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Bruce Rusk – Information and Its Objects: Provenancing the Censers of the Xuande Court

October 19, 2020 @ 8:00 pm - 10:00 pm

Speaker: Bruce Rusk, University of British Columbia

This presentation examines the textual existence of material objects in early modern China, arguing that a new concept of the archive refigured the relationship between document and thing. The use of textual sources to understand the material culture of the past of course had a long history, particularly in antiquarian studies; writing about ancient objects had an equally long pedigree. By the early eighteenth century, however, some writers grounded claims about artifacts in a new vision of textual sources as documents drawn from an archive. The model of the state archive (dang’an 檔案/dangzi 檔子, Manchu dangse), a vital tool of governance in the Qing, may have shaped the use of documents in other epistemic domains. I examine the case of the Xuande lu 宣德爐, copper-alloy incense burners attributed to the early-Ming court, and the various “registers” (pu 譜) that describe them and their provenance. These texts were crafted to support of tenuous claims, since both the books and the artifacts whose history they provide are forgeries. Borrowing the concept of “documentality” from library studies, I show how relations of documentation between artifact as document and document as object create a network of epistemological connections that establish meaning and value in the world.

Bruce Rusk (PhD History, UCLA, 2004) is Associate Professor in the Department of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia. He studies the cultural history of early modern China (14th to 18th centuries), focusing on cultural practices of authentication and deception, on the history of philology, and cultural uses of writing and books. He has published a monograph on the history of classical scholarship (Critics and Commentators: The Book of Poems as Classic and Literature, Harvard Asia Center, 2012) and a co-translation of a short story collection (Zhang Yingyu, The Book of Swindles: Selections from a Late Ming Collection, with Christopher Rea, Columbia UP, 2017); is a co-editor of the forthcoming Literary Information in China: A History (with Jack Chen, Anatoly Detwyler, Liu Xiao, and Christopher Nugent; Columbia UP, 2021). He is currently writing a study of material and textual forgery in early modern and modern China.


October 19, 2020
8:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Event Category:


Department of East Asian Language and Civilizations
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