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  • Graphics and Text in the Production of Technical Knowledge in China: The Warp and the Weft
  • Nathan Sivin (bio)
Francesca Bray, Vera Dorofeeva-Lichtmann, and Georges Métailié, editors. Graphics and Text in the Production of Technical Knowledge in China: The Warp and the Weft. Sinica Leidensia, vol. 79. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2007. xiii, 772 pp. Illustrations and plates. Hardcover $199.00, isbn978-90-04-16063-7.

If you have ever wondered how graphics ( tu圖) and text ( wen文) interacted in imperial Chinese technical writing, you probably expected that five pages would suffice for an answer. Here are nearly eight hundred pages of solid research and far from obvious conclusions on the topic, with ample illustrations, including twenty-five color plates. Not only that, but Francesca Bray's tightly reasoned introduction itself needs eighty pages merely to set out and weave together the most important points. She makes it clear that this book does not aim to be the definitive compendium on the subject, but merely samples some worthwhile approaches to it. It is not meant only for technophiles. The range of its technical knowledge includes early tomb murals, bird and flower paintings of the Song period, the Huayan sūtra華嚴經, and writings in the Zhu Xi lineage. Since analogous studies of Europe have begun to appear, it should finally be possible to draw substantial comparisons. 1

Let me first set out concisely the contents of this tome, summarizing the titles and section headings:

    Francesca Bray, Introduction

  1. A. Tuthat reveal or explain cosmic process

    1. 1. Origins of tu

      Olivier Venture, Visual layout of oracle bones, ca. 3500–1050 b.c.

      Wolfgang Behr, Etymology of tu圖 and similar words

    2. 2. Tuas magico-religious symbols

      Marc Kalinowski, Early stem-branch 干支 notation of time and space

      Donald Harper, Design of tuin two Han silk manuscripts

      Wu Hung, Mingtang 明堂 diagrams and tomb paintings, Zhou-Han

    3. 3. Text as tu: textual diagrams

      Vera Dorofeeva-Lichtmann, Was the Shan hai jing 山海經 based on maps?

      Griet Vankeerberghen, Patterns in and meanings of tables in Shi ji 史記

      Hermann-Josef Röllicke, "Mandala structure" of a Buddhist sutra

      Michael Lackner, Diagrams of neo-Confucian texts [End Page 455]

  2. B. Tuthat represent secular knowledge

    1. 1. The medium

      Vivienne Lo, Early medical illustration

      Alexei Volkov, Geometric diagrams in mathematical books

      Michela Bussotti, Ming woodcut illustration

    2. 2. Printed text and image

      Georges Métailié, Plants in woodcuts and paintings

      Francesca Bray, Agricultural illustration from Song on

      Peter J. Golas, Illustrations in Tiangong kaiwu 天工開物 (1637)

      Donald B. Wagner, Illustrations of iron production in Tiangong kaiwu

    3. 3. Western influences and their uses

      Catherine Despeux, The skeleton in forensic medicine

      Iwo Amelung, Application of Western cartographic knowledge, ca. 1850 on

Most of the eighteen papers in this work were chosen from about fifty offered at three scholarly meetings between 1998 and 2001; five (including the introduction) were written or solicited for this volume. This, in other words, is not an ordinary conference volume. The authors are mostly European, first-rate specialists, and in most cases the best qualified to write on their subjects.

To some extent, the conferences were inspired by important insights in recent publications. In 1990, Michael Lackner and Florian Reiter, in separate articles, demonstrated that there were two key senses of tu: a symbolic array and a picture or diagram of something. Cordell D. K. Yee in 1994 showed that classical Chinese maps did not speak for themselves, but were designed to complement texts; in this sense, they did not do the same things as European maps. 2A number of scholars quickly began testing these insights on other activities, and this book contains part of the rich outcome.

I will not detail the essays one by one, but rather concentrate on a question of substance: What does the book have to say that is significant about the relationship of image and text? I will then ask what new light the more narrowly focused essays cast.

General Points

The sixty combinations of "stems and branches ( ganzhi干支)" that have counted off sixty-day cycles since antiquity were only one of numerous schemata that used the same symbols in different ways to mark steps in the continua...


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