Art, Science, and Diplomacy: Imagery of the MaCartney Embassy to China

Chen, Shanshan 陳珊珊
Supervisor: Prof. G.M. Thomas

The Macartney Embassy to China  of 1793 is generally believed to mark a transition in the European attitude towards China from admiration to contempt during a process of increasing knowledge about China. Although the British mission failed in its efforts to open the sealed gate of China, it did gain an opportunity to observe China closely for the first time. During their journey, embassy members launched a project of cataloguing, describing, organizing, and evaluating new data of China through empirical and scientific means. From the initial preparation of the gifts for the Qianlong emperor to the embassy's survey of the Qing empire, science played an indispensable role in accumulating knowledge and constructing the image of China. This thesis focuses on the role of art and image making in this scientific aspect of the Macartney Embassy. It examines the large volume of textual and visual records that were produced by the embassy in order to examine how artists and scientists understood, selected, and represented information on China, and how that information was reworked into works of art by artists, book illustrators, and publishers. I argue that  in contrast to either exotic Chionoiserie or the Utopian image pictured by the Jesuits, the artists and scientists on the embassy collaborated to create a more realistic image of China based on scientific and empirical observations of unprecedented accuracy. I show that these scientifically oriented images offered a distinct voice in the representation of China, sometimes offering more positive views than the embassy's textual accounts. This negotiation of text and image reveals diverse opinions among embassy members, related to their distinct identities and purposes, which led to an ambivalent view of China in books and articles published in Britain. I also argue that despite the embassy's many negative criticisms in text, China was treated differently than in Orientalist discourse; the British embassy and its advisors and sponsors regarded China as an equal and competing entity, one that offered much positive material for both scientific knowledge and artistic representation. In chapters one and two, I examine the gift exchange between the embassy and the Qianlong emperor and the representation of their historical meeting in both British and Chinese images. In chapters three to six, I examine how visual images created by British artists and draughtsmen were endowed with a scientific dimension stemming from the emergence of multiple new scientific disciplines in the late 18th century, including marine science, natural history, geography, archaeology, human science, and the history of science and technology. In the last chapter, I examine the publications of the embassy, some aspects of their reception, and the artistic legacy of embassy images, which exerted a major influence on subsequent ideas and images about China.

Bamboo in Principle: Ke Jiusi’s (1290-1349) Paintings and Knowledge in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)

Leung, Pui Yi 梁佩儀
Supervisor: Dr. R.L. Hammers

This thesis addresses the historical and cultural context of bamboo painting by Ke Jiusi 柯九思 (1290-1349), a famous ink bamboo painter and an art connoisseur at the Yuan (1271-1368) Mongol court. By reassessing the historical significance of bamboo, the status of bamboo painters, and the function of bamboo painting in the Yuan, this thesis seeks to reclaim alternative meanings for bamboo painting. Traditional scholarship considers bamboo painting as an art with lofty-minded associations for artists to articulate independence from the court. As my research addresses, artists who painted bamboo collaborated with the Mongol imperium. A review indicates that government administrators and emperors valued the materiality and cultural meanings of bamboo. A metaphor for virtue, bamboo represented rulers, aristocrats, scholar officials and military leaders. By the Yuan, bamboo was an established painting subject that experienced stylistical developments and elaborations, that contemporary viewers referred as different schools (pai 派). Combining textural documents and visual materials, this thesis examines the changing meanings of the Huzhou School – a style associated with Wen Tong 文同 (1018-1079) and Li Kan 李衎 (1245-1320). In my interpretation Ke Jiusi sought to promote and perpetuate the new meaning of the Huzhou school through his bamboo painting. Ke Jiusi responded to and shaped newly developing roles for bamboo in the Yuan. Bamboo became a vehicle for the display of knowledge of the li 理 (universal principle) in Neo-Confucian teachings. Such associations between bamboo and Neo-Confucianist ideas generated shifts in the meanings of bamboo painting and of li. By the Yuan, li in painting stands for the artists’ ability to observe and represent the subject in variations of forms and conditions with descriptive details. The Mongol court had decreed Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200) as providing the authoritative interpretations of the Confucian Classics. Consequently artists such as Li Kan and Ke Jiusi applied this philosophy to attaining li through gewu 格物 (investigating things) in bamboo painting. They revitalized the Wen Tong style of naturalistic bamboo. Mongol rulers rewarded these bamboo painters with court positions and celebrated their style as representative of the genuine scholar-officials (zhen shidafu 真士大夫). This fostered a competitive environment among bamboo painters of different styles and we see an increase in artists who were interested in painting the subject bamboo. Rather than continuing with the present understanding of Chinese literati, artists, and scholar-officials in conflict with the Mongol court, the thesis seeks to regard bamboo painting as an instance, possibly one of many, in which the Mongol imperium and cultural elites collaborated. By analyzing Ke Jiusi’s Bamboo Suite (Zhupu 竹譜), I argue that Ke depicted bamboo in relation to its changing environmental conditions, developing his distinctive style of ink bamboo painting. Through these new formal arrangements, Ke Jiusi positioned himself as the legitimate successor of Wen Tong, and advanced his descriptive and meticulous brushwork as genuinely scholarly.

