Envisioning Antiquity: Yi Bingshou and the Politics of Memory in the Qing Dynasty

Envisioning Antiquity: Yi Bingshou and the Politics of Memory in the Qing Dynasty
Beginning in the seventeenth century, engraved texts on ancient monuments became a vital source for Confucian scholarship and artistic practice in China. Scholars used these inscriptions to establish meanings of Confucian classics, verify recorded historical events, and reconstruct lost sites of cultural legacy. This methodological trend, known as kaozheng, or Evidential Scholarship, stresses the importance of textual analysis to the attainment of authentic knowledge of the past. Intrigued by the materiality and archaic scripts of these engravings, painters and calligraphers of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) deployed prodigious efforts to interpret them in different media in pursuit of aesthetic originality. This stylistic revolution, later termed beixue, or the “stele tradition,” advocates the engraved calligraphy on early stelae as the ideal model.
My dissertation examines how Yi Bingshou (1754–1815), a key figure in the stele tradition, employed archaic styles of calligraphy to establish new aesthetic standards, commemorate historical figures, and negotiate meaningful social connections. Drawing on the social theories of memory, I have chosen three crucial episodes in Yi’s life and art to investigate the antiquarian culture of Qing China, involving critical reflections upon the genesis of the stele tradition, the re-invention of historical figures, and the modes of artistic patronage. The case of Yi offers a vantage point to reconsider the varied roles of artistic writings in the production of space, memory, and identity. It also helps illuminate the intellectual transformation toward “authenticity,” “materiality,” and “medium” behind the formation of new aesthetic judgements.


Weitian Yan

Defended in

1 Jan 2022 – 30 Nov 2022

PhD defended at

University of Kansas




Global Asia (Asia and other parts of the World)
Maritime Asia
Central Asia
East Asia


Art and Culture
Gender and Identity