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Reviews 67 Maggie Bickford. Ink Plum: The Making ofa Chinese Scholar-Painting Genre. Cambridge, New York, and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1996. xix, 295 pp. Hardcover, isbn 0-521-39152-0. IfMaggie Bickford had never written another word about flowering plums beyond her 1985 exhibition catalog, Bones ofJade, Soul ofIce: The FloweringPlum in Chinese Art,' Chinese art historians already would have been deeply in her debt for the scholarship and perspicacity with which she addressed the subject. But with the publication ofInk Plum: The Makingofa Chinese Scholar-Painting Genre, our debt to Professor Bickford has taken on truly federal proportions. Not only is it difficult to imagine that she has left much more to be said specifically on the subject offlowering plums in Chinese art and culture with the publication of this study, but the book should serve as an exemplar to upcoming generations of Chinese art historians on how to write about an artistic genre. Indeed, the book is an invigorating example ofwhat art history used to do so well before it succumbed to the tyranny of the race, class, and gender troika. Studiously and systematically, employing both wide-ranging scholarship and informed speculation (on which more below), Bickford unfolds her argument ofhow a botanical motif—the Prunus mumae {mei W in Chinese)—became suffused with cultural/political meanings, intersected with the formal and theoretical values ofan artistic medium —monochrome ink—and developed within the contexts of two distinctive artistic milieus—Chan (Zen) Buddhism and the culture of the scholar-amateur. And in establishing her thesis she also manages to contribute some fresh and penetrating analyses on some familiar aspects of Chinese painting history. The book's twelve chapters are grouped into four parts, which explore the foundations of a flowering plum aesthetic especially in Chinese literature and then follow the development ofplum painting from the early mention ofthe motif in textual sources to the full flowering (sorry) of a self-referential ink-painting genre through the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties. Fifty-one figurai illustrations are within the text, and forty black-and-white plates appear at the end. Professor Bickford acknowledges the book's dependence on her Bones of Jade catalog in some content areas, but she explains that the present study contains "revisions and additional material" to the original work. Eleven key questions to be addressed are oudined in the author's introduction, and by book's end all ofthe questions have been satisfactorily dispatched.© 1998 by UniversityPerhaps it is only a measure ofthis book's success that one can put it down at ofHawai'i Pressthe end and wonder whether the flowering plum genre ofink painting is simply unique in how well it lends itselfto this kind of generic exegesis or if, like a Kiri Te Kanewa aria or a Greg Norman tee shot, Bickford just makes it look easy. The 68 China Review International: Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1998 author uncovers several turning points in the evolution of the flowering plum from naturally appealing plant to cultural icon: the emerging focus on flowering plums within the context ofthe object-intensive yongwu (Hc^i) poetry ofthe Southern Dynasties period (a.d. 316-588); the establishment of a meihua poetic tradition with Lin Bu (WjJ; 967-1028); the peak and creative decline ofliterary plum-blossom fever in the late Song; the fertilizing role ofAcademic monochrome ink painting from the hands of Northern Song "imperial amateurs"; ink bamboo as a conceptual and formal predecessor of ink plum blossoms; and the definitive historical, theoretical, stylistic developments and transformations imprinted on the genre by diree central figures—Zhongren JÎt (d. 1123), Yang Wujiu HISÍt (1097-1169), and Wang Mian 3EJl, (d. 1359)—though this list of highlights by no means exhausts the flash points of the author's meticulously constructed thesis. Tracing the course of the developments and transformations mentioned above occupies approximately the last 40 percent of the text, and it is obviously primary to the argument of the book, for it was within the roughly two and a half centuries of the Zhongren to Yang to Wang joint life span, Bickford asserts, that the specialized possibilities of the meihua theme and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 67-69
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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