public secret," which was defined in his words as "what is generally known but, for one reason or another, cannot easily be articulated," could be adopted to explore the existence of the Qing trompe l'oeil porcelain. This paper aims to unfold the identity of those "forbidden loves" in the Forbidden City, which was a specific category of artifacts "hidden" in the public space, mysterized with "secrecy," and possibly was not allowed to be mentioned among the records of the Qing Imperial Household Department.