The European Reception of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy after 1600 and before 1860

Kwok, Yin Ning 郭燕寧
Supervisor: Prof. G.M. Thomas

European writings on Chinese art were cultural products illustrating how Europeans understood and evaluated Chinese visual and material culture at different times. However, these European writings have not been thoroughly studied in art history. Most scholarship has examined Chinese influence on western art, western collecting of Chinese art, or western reactions to specific works of Chinese art and architecture. The present thesis instead traces the evolution of the European reception of Chinese art, with a focus on painting and calligraphy, as expressed in 34 English-language texts published from 1600 to 1860, based on a selection of the most important, influential, or typical writings in the period. It identifies every mention of painting and calligraphy in the selected texts and compares them to comments about Chinese architecture and material culture. By tracing the recycling of various ideas from one author to another, the thesis shows how the English-language discourse of Chinese art evolved from 1600 to the Second Opium War. I make four major arguments regarding these writings. First, there were three main stages in the development of European understanding of Chinese art during this period: what I call an exploring stage, a translating stage, and a diverging stage. In the exploring stage (c.1600-1750), Europeans showed a high level of sensibility to Chinese civilization and cultural products. They carried out a wide range of explorations of Chinese art and culture and described many cultural differences and artistic practices without trying to explain what they noticed in terms of European cultural frameworks or concepts. In the translating stage (c.1750-1840), Europeans now tried much more to comprehend Chinese aesthetic practices and conventions based on frameworks and concepts from their own European cultural discourse and artistic tradition. The diverging stage (c.1840-1860) saw most writers shift attention away from art and material culture, while a few writers were able to reach more profound understandings of Chinese painting and calligraphy. The remarkable person in this phase was George Lay, who in 1841 expressed an exceptional appreciation of Chinese aesthetics and artistic features in both painting and calligraphy, based for the time on Chinese rather than western tastes and principles. My second argument is that the physicality and materiality of art forms played a critical role in European appreciation of Chinese art. As a result, painting and calligraphy were little valued and discussed in this period, while Europeans paid much more attention to architecture, gardening, porcelain, silk, and mechanical arts like printing and paper making. My third argument is that cultural compatibility was another pivotal factor affecting how Europeans evaluated Chinese painting and calligraphy. They generally based their judgments on European artistic references, particularly illusionistic realism, linear perspective, 3-D modeling, and color. Many writers appreciated flower-and-bird painting because the naturalistic outlining of objects and use of bright colors matched European principles and tastes in oil painting. On the other hand, most writers throughout the period ignored portraiture and monochrome landscape painting and criticized the Chinese depiction of space for failing to use linear perspective. Such criticism was not due to cultural arrogance or political ideology, but due to the incompatibility of Chinese art forms with dominant practices and principles within Europe. My fourth argument is that Europeans' preference for art forms that had more physical and material appeal paralleled the taste for chinoiserie in the 17th and 18th centuries. This materialist taste helps explain why the thriving development of European portraiture and landscape painting in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries did not lead to any increased appreciation of Chinese portraiture or landscape. These four major arguments help illustrate how Europeans' knowledge construction took place and explain the driving forces behind such a long and complex process of understanding Chinese culture. Examining the written texts as analyzed in the present study not only opens up such a new horizon but also deepens our vision in seeing that even cross-cultural writings that seem highly empirical (e.g. travel writing, encyclopedias, scientific reports, etc.) are not as neutral or impartial as they appear; that the processes of empirical knowledge-making are loaded with many preconditions; and that these processes are also affected by physical and material factors that are outside those social cultural realms. By examining the European reception of Chinese painting and calligraphy, we can better understand the evolutionary process of and the factors affecting European interpretation of Chinese art, and how those early views influenced the later development of Chinese art history in the west.