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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


From The Jade Terrace History of Clligraphy to The Jade Terrace History of Painting: The Separate Compilation of Women Artists' Biographies and the Cultural Tradition of Zhexi (Western Zhejiang)

Vol. 40 No. 3   09/2010    


From The  Jade Terrace History of Clligraphy to The Jade Terrace History of Painting:
The Separate Compilation of Women Artists' Biographies and the Cultural Tradition of Zhexi (Western Zhejiang)


Ma, Ya-chen









Key words

The Jade Terrace History of Calligraphy, The Jade Terrace History of Painting, Xu  Fan, Li E, Wang Yuansun, Feng Dengfu 


    In the mid-Qing Dynasty, biographies of female artists were suddenly detached from those of monks and Daoists and were no longer appended after those of male artists. Within a century, separate histories of female artists were being compiled in Zhexi (western Zhejiang), where The Jade Terrace History of Calligraphy and The Jade Terrace History of Painting surfaced as two prime examples. These books were the first compilations consisting solely of biographies of women artists, and, as such, have drawn a great deal of modern academic attention. Very little, however, is known about the background of these compilations. In what cultural contexts did these separate histories of female calligraphers and painters appear? Why were mid-Qing male literati interested in women artists? This article explores the Zhexi cultural tradition, including the discourses of calligraphy and the local collections of art and books, in order to determine the context, reason for, and meaning ascribed to independent compilations of female artist biographies. First, the interest toward women artists among Ming male and female connoisseurs of the Jiaxing period encouraged Zhexi natives in the Qing period to collect related materials. Second, constructing a local identity was essential to both the Hangzhou scholars of the early Qing and the literati of nineteenth-century Zhexi. I argue that earlier generations of local elites amassed biographies of women artists from local history and collections, while later generations expanded these as a way of emulating those before. It is the unique Zhexi cultural tradition that serves as the key to understanding this phenomenon of separately compiling biographies of female artists, a topic that those interested in Qing cultural history and Chinese women's art should not ignore.



Author: Ma, Ya-chen
Genre: Article
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