51. Two Admonitory Notes On Chinese Painting Texts

51. Two Admonitory Notes on Chinese Painting Texts

During my teaching years at Berkeley, I regularly gave a no-credit, informal course on the bibliography of Chinese painting, dealing with both reproduction books and texts, doing it at least every other year so that all grad students specializing in that subject could (and had to) take it. I have the handouts for this somewhere, and should put them on my website. For now, I will write out (from memory, as best I can, using the few reference books I have close at hand) two notes of admonition about the traps that Chinese texts set for unwary users. Both are the outcome of the well-known fondness of Chinese scholars for doing scissors-and-paste jobs—copying, supplementing, and re-publishing earlier collections of writings. For painting texts, these culminate (except for some recent compilations) in the great P'ei-wen-chai shu-hua p'u, compiled by Wang Yüan-ch'i and others at the command of the K'ang-hsi Emperor in the period 1705-08. (Chinese "encyclopedias" have this character, assembling quotes from very disparate older writings on some subject and reprinting them—which explains the funny Borges parody of "a certain Chinese encyclopedia" entry on "dog" cited by Foucault at the beginning of his The Order of Things.) In spite of good intentions, these compilations were for the most part done somewhat uncritically, and include unreliable materials. One needs always to go back to, and evaluate carefully, the original source, if it is accessible.


A. Wang I as a Prolific Scholarly Writer. The Yuan-period portraitist Wang I, whose handscroll portrait of the literatus Yang Chu-hsi, done in collaboration with Ni Tsan (whose inscription is dated 1363), is in the Palace Museum, Beijing—see my Index of Early Ch. Ptrs. and Ptgs. p. 337—is sometimes credited with the authorship of a number of brief writings on Chinese painting. Herbert Franke, for instance, in the notes accompanying his translation of Wang's essay on portraiture (Oriental Art old series vol. III no. 1), concludes from this that he must have been a broadly educated man, unusual for a professional portraitist. The truth is that these short writings are mistakenly ascribed to him; he didn't write them. I discovered how this happened when I found in the Library of Congress a work titled Tu-shih ssu-p'u, "Tu Family's Four Manuals." These were collections of excerpts from writings on four subjects, which were poetry (shih-p'u), literature (wen-p'u), calligraphy (shu-p'u), and painting (hua-p'u). This was one of the rare books from the Peking Library that the Library of Congress kept for safekeeping during World War II, and eventually returned, after making microfilms---I assume that these are still somehow available to researchers. (If anyone sends me useful notes on these matters, I will append them to this.)


The Tu-shih hua-p'u, as a collection of short excerpts from earlier writings on painting, took its place in a series of such collections (about which I planned to write an article, but never did), each copying the previous one and adding more. They begin with the series appended to the Yuan-period biographical compilation T'u-hui pao-chien, and continue with a series in the painting section of Ko-ku yao-lun. The Tu-shih hua-p'u, a 16th century work, follows this. In these, each excerpt is followed by the title of the work from which it was lifted. The Tu-shih hua-p'u was reprinted in the late Ming period, with a false ascription to the painter T'ang Yin and (as usual) no acknowledgement of the real source, as the T'ang Po-hu hua-p'u. Now (and here comes the zinger): the last chuan or chapter of Tu-shih hua-p'u had ended with a long series of quotations for which no source was given. The last piece of writing of which the author was identified, coming directly before all these, was from Wang I's essay on portraiture. So the fake-compiler of the "T'ang Yin" compilation, apparently believing that the earlier compiler had simply not bothered to repeat the name of the source for each of these unattributed quotations at the end of his book, added the name of Wang I to all of them. And the compiler of the next such compilation, the Chieh-tzu-yuan hua-chuan or "Mustard-seed Garden Manual of Painting" in the early Ch'ing, continued the mistake by attributing all these to Wang I, as did the P'ei-wen-chai compilers. And so on, down to our time, giving Wang I an undeserved reputation as author of a diverse series of short writings on painting.


