Teaching about Chinese Bronzes

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:37 am

As the semester is winding down, our academic readers are no doubt very busy doing their work. If you would like to do my work, however, we have something of a tradition here of posting our syllabi and asking for advice from older and wiser heads.

This is a rough syllabus for a class segment to be called “A Gu indeed” which I will be teaching in the Spring. This is ½ of an Honors college thing for freshmen and this is for the segment on Art. I am supposed to be looking at art like a historian would. I chose to do bronzes and this is the reading list. I tried to cover all of the major ways you can get meaning out of old bronzes. Any tips on what to add, subtract, or substitute are very welcome. These are supposed to be smart kids, but not history majors, so I am using some fairly high-level stuff and counting on them to be able to deal with chapters pulled out of books.

1 Introduction

Background Just enough Chinese history to be dangerous.

-Lu Liancheng and Yan Wenming “Society during the Three Dynasties” from Kwang-chih Chang et. al. The Formation of Chinese Civilization: An Archeological Perspective Yale, 2005
-Wyatt, James “The Bronze Age and the First Empires” From Wen Fong, et. al. Possessing the Past: Treasures from the National Palace Museum. Taipei 1996

Art and Authority
4,5 Chang, K. C. Art, Myth and Ritual: The Path to Political Authority in Ancient China. Harvard University Press, 1988. (A bit of a golden oldie, but I want them to read a book and this one brings in a lot of different themes. Plus it is more or less before all the recent changes, so if we want to look at the development of the historiography this is good.)

6 ”The Shang Kings at Anyang” from Thorp, Robert L. China in the Early Bronze Age: Shang Civilization. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. (More recent than Chang, and has more history of archeology)

How they (Ancient Chinese) understood Bronzes

7-Keightley, David “The Science of the Ancestors: Divination, Curing and Bronze-Casting in Late Shang China”
-Selections from the Book of Songs. Maybe something from Lewis’s Sanctioned Violence

8-Rites and music
-Xunzi 19 & 10 and Lu Buwei (transitioning into the end of the bronze age and other ways to interact with heaven)

9 -Puett, Michael “Humans and Gods: The Theme of Self-Divination in Early China and Early Greece” From Ancient China Early Greece
-“The Natural Philosophy of Writing” from Lewis, Mark Edward. Writing and Authority in Early China. SUNY Press, 2007.

Bronzes as art
10 Allen vs. Bagley (Sets up the major debates on how to look at these things)
-Sarah Allan “Art and Meaning” and Robert Bagley “Meaning and Explanation” both from Whitfield, Roderick. The Problem of Meaning in Early Chinese Ritual Bronzes. Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, 1993.

11 Taotie .(a specific question on getting meaning out of bronzes )
-Li, Rawson, Xiong and Wang, all from Whitfield, Roderick. The Problem of Meaning in Early Chinese Ritual Bronzes. Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, 1993
– Kesner, Ladislav. “The Taotie Reconsidered: Meanings and Functions of the Shang Theriomorphic Imagery.” Artibus Asiae 51, no. 1/2 (1991): 29-53.

12 Wu Hung “The Nine Tripods and Traditional Chinese Concepts of Monumentality” from Monumentality in Early Chinese Art and Architecture. Stanford University Press, 1997. (Cause you can’t do a class like this without some Chicago stuff)

13 Picture day. Slide lecture on bronzes and how to classify them (Not sure if this should be moved up, but I like the idea of doing it now when they will have some clue what is going on. I may just split them into groups and have them come up with presentations.)

Bronzes as technology
14-Li Liu “The Products of Minds as Well as of Hands”: Production of Prestige Goods in the Neolithic and Early State Periods of China
-“Casting Bronze the Complicated Way” Ledderose, Lothar. Ten Thousand Things: Module and Mass Production in Chinese Art. Princeton University Press, 2001.

How bronzes show social change

15,16 Stuff from -Falkenhausen, Lothar Von. Chinese Society in the Age of Confucius (Monumenta Archaeologica). Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, 2006.
-Rawson from CHAC (Ritual Revolution and the debates about it)

17 “The Household” from Lewis, Mark Edward. The Construction of Space in Early China. State University of New York Press, 2006.

