The social and political life of calligraphy at the Tang courts

Xie, Chen (2020). The social and political life of calligraphy at the Tang courts. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Turning away from well-established traditions of stylistic analysis and biographical studies in the existing scholarship of art history on calligraphy, this thesis combines sociological, political and anthropological perspectives to examine the seldom mentioned social and political uses of calligraphy at the Tang courts. It focuses on five groups of calligraphic objects and the interpersonal relationships on which these objects functioned. I demonstrate that the meaning of a calligraphic work was not abstract; it was not intrinsically a work of art, but rather its significance emerged out of the concrete relationships between objects bearing calligraphy and the people who produced, received, and commented on these objects. It is the pervasive and multiple uses of calligraphy and its close alignment to the broader political, cultural, and religious contexts that contributed to calligraphy’s high position within the Chinese cultural matrix. Calligraphic interaction provides a lens zooming in on the relationship between Tang emperors and other court members, revealing the nature of court society as a network of interdependencies. As a means of self-presentation and a vehicle for social interaction, calligraphy facilitated court members’ various agendas and united individuals of various strata across court society. In addition, to enrich the understanding of Tang court society and the mechanism of rulership, the focus of some of my inquiries, as well as the notions of what constitutes ‘art works’ and ‘artists’, as employed in this thesis may also contribute to the diversity of art history, a subject that has been largely based on models and theories designed to explain western art.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures, Department of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology (CAHA)
Funders: Other
Other Funders: China Scholarship Council, Li Siguang scholarship
Subjects: A General Works > AM Museums (General). Collectors and collecting (General)
D History General and Old World > DS Asia


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