B. Famous Yüan Artists and Litterateurs Write About Southern Sung Academy Painters. (Not really.)


I don't have the text volumes of Sirén's 7-volume Chinese Painting: Leading Masters and Principles here, but if my memory serves, you can look at what he writes about the Southern Sung Academy master Hsia Kuei and find a quotation about him purportedly by the Yüan artist Wu Chen. Did Wu really write about Hsia? If you know about Wu's preferences in painting (as I think I do, having written an unpublished doctoral dissertation on him) this seems unlikely; and indeed it is. It is one of quite a few such passages that Sirén (or a translator working for him) took from the scissors-and-paste compilation Nan-Sung yüan-hua lu, "Record of Southern Song Academy Painting," by Li O (or Ê, 1692-1752). (On this book, see Hin-cheung Lovell, An Annotated Bibliography of Chinese Painting Catalogues and Related Texts, Ann Arbor, Center for Chinese Studies, 1973, long out of print and scarce—will somebody please reprint this very valuable work?) pp. 45 -6. When I was working with Sirén in Stockholm in the winter of 1956, going over his text and indexing Chinese names etc., I encountered quite a few such passages taken from Li O's book, and persuaded him to delete them, because they came from an unreliable, in fact fabricated, source. (I write "persuaded," although in fact Sirén agreed to this without ever understanding why: his Chinese was so limited that it was like, as I wrote a colleague, trying to explain a chess problem to someone who didn't play chess.) Somehow I missed this Hsia Kuei/Wu Chen quote, which found its way into the printed work.


Anyone doing research on a Southern Sung academy artist or looking for information and commentary on him will naturally turn to Nan-sung yüan-hua lu, in which quotes from some 91 sources, all listed in its bibligraphy, are conveniently arranged under the names of 97 artists. The compiler Li O was himself a Hangzhou resident and so anxious to gather and publish information on Southern Sung Academy artists who had been active there. But since Yuan and Ming literati writers mostly had small respect for the Southern Sung Academy, writings on it are sparse and generally dismissive. Chuang Su's Hua-chi pu-i (preface 1298) is a good/bad example: little information, scornful comments on great masters—Chuang was overly persuaded by the new doctrines of literati painting being promoted by Chao Meng-fu and his followers, along with others of that time. So one of Li O's principal sources of quotations, one that provides lengthy and interesting texts purporting to be colophons written by prominent Yuan- and Ming-period artists and litterateurs, is the Pao-hui lu (sometimes titled Ssu-ch'ao Pao-hui lu) by Chang T'ai-chieh (preface 1633; see Lovell p. 30). This was the source of the passages I persuaded Sirén to delete from his book—all but one.


Chang T'ai-chieh's book, which takes the form of a catalog of "famous paintings" in his collection, is well known to older Chinese collectors. According to an early 19th century book cited by Lovell, Chang collected several hundred "old" paintings—fakes, that is—allegedly from the pre-T'ang, T'ang, Sung, and Yuan periods, and either composed fake colophons for them or had someone compose these for him. These were attached to the paintings, which were then offered for sale, bearing the added cachet of having been recorded in this distinguished catalog. To works of the Sung were appended colophons by illustrious Yuan writers; to Yuan paintings, colophons by later artists (Huang Kung-wang is prominent among them) or Ming masters such as Shen Chou. Quoted in Li O's work, these are alluring: who would not like to know what Wu Chen thought about Hsia Kuei? One of my best grad students, who will not be named here, had to rewrite his/her masters thesis because he/she had depended heavily on a quotation from Nan-Sung yüan-hua lu that came from Pao-hui lu.


One minor matter to clear up: a contemporary Western writer doubts in print that the fakes listed in Pao-hui lu ever existed. They did—some of them, at least—and were recognized and valued for what they were by modern collectors. I remember the dealer Eda Bungadô (see #29 above, "Japanese Dealers") showing me a handscroll, fishermen in a landscape, purportedly by Ch'ien Hsüan, and identifying it as a Pao-hui lu painting.

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