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Special Feature

Entexted Heritage: Calligraphy and the (Re)Making of a Tradition in Contemporary China

Lia Wei and Michael Long
p. 41-51

Abstract

From medieval times to the present, calligraphy has been theorised as a product of “spirit” rather than of the hand, and has b­een situated atop the Chinese aesthetic hierarchy. Recognising calligraphy as a key aspect of national identification, the People’s Republic of China applied for its recognition to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Through the process of constructing calligraphy as Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), a simplified calligraphic canon emerged, which epitomises the “correct spirit of tradition.” Building on art historical and anthropological questions of transmission and authentication of the classical tradition of calligraphy, this paper challenges this idealised conceptualisation by investigating how a contemporary Chinese ICH regime has worked to “entextualise” calligraphy into present social and political circumstances.

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Editor's notes

Manuscript received on 30 October 2020. Accepted on 11 May 2021.

Excerpt

Full text document will be published online on September 2022.

Outline

Introduction­
Calligraphic copies and entexting the past in the present
Rubbings and the making of a “classical tradition”
Reconsidering the “classical tradition” in modern and contemporary China
“Intangible cultural heritage protection with Chinese characteristics”
Authorising the “traditional” in China
“Correctness” and “spirit” in Chinese ICH
Discussion
Concluding remarks: Authority and calligraphy as ICH

First lines

Introduction­

Through the standardisation of styles, the study of past models, and the theorisation of gesture, from medieval times to present, the “classical tradition” of Chinese calligraphy (shufa 書法) has been perceived as situated atop the Chinese aesthetic hierarchy. Indeed, recognising calligraphy as a key aspect of national identification, the People’s Republic of China applied for its recognition to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, to which it was successfully added in 2009. However, through the process of constructing calligraphy as intangible cultural heritage (ICH), a simplified calligraphic canon emerged as an “always-already authentic tradition” of the Chinese Nation.

Historically, calligraphic works in China were preserved through successive acts of copying, generally transitioning from writing on silk or paper to stone and wood engravings. This form of reproduction led to the commissioning of massive collections of inscrib...

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References

Bibliographical reference

Lia Wei and Michael Long, « Entexted Heritage: Calligraphy and the (Re)Making of a Tradition in Contemporary China », China Perspectives, 2021/3 | 2021, 41-51.

Electronic reference

Lia Wei and Michael Long, « Entexted Heritage: Calligraphy and the (Re)Making of a Tradition in Contemporary China », China Perspectives [Online], 2021/3 | 2021, Online since 01 September 2022, connection on 20 January 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/chinaperspectives/12255 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/chinaperspectives.12255

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About the authors

Lia Wei

Lia Wei is Associate Professor in Chinese art history at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (Inalco). She obtained her PhD from SOAS, University of London, and has been conducting archaeological research and teaching in the PRC since 2009, with a focus on early imperial funerary landscapes on the Southwest frontier and medieval epigraphy in Northern China. She also curates and participates in several projects in modern calligraphy or contemporary ink painting. Inalco, 65 rue des Grands Moulins, 75214 Paris Cedex 13 (liawei.mail@gmail.com).

Michael Long

Dr. Michael Long is an independent researcher with more than seven years of research experience in the PRC concentrating on Chinese governance, minority politics, culture policy, and heritage politics. Trained at the University of Cambridge Department of Social Anthropology, he conducted two years and a half of fieldwork in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China and is active in the Cambridge Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit (mdrl3@cantab.ac.uk).

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