Art and Diplomatic Gifts in Early Modern East Asia

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: Art and Diplomatic Gifts in Early Modern East Asia
Stream: Art/Art History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Yoonjung Seo, Myongji University, South Korea (organizer, presenter, chair)
Jaebin Yoo, Hongik University, South Korea (presenter)
Ja Won Lee, California State University, East Bay, United States (presenter)
Ji Young Park, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany (presenter)
Ying-Chen Peng, American University, United States (discussant, chair)


This panel explores the practice of gift exchange in East Asia as a device of cross-cultural diplomacy as well as a mirror of aesthetic tastes, economic values, and ritual protocols. Focusing on the role of art, material goods, and images depicting foreign envoys in Sino-Korean and Korean-Japanese diplomatic encounters, as well as exchanges with Western countries from the early modern period to the twentieth century, the panel examines how such exchanges influenced the production and circulation of art and material culture and shaped mutual understanding between cultures.
Each presentation delves into the transculturality and materiality embedded in diplomatic gifts and the practice of gift exchange, by examining the following four case studies: Joseon painter-envoys’ activities during their journey to Edo and the roles assumed by the lord of Tsushima as a de facto power to administrate diplomatic ceremonies; a Joseon screen painting depicting tribute bearers bringing diplomatic gifts to the Chinese emperor; Chinese antiquities depicted in Books and Scholarly Utensils, which are closely related to the practice of gift exchange between Joseon envoys and Qing Chinese; and Korean cultural artifacts officially presented to Western countries as diplomatic gifts by the Joseon court in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These papers explore what types of gifts were chosen by whom, who participated in the decision-making process, how these artifacts served specific diplomatic and political purposes, and how gift-giving imagery, along with the lavish displays of pomp and ceremony enhanced the efficacy of material goods and highlighted the symbolic significance of gifts.