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  • Qian Qianyi’s Reflections on Yellow Mountain: Traces of a Late-Ming Hatchet and Chisel by Stephen McDowall
  • Allan H. Barr (bio)
Stephen McDowall. Qian Qianyi’s Reflections on Yellow Mountain: Traces of a Late-Ming Hatchet and Chisel. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2009. X, 226 pp. Hardcover $50.00, ISBN 978-962-209-084-2.

These days, Huangshan 黃山 is the primary tourist destination in southern Anhui province, and few visitors take the time to explore Qiyunshan 齊雲山, a neighboring mountain in Xiuning 休寧 county that is dwarfed in height and scale by Yellow Mountain to the northeast. In late Ming times, however, Huangshan tourism was still relatively undeveloped, and it was the accessible and manageable Qiyunshan that was a better known attraction. Qian Qianyi’s 錢謙益 “Reflections on Yellow Mountain,” written in 1642, may have played a role in altering this state of affairs, for its substantial length and prominent position in Qian’s Chuxueji 初學集 (where it takes up a whole juan) must have given a boost to the growing interest in Huangshan during the seventeenth century. Relatively little of Qian’s extensive and often difficult prose writings has been studied in depth in English, and Stephen McDowall’s monograph is a very welcome addition to the literature. Written in a lucid and engaging prose, the book is divided into two parts. Part 1, illustrated by a number of attractive color reproductions, discusses the cultural [End Page 380] and biographical backdrop to Qian Qianyi’s account, while part 2 offers a densely annotated English translation of the complete text. A valuable appendix includes a painstakingly collated Chinese text of Qian’s account. The book as a whole forms an excellent introduction to this work by Qian Qianyi.

McDowall opens by questioning the common assumption that travel accounts present objective reports on things seen by the observer. Arguing instead that “all representations of landscape are culturally creative acts,” he presents a reading of Qian’s “Reflections on Yellow Mountain” “as the product of a discourse rather than as an empirically verifiable space” (p. 3). Just as tourists today, visiting an unfamiliar attraction for the first time, might allow their choice of route or their evaluative judgments to be shaped by a Michelin or Lonely Planet guide, McDowall shows how Qian took his cues from existing introductions to Huangshan.

Inspired by recent work that has emphasized the connection between consumption and selfhood in the late Ming, McDowall argues that “representations of engagement with landscape are usefully viewed alongside writings about collecting and connoisseurship that characterize the period” (p. 7). In chapter 1 (“Of Trivial Things”), the author elaborates on this idea, finding in late Ming youji a “heightened sense of the self, and the eagerness of the author to define himself in opposition to other, vulgar tourists” (p. 20).

Chapter 2 (“Landscape of Brush and Ink: Literary Tradition at Yellow Mountain”) traces the evolution of literary portrayals of Huangshan, from the Song text Huangshan tujing 黃山圖經 to the prose accounts that began to circulate more widely during the Wanli period of the late Ming, when “the structure of the typical Yellow Mountain youji began to take shape” (p. 61). This tradition was consolidated in the early Qing, which saw the publication of a series of guidebooks to Huangshan that showcased these travel accounts.1

Chapter 3 (“Hills and Waterways: Yellow Mountain in Seventeenth-Century Visual Culture”) offers a parallel treatment of artistic representations of the mountain. Here McDowall makes the point that “its consensual establishment in visual culture allowed Yellow Mountain to be depicted by seventeenth-century artists drawing on the collective memory of their peers and predecessors, rather than on first-hand observation” (p. 60). He comes to the conclusion that both texts and pictures display “precisely the same communal development of a representational tradition.” Qian Qianyi’s essay, McDowall suggests, “is as much an engagement with an entire tradition of landscape representation as it is with the mountain itself” (p. 62).

Chapter 4 (“Traces of Hatchet and Chisel”) turns to Qian’s prose account itself, which was written to complement a set of poems composed when visiting the mountain in 1641. McDowall examines carefully the spiritual, possibly even religious...


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