November 3, 2008
137 illus., 37 in color
10.00 Inches (US)
7.00 Inches (US)
4.15 Pounds (US)
$70.00 USD, £56.00 GBP
v2.1 Reference

Accumulating Culture

The Collections of Emperor Huizong

Winner of the Shimada Prize for Outstanding Work of East Asian Art History

By the end of the sixth century CE, both the royal courts and the educated elite in China were collecting works of art, particularly scrolls of calligraphy and paintings done by known artists. By the time of Emperor Huizong (1082-1135) of the Song dynasty (960-1279), both scholars and the imperial court were cataloguing their collections and also collecting ancient bronzes and rubbings of ancient inscriptions. The catalogues of Huizong's painting, calligraphy, and antiquities collections list over 9,000 items, and the tiny fraction of the listed items that survive today are all among the masterpieces of early Chinese art.

Patricia Ebrey's study of Huizong's collections places them in both political and art historical context. The acts of adding to and cataloguing the imperial collections were political ones, among the strategies that the Song court used to demonstrate its patronage of the culture of the brush, and they need to be seen in the context of contemporary political divisions and controversies. At the same time, court intervention in the art market was both influenced by, and had an impact on, the production, circulation, and imagination of art outside the court.

Accumulating Culture provides a rich context for interpreting the three book-length catalogues of Huizong's collection and specific objects that have survived. It contributes to a rethinking of the cultural side of Chinese imperial rule and of the court as a patron of scholars and the arts, neither glorifying Huizong as a man of the arts nor castigating him as a megalomaniac, but rather taking a hardheaded look at the political and cultural ramifications of collecting and the reasons for choices made by Huizong and his curators. The reader is offered glimpses of the magnificence of the collections he formed and the disparate fates of the objects after they were seized as booty by the Jurchen invaders in 1127.

The heart of the book examines in detail the primary fields of collecting — antiquities, calligraphy, and painting. Chapters devoted to each of these use Huizong's catalogues to reconstruct what was in his collection and to probe choices made by the cataloguers. The acts of inclusion, exclusion, and sequencing that they performed allowed them to influence how people thought of the collection, and to attempt to promote or demote particular artists and styles.

This book will be of interest to scholars and students of Chinese art history, social history, and culture, as well as art collectors.

Published with the assistance of The Getty Foundation.

About the Author

Patricia Buckley Ebrey is professor of history at the University of Washington and author of The Cambridge Illustrated History of China and The Inner Quarters: Marriage and the Lives of Chinese Women in the Sung Period.


"Ebrey's groundbreaking book . . . considers Huizong's contribution to visual culture of the Northern Song dynasty and beyond. This is a magisterial undertaking. . . . This is a much needed and timely work . . . [and] a major accomplishment in scholarship on the Northern Song dynasty."—Roslyn Lee Hammers, China Review International, v16.1 2009

"Ebrey's depiction of how the court appropriated literati collecting practices during Huizong's reign succeeds in presenting imperial collecting as a positive instrument for cultivating political power."—Foong Ping, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, December 2011

"The collections of the late Northern Song emperor Huizong (r. 1100-1125) were unprecedented in scale and comprehensiveness. Accumulating Culture is a highly readable, handsomely illustrated account of Huizong's quarter century of collecting, which culminated in the compilation of three catalogues that became standards for centuries thereafter."—Journal of Asian Studies


"If Leonardo or Rubens had unexpectedly (and impossibly!) become king, perhaps we would have a match for Huizong, but there is really no one like him in history. Ebrey brilliantly illuminates the complexities of the political and military situations of which his life was the center, and her recreation of Huizong's collections is a huge achievement."—Richard M. Barnhart, Yale University

"Traditional historiography has never succeeded in assessing the cultural enterprises of Huizong independent of their final cost in political terms, which Ebrey manages to accomplish with considerable skill. Placing the reign in the context of its time, she explores the contemporary political value of Huizong's cultural enterprises as well as their impact on later practices of art collecting and criticism."—Richard L. Davis, Lingnan University, Hong Kong

University of Washington Press
China Program Books

9780295987781 : accumulating-culture-ebrey
576 Pages
$70.00 USD

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