is the first book in English on Chinese jinshi,
or antiquarianism, the pinnacle of traditional connoisseurship of ancient artifacts and inscriptions. As a scholarly field, jinshi
was inaugurated in the Northern Song (960–1127) and remained popular until the early twentieth century. Literally the study of inscriptions on bronze vessels and stone steles, jinshi
combined calligraphy and painting, the collection of artifacts, and philological and historical research. For aficionados of Chinese art, the practices of jinshi
offer a fascinating glimpse into the lives of traditional Chinese scholars and artists, who spent their days roaming the sometimes seamy world of the commercial art market before attending elegant antiquarian parties, where they composed poetic tributes to their ancient objects of obsession. And during times of political upheaval, such as the nineteenth century, the art and artifact studies of jinshi
legitimatized reform and contributed to a dynamic and progressive field of learning.
Indeed, the paradox of jinshi is that it was nearly as venerable as the ancient artifacts themselves, and yet it was also subject to continual change. This was particularly true in the last decades of the Qing (1644–1911) and the first decades of the twentieth century, when a diverse group of cosmopolitan and science-minded scholars contributed to what was considered at the time to be a “revolution in traditional linguistics.” These antiquarians transformed how historians used literary sources and material artifacts from the ancient past and set the stage for a new understanding of the longevity and cohesiveness of Chinese history.
The history of jinshi offers insights that are relevant to Chinese cultural and intellectual history, art history, and politics. Scholars of the modern period will find the resiliency and continuing influence of jinshi to be an important counterpoint to received views on the trajectory of Chinese cultural and intellectual change. We are accustomed to think that Chinese modernity originated in the great tumult of the turn-of-the-century encounter with foreign learning. The example of jinshi reveals the significance of local transformations that occurred much earlier in the nineteenth century. Its combination of art and historiography reveals the full range of scholarly appreciation for the past and its artifacts and provides a unique perspective from which to define “modern China” and illuminate its indigenous origins.
“Shana Brown’s new study represents the first serious examination in any Western language of the phenomenon of what we have (somewhat disparagingly) called antiquarianism in modern Chinese culture. To her great credit, she not only accords her many subjects the respect they deserve, but she puts meat on the bones of what many have dismissed as hopelessly outdated, conservative culturalism. Many of the finest minds in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century China fall under the rubric of antiquarianism, and we have ignored their work at our peril.” —Joshua Fogel, York University
“The Chinese are well known for their passion for history; over the past several millennia, they have accumulated and preserved, arguably, the largest body of historical literature in the world. But it is little known that the Chinese, too, have long developed an antiquarian interest in collecting, evaluating, and studying material objects from the past. Thanks to Shana Brown for this timely and important study; English readers now have gained the first glimpse of this tradition and its modern transformation. Sensibly organized and smoothly written, this is an essential read for anyone interested in the emergence of history, art history, and archaeology as (new) academic disciplines in modern China and how they coalesced together to exert a fundamental influence in reshaping the Chinese view of their past.” —Q. Edward Wang, Rowan University
Author: Brown, Shana J.;Shana J. Brown
is associate professor of history at the University of Hawai‘i.