Understanding Authenticity in China’s Cultural Heritage
3: Conceptions of Historicity in Qing Calligraphy
Friday, March 25, 2022
9:30am – 11:00am EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Kansas, United States
This paper examines the evolving construction of authenticity during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) through a group of eighteenth-century calligraphic works. Beginning in the seventeenth century, engraved texts on ancient monuments became a vital source for Confucian scholarship and artistic practice in China. Scholars used these inscriptions to establish meanings of Confucian classics, verify recorded historical events, and reconstruct lost sites of cultural legacy. Painters and calligraphers also found inspirations from these archaic scripts to pursue aesthetic originality.
Artistic writings by Weng Fanggang (1733–1818), Gui Fu (1736–1805), Qian Yong (1759–1844), and Yi Bingshou (1754–1815) showcase a drastic departure from earlier interpretations of the Han-dynasty (202 BCE–220) clerical script and thus exemplify the development of this intellectual movement in the second half of the eighteenth century. These people criticized their immediate predecessors, such as Zheng Fu (1622–1693), for their ahistorical and imaginative renditions of the clerical script. The contrasting attitudes toward historicity reveal how scholars in Weng’s circle fashioned the origin myth of the clerical script into an authentic historical style. Moreover, their onsite investigations and inventive restorations of ruined monuments foster a new conception of historical materiality that distinguishes the roles of carver, transcriber, and calligrapher in the creation of stone engravings. Together, this paper showcases how Qing antiquarians employed and reconstructed ideas of authenticity that formed meaningful personal identities in the eighteenth century.