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China Humanities Seminar featuring Meimei Zhang – Immortalizing the Ephemeral: Qin Inscriptions from the Song Dynasty (960-1279)

April 24, 2023 @ 4:00 pm 6:00 pm

Speaker: Meimei Zhang, Occidental College

This paper examines the Song dynasty literati’s ming 銘 inscriptions on the qin 琴, a seven-string plucked instrument that is also known as zither or guqin. The tradition of inscribing musical instruments can be traced back to bronze bells and chime stones in the Shang and Zhou dynasties, which bore pithy messages primarily functioning as historiographical and musicological records. From the Tang dynasty onward, with the qin featuring prominently in the private sphere of literati, inscriptions on the qin became a form of literary marginalia—an innovation that they used to test literary skills, engage with the material contingency of the instrument, and inquire into the essence of music and sound. By mapping out the thematic and stylistic typology of these writings, this paper argues that qin inscriptionsconstituted a site in which theorizations and interpretations of the core discourses on music and its connoisseurship, zhiyin (one who knows the tone) and ganying (correlative resonance), were made available from the variegated perspectives of inter-human, human-object, object-cosmos, or human-cosmos relationships. By employing and playing with a repertoire of literary rhetoric and philosophical discussions, Song authors celebrated qin’s distinctive musicality and materiality in inscriptions not only as public implements, but also as biographical objects, music relics from the high antiquity, and philosophical emblems that specified ways of thinking with the qin and its sound.

Meimei Zhang is Assistant Professor of Chinese Studies at Occidental College. Her research interests include literary representations of music and sound, social and cultural history of musical instruments, poetics of money, and the intersections of literature and Buddhism. She is currently preparing a monograph, tentatively entitled The Qin and the Changing Literati Soundscape of Song Dynasty China, which employs an interdisciplinary range of object, sound, and literary theories to investigate the Song literati’s literary representation of the qin (the seven-string Chinese zither), and how thinkers during this period shifted their world engagement with questions of perception, embodiment, and sociality away from the dominant paradigm of vision towards a thinking of circulation and shared atmospheres of sound. Her writings will be featured in the forthcoming Journal of Song-Yuan Studies and the Journal of American Oriental Studies. Her work has been supported by the CUHK-CCK Foundation Asia-Pacific Centre for Chinese Studies, etc.

Also via Zoom. Register at: https://harvard.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJctceqgqz0qE9wWndTTTCWX-cSb1WQkEXT8


April 24, 2023
4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Event Category:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies


Common Room, 2 Divinity Ave.

2 Divinity Ave.
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 United States

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