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Reviews 567 William Watson. The Arts ofChina to a.d. 900. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995. x, 277 pp. 396 illustrations. Hardcover $65.00, isbn 0-300-05989-2. Every scholar at some time and on some level contemplates the ideal introductory book to his or her field or discipline. Few are bold enough to take on the challenge . Beyond the enormous investment of time, the completion of such a project is an inevitable exposé of one's personal vision of the field to one's colleagues. And, indeed, no two serious scholars would or should introduce a field in the same way. For the arts of China, any new book must stand alongside Laurence Sickman and Alexander Soper's The Art and Architecture ofChina (first published in 1956 with several newer editions), Michael Sullivan's The Arts ofChina (first published in 1967 with numerous updated editions), and, to a certain extent, Sherman Lee's A History ofFar Eastern Art (first published in 1964, also widi numerous revised editions). All three of these for decades have been employed as textbooks in the majority of introductory college courses in Chinese art history in the United States, and they have been used fairly successfully, sometimes in combination with the many other more specialized or less widely used books, including some by William Watson. Although a paragraph similar to the one above, with a different name and title, could stand as die preface to a review of an introductory book in any branch of sinology, for Chinese art there exist two unique challenges. First is the audience . The art field is comprised ofcurators as well as academics, and introductory books are most successful if they can serve both audiences. Second is the problem ofhow to assess the constant infusion of data that emerges from China's soil. Several times a year over the past forty-five years, with no sign of decrease in pace or significance, Chinese excavators have been uncovering finds as major as the thousands of figures in pits near the tumulus of Qin Shi Huangdi. From the most general book to the most scholarly paper, a new find can alter one's conclusions within a month after publication. Since introductory books are expected to have long lifetimes and wide circulation, it is an especially serious task to choose the four hundred or so illustrations that will still best represent the field after another ten years ofexcavation. Any fair assessment ofa new introductorybook on Chinese art must take into account these two factors as well as the author's goals for that book and, perhaps,© 1997 by University the reviewer's point ofview. For TheArts ofChina to a.d. 900, the author clearly ofHawai'i Pressstates his major goal in the preface. As for the reviewer, my primary purpose is to assess the merit of this book as a textbook for a survey of Chinese or Asian art history, or perhaps as a text for a more general college course on East Asia. 568 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 As Professor Watson tells the reader in his preface, there exists a standard history of Chinese art, that is, a history ofwell-known and well-published monuments with a large body of supporting documentary evidence. Many of these monuments, he writes, are found in Sickman and Soper's Art and Architecture of China, the previous book on Chinese art in this Pelican series, now published by Yale University Press. Watson tells the reader that his own book seeks to explain more of the techniques of the Chinese arts than is offered in other books on this subject, and that it will do so through a discussion of objects in major collections. The Arts ofChina to a.d. 900 succeeds in this attempt. The technical manufacture of the various "minor arts" for which China is known—bronze vessels, lacquerware , and all varieties of ceramics—is explained in detail, as are numerous aspects of Chinese painting. Furthermore, the illustrations for his explanations, which appear on almost every page, are excellent, sometimes spectacular. This book is user-friendly and is presented as the kind ofbook tiiat many, including...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 567-569
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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