18 “Things of the past” from Clunas, Craig. Superfluous Things: Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China. University of Hawaii Press, 2004. (A ncie bit on how Chinese collectors understood these things. Could use something on modern collectors)

The origins of World Beat (Lu Buwei on music)

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:52 am

I’ve been talking about rites and music in Xunzi. To sort of finish off I want to look at some stuff from Lu Buwei. For those of you who don’t know the text, Annals of Lu Buwei is a late Warring States encyclopedic text that includes a little bit of everything and is a one stop shop for cool stuff about Warring States philosophy.

Of course there is a lot on music in here, especially in chapter six, where the origins of different regional musics are described.

Once when Kongjia, a sovereign of the house of Xia, was hunting at Mount Fu in Dongyang, there was a great wind and the sky darkened. Kongjia, lost and confused, entered the house of a commoner. At that very moment the woman of the house was giving birth. Someone said, “When the sovereign comes, it is a lucky day. Your son is certain to enjoy extraordinarily good fortune.” Another person said, “He is not equal to it. Your son is certain to suffer some catastrophe.” The sovereign thereupon seized the child and returned home with him, saying, “If I make him my son, who will dare harm him?” When the boy grew to maturity, it happened that a tent shifted, causing its supporting post to split, and a falling ax chopped off his foot. The boy was fit only to become a gatekeeper. Kongjia cried, “Alas! Suffering affliction is a matter of fate after all!” He then composed the song entitled, “Grinding an Ax.” This marked the beginning of the tunes in the eastern style.

While inspecting his work for controlling the floods, Yu saw a girl at Mount Tu; but before he could formally propose to her, he left to make a tour of inspection of the southern lands. The girl ordered a slave to spy on Yu at the southern slopes of Mount Tu. The girl then composed a song that went, “Spying on a man, ah!” This marked the beginning of the tunes in the southern style. The Dukes of Zhou and of Shao selected from these tunes the airs that came to be known as “Zhou nan” and “Shao nan”

King Zhao of Zhou personally led an attack of chastisement against Chu. Xin Yumi, who was both tall and very strong, was on the king’s right. On the way back, while they were crossing the Han River, the bridge collapsed. Both the king and the Duke of Cai were tossed into the river. Pulling the king, Xin Yumi crossed to the north bank. Then he went back to pull out the Duke of Cai. The Duke of Zhou then enfeoffed Xin Yumi as a marquis in the region of the West Di barbarians and thus he became senior duke among the feudal lords. When Zhengjia of the Yin dynasty moved to West of the River, he still missed his old home, and as a result created tunes in the western style. The senior duke continued to write these tunes when he resided in the western mountains. When Duke Mu of Qin collected these airs, it marked the beginning of the tunes of Qin.

The head of the Song barbarians had two lovely daughters and built the Terrace of Nine Tiers for them to live in. They had to have music played whenever they ate or drank. The Supreme Sovereign ordered a swallow to spy on them. Its cry sounded like “jik-rik” Loving this, the two girls struggled to catch the swallow. Putting it in a jade canister, they would take it out to look at it for a short time. The swallow, having laid two eggs, flew off to the north, never to return. The two girls wrote a song, with a refrain that went, “Swallow, swallow, flew away.” This marked the beginning of the tunes in the northern style.

As a general rule, runes are products of the heart and mind of man. When feelings are aroused in the heart, they are expressed in melody. Melody that takes shape without is a transformation of what is within. This explains how one knows the customs of a people from hearing their music. By examining their customs, one knows their intentions. By observing their intentions, one knows their Powers. Whether a person is ascending or declining, worthy or unworthy, a gentleman or a petty man is given visible form in music and cannot be hidden. Hence, it is said, “What is visible in music is profound indeed!”

To me this is yet another reason why music is the better part of Rites and Music. Music is more universal. Although some texts suggest that different dynasties had different rites they certainly don’t vary by region or the quality of the individual. You could not tell much about a person from their ritual behavior. They either kept up the rites or they did not. Outsiders either adopted Chinese rites or they did not. How boring.

Music is far more expressive and interesting. You can tell a lot about a man or a state by its music, just as you could laterd by their calligraphy. Rites don’t give you much to think about, but music does. As a historian when I teach about Rites and Music I tend to focus on rites, since in the Shang and Early Zhou it was ritual that mattered in creating the state and the elite, but I am starting to think I should talk more about music going forward.

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