We have chosen for the cover of this issue of the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies a late nineteenth-century painting by Qian Hui’an 錢慧安 (1833–1911), entitled Su Shi (Su Dongpo) Admiring Ink Stones (Poxian pin yan tu 坡僲品研圖). We always aim to pick a cover image from the rich collections of the Harvard Art Museums and Harvard Yenching Library that connects somehow to the issue’s content, but the tiein is particularly strong with this painting. Thomas Kelly’s contribution, “The Death of an Artisan: Su Shi and Ink Making,” discusses the famed Northern Song poet and scholar Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037–1101) and his engagement with the material culture of literary production. Su Shi was a man who knew and appreciated inkstones.
The painting’s Chinese title refers to Su Shi not by his name, but rather as Immortal Po (Poxian 坡僲). This respectful sobriquet—rendered using a rare variant of xian 仙, the usual character for “immortal”—is an elegant take on Dongpo 東坡, one of Su Shi’s many self-chosen artistic names, or hao 號. The painting bears the inscription, “A sketch for Teacher Lan Tianshu [from] the Woodcutter of Qing Creek, Qian Hui’an” (Lüe shi Lan Tianshu Qingxi qianzi Qian Hui’an 略師藍田叔清谿樵子錢慧安); the Woodcutter of Qing Creek is Qian Hui’an’s own artistic name.
The painter, Qian Hui’an, lived and worked in the vicinity of Shanghai. He was known best for his portrayals of human figures, particularly beautiful women, but he produced landscapes as well. He worked in a style that mixed brushstrokes typical of traditional Chinese painting with shading, linear perspective, and other typically Western techniques. The painting featured on the cover comes from an album of nine leaves in the Harvard collection. It is the only painting in the album that portrays a named historical figure; the others portray men, women, and children doing things like fishing, watching cranes, and looking at the sky. Perhaps Qian Hui’an included a historical figure in this one painting because he meant it as a gift to his teacher. HJAS thanks the Harvard Art Museums for their kind permission to reproduce the image.
The Death of an Artisan
Su Shi and Ink Making
Su Shi’s endorsement of an enigmatic artisan named Pan Gu as “the Ink Immortal” adumbrates the Chinese cultural valorization of ink production during and after the Song period. I parse the poet’s two-part effort to transform ink making into a legitimate field of scholarly endeavor in order to defend poets’ autonomy. In Su Shi’s view, such autonomy depends on controlling the tools that sustain literary self-expression. Resisting the passive position of a consumer, Su first identifies with and then comes to impersonate the artisan’s productive body. This pose was, however, predicated on Su’s struggle to influence the marketing of ink through verse and innovative strategies of inscription. After Su Shi, an inkstick was no longer simply a tool for the production of literature but a venue where distinctions between writing and craft could be transformed—a contested subject and substrate of literary art.
The Quest for Efficiency
Knowledge Management in Medical Formularies
New textual techniques emerged in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to facilitate the search for and use of information collected in medical formularies (fangshu). These techniques differed from those used in the production of literary and historical reference books, such as encyclopedias (leishu), because the need to find a medical treatment could be a matter of life and death. Formulary authors thus sought great efficiency in the retrieval and application of knowledge. Several material factors constrained how quickly any medicinal remedy, once found, could be prepared and offered to a patient, and formulary authors worked to limit these material constraints as part of their search for efficiency. I argue that the medically derived material constraints were the key contributors to the new textual techniques’ distinguishing features—notably, abridgement of text and ingredients—and thus explain formularies’ divergent history of knowledge-management technologies in middle-period China.
Fetishism, Allegory, and Irony in Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s Historical Novella Bushūkō hiwa
This article analyzes Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s idiosyncratic historical novella from the 1930s, Bushūkō hiwa. Structured around the masochistic decapitation fantasy of a fictional sixteenth-century warlord, the work conspicuously incorporates fetishistic elements into the sexual history of its protagonist. By employing the logic of the fetish, which enables a subject to embrace simultaneously two contradictory beliefs, the tale affirms and deconstructs a multitude of binary oppositions, including past versus present, reading versus writing, first person versus third person, figurative versus literal, and sadist versus masochist. I also consider the narrative from a formalistic perspective and argue that the linkage of two central rhetorical devices in the narrative, allegory and irony, parallel the logic of the fetish. The novella’s allegorical framework suggests the text is a fetishistic displacement in response to the era’s imperial terror, and the novella’s ironic structure simultaneously undermines any authoritative reading.
Rebirth as an Animal in Early Medieval Buddhism and Daoism
The doctrine of rebirth, particularly rebirth as an animal, was for early medieval Chinese one of the most difficult Buddhist doctrines to accept. This article explores the influence of pre-Buddhist Chinese ideas concerning the human-animal continuum on elaborations in tales of rebirth as an animal that appeared in apocryphal Buddhist scriptures likely written in China and in a late sixth-century Daoist scripture. I argue that this Daoist scripture borrowed Buddhist formulas explaining rebirth through the medium of a confession text authored by the Buddhist monks surrounding Liang Wudi 梁武帝 (r. 502–549), the first Chinese emperor to adopt the Buddhist religion. These texts elaborate a karmic hierarchy of beings, extending from the most loathsome of animals to the most exalted of humans. Thus these texts elucidate the social and political utility of the idea of animal rebirth for the religious writers who presented it to the ruling elite.