ed. by Petra ten-Doesschate Chu and Ning Ding. (Issues & debates). Getty Research Institute, October 2015. 320 p. ill. ISBN 9781606064573 (pbk.), $55.00.
Reviewed January 2016
This volume of the Getty Research Institute's Issues & debates series includes sixteen essays, originally presented at a symposium at Peking University in 2012, about cultural encounters between China and the West. The essays explore the exchange of ideas and visual materials during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912), and especially during the long eighteenth century. A foreword by prominent art historian Jonathan Hay and an introduction by the editors position this publication within the context of Chinese art history, emphasizing that this era witnessed a truly reciprocal exchange of artistic ideas between China and the West. The essays explore this concept through various examples of cultural hybridity, including prints, paintings, architecture, garden design, plants, ceramics, textiles, interior design, and methods of display. The result of these exchanges, as the contributors expertly demonstrate, was a better understanding of and a greater appreciation for each other's cultures.
These encounters between China and the West were propelled by a preexisting interconnectedness and a "multifaceted reflexive awareness," as Hay remarks in his foreword. The volume's contributors demonstrate that Europeans did not exclusively borrow Chinese forms, patterns, and designs to create their own, hybrid chinoiserie style. In fact, the Chinese, and especially the Qianlong emperor, enthusiastically commissioned and imported products from Europe, and then adapted them for use in their own country. Meanwhile, Jesuit missionaries from Europe blended Western techniques with Chinese materials and artistic traditions, producing paintings, prints, pavilions, and gardens for the Qianlong emperor and his court. These examples of exchange strengthen the book's overarching thesis that both China and the West benefited culturally and commercially from these encounters.
The book's content is well organized and clearly laid out. The sixteen essays are grouped into four broad themes, which help the reader identify the essays' recurring topics. The essays themselves are divided into manageable sections with bold subtitles, allowing the reader to pause and then re-focus their attention before continuing on to the next section. Qing Encounters boasts plentiful high-quality illustrations, some in color. The illustrations are numbered within each essay, and the nearby margins helpfully list each illustration's title, artists' birth and death dates, dimensions, date, and current location. The essays include extensive endnotes, and illustration credits and a sizeable index are included. The volume also contains biographical notes for each of its many contributors.
The intended audience for Qing Encounters is scholars and students of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Chinese art history, in particular those interested in prints, architecture, ceramics, textiles, gardens, the history of collecting, and other areas featured in the essays.