Collecting as Cultural Technique: Materialistic Interventions Into History in 20th Century China
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CitationChen, Guangchen. 2017. Collecting as Cultural Technique: Materialistic Interventions Into History in 20th Century China. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation explores the interplay between the collecting of ancient artifacts and intellectual innovations in twentieth century China. It argues that the practice of collecting is an epistemological attempt or a “cultural technique,” as formulated by the German media theorist Bernhard Siegert, to grasp the world in its myriad materiality and historicity. Through experiments on novel ways to reconfigure objects and study them as media on which intangible experiences are recorded, collectors cling to the authenticity of past events, preserve memory through ownership, and forge an intimate relationship with these objects. These aspects are illustrated by the strikingly close symbiosis in 20th-century China between intellectual innovations and collecting activities. It was a period when political turmoil led to mass dispersal of collections, which in turn stimulated the flourishing of (re)collecting. I examine four cases of prominent intellectuals creatively engaging in collecting 1) oracle bones, 2) ancient inscriptions, 3) handicrafts, and 4) ink paintings. These endeavors fundamentally reshaped archeology, literature, the history of art and design, and aesthetics in China. Therefore, I argue that these collectors’ materialist interventions into history played a crucial but hitherto unrecognized role in creating a new cosmopolitan culture.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41141785
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