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  • Tang Ministers through a Qing Mirror
  • Tamara H. Bentley (bio)
Anne Burkus-Chasson. Through a Forest of Chancellors: Fugitive Histories in Liu Yuan’s Lingyan ge, an Illustrated Book from Seventeenth-Century Suzhou. Harvard-Yenching Institute Monographs, no. 66. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2010. 378 pp. Hardcover $60.00, ISBN 978-0-674-03280-4.

Although we have long had available Zheng Zhenduo’s collection of important premodern Chinese woodblock-printed texts (Zhongguo gudai banhua cong kan, 18 volumes, 1957–1961) and other source materials, Euro-American analyses of the visuality of Ming and Qing illustrated texts have been only intermittent. Selected treatments of the interplay of these visuals with literary and social contexts include articles by Dawn Ho Delbanco (“The Romance of the Western Chamber: Min Qiji’s Album in Cologne,” 1983), Nancy Berliner (“Wang Tingna and Illustrated Book Publishing in Huizhou,” 1994), Suzanne Wright (“Luoxuan biangu jianpu and Shizhuzhai jianpu: Two Late-Ming Catalogues of Letter Paper Designs,” 2003), and Michela Bussotti (“Jeux de tables: le Yanji tu, livre sans texte d’ ‘Images en action’?” 2002), and books by Craig Clunas (Pictures and Visuality in Early Modern China, 1997), Robert Hegel (Reading Illustrated Fiction in Late Imperial China, 1998), and Li-ling Hsiao (The Eternal Present of the Past: Illustration, Theater, and Reading in the Wanli Period, 1573–1619, 2007), as well as a forthcoming text by J. P. Park (Ensnaring the Public Eye: Painting Manuals of Late Ming China [1550–1644] and the Negotiation of Taste, 2012). Books that consider the larger operations of late Imperial Chinese print culture, including practices of reading, include an important text edited by Cynthia Brokaw and Kai-wing Chow (Printing and Book Culture in Late Imperial China, 2005), and another written by Kai-wing Chow himself (Publishing, Culture, and Power in Early Modern China, 2004). Although, in her recent work, Through a Forest of Chancellors (2010), Anne Burkus-Chasson builds upon the earlier studies outlined here, she also breaks new ground in significant ways.

Burkus-Chasson’s extensively researched book, which employs an array of theoretical angles and considerable scrutiny, treats a single early Qing dynasty text, [End Page 396] Liu Yuan’s Lingyan Ge (Gallery that skims smoke-like clouds [portraits]), published by Liu’s patron Tong Pengnian in Suzhou in 1669 (p. 3). Burkus-Chasson treats this text in an extraordinarily complex and multidimensional way. The different chapters focus sequentially on the different parts of the book: the title page and prefaces (chap. 1); the imagined portraits of the chancellors, offered in Lingyan ge in print but originally painted by Yan Liben in the Lingyan hall during the early years of the Tang dynasty (chap. 2); the poetic couplets by Du Fu and the “still life” borders on the back of the chancellors’ portraits (chap. 3); the intention behind the production of the book, and the open-ended spaces between the positions of author, publisher, and readers (chap. 4); and the meaning of the appended section picturing three portraits of Guanyin and three portraits of the martial hero Guan Yu (chap. 5). Demonstrating great scholarly rigor and generosity, Burkus-Chasson then includes a complete facsimile and translation of Liu Yuan’s Lingyan ge text, including the title page and prefaces, as well as the work proper, in illustrations and verso couplets. Burkus-Chasson’s impressive treatment provides scholars with an in-depth case study illuminating early Qing print culture. As previous studies have also shown, and the sophistication of Liu Yuan’s work verifies, Chinese illustrated texts from the late Ming forward were, in many cases, extraordinarily artful and intertextual — down to the calligraphic choices, seals, and visual citations. Liu Yuan’s cutting-edge formulations, including references to carefully chosen poetic couplets and late Ming ironic visual treatments, leave no doubt as to the wit and pungency of late Imperial illustrated texts.

In chapter 1, Burkus-Chasson points out that by individually impressing his own vermilion seals on each title page, Liu Yuan seems to establish an ongoing tension between manuscript approaches and printed-book (more “facsimile-like”) approaches (pp. 13–14). Second, she detects a degree of competition between the author/artist and the publisher, based...


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