Objects, Images, and Court Culture in Qing China

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: Objects, Images, and Court Culture in Qing China
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Yulian Wu, Michigan State University, United States (organizer, presenter)
Yu-chih Lai, Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Taiwan, (chair, discussant)
Daisy Yiyou Wang, Hong Kong Palace Museum, Hong Kong (presenter)
Kyoungjin Bae, Kenyon College, United States (presenter)


The splendid material culture of the Manchu court during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) embodied diverse power relations in gender, ethnicity, and knowledge that were skillfully maneuvered by the ruling elites. By purposefully producing, using, and displaying discrete objects and images, the Manchu rulers not only engaged themselves in technical matters of production but also strategically used them to address specific political agenda. This multi-disciplinary panel explores Qing court culture through the lens of its visual and material culture. In particular, by examining how and why the court splurged on non-textual media, it aims to elucidate the various ways in which objects and images mediated negotiations of power between men and women, the Manchu and the Han, elites and artisans, as well as the center and the locale(s). Zooming in on the portraits of key imperial women, Wang’s paper analyzes the complex socio-spatial relationships embodied in pictorial spaces and reconstructs the dynamic relations between gender and space at the Qing court. Through an investigation of the silkworm ceremonies led by empresses, Mao underscores how gender hierarchies and relations in the palace were constructed and reconfigured through ritual practices. Bae’s paper shows how woodwork became a means of appropriating and adapting vernacular knowledge at the center by tracing the recruitment of Cantonese artisans and their work at the imperial workshops. Focusing on the interactions between jade craftsmen in Jiangnan and the imperial workshops, finally, Wu investigates how court-Jiangnan relations were constructed and contested through the planning and management of jade production between the central government and Jiangnan society.