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  • SchNar-0013 - Limited Access, Quality and Technology Support for Historical Chinese Painting Collections

This wiki space contains archival documentation of Project Bamboo, April 2008 - March 2013.

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Limited Access, Quality and Technology Support for Historical Chinese Painting Collections

Collection Date: January 9, 2009
Scholar #1 Info:

  • Name:
  • Email:
  • Title:
  • Institution/Organization:
  • Field of Study/Creative Endeavor:

Collector Info (can be the same as "Scholar" above):

  • Name: Kathleen Ryor
  • Email:
  • Title:
  • Institution/Organization:

Notes on Methodology:

Collected via the Workshop III Needs Statement Activity



1. Was this story collected for a particular Bamboo working group?  If so, please include, as keywords, the appropriate group(s).

2. Suggested keywords: Does this story contain elements that could be mapped to these keywords?  If so, please indicate which ones and briefly describe the mapping.  Add any additional keywords in #3. (These are global keywords from this page keywords)

3. Please list additional keywords here:

4. Related Stories: Are there parts of the story that relate to other collected stories? Please provide title(s) and link to the story page. 


Description of a sample project and the tasks currently performed in order to complete it: I am investigated a group of 16th century (Ming dynasty) Chinese painters in order to find out how their work was appreciated and collected during their lifetimes and slightly later. This group of painters was later disparaged and fell from critical and historical notice until the 20th century. Because they employed a style that was similar to one practiced in the 11-13th centuries (the Song dynasty) and paintings from this earlier period were highly prized antiques from the 16th century onwards in China, many of their paintings had the signatures erased and substituted with the names of Song artists. Some preliminary research has suggested that these Ming artists were in fact well regarded in their own time. In order to demonstrate the popularity and esteem that these sixteenth century painters had in their lifetimes (and slightly later), I need to perform the following tasks:
1. Find all mention of these artists in texts that date to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Such material primarily includes the collected writings of individuals, local and imperial histories, and gazetteers. Read and translate such material.
2. Because these painters were categorized with the label "Zhe School" at some point in the 17th century (this label was construed as perjorative), I also need to find all uses of the term Zhe pai 浙派 in texts that date to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Read and translate such material.
3. Examine all extant attributions to these painters, with particular attention to any inscriptions and seals by other contemporary figures who either saw or owned the work.
4. Examine anonymous paintings attributed to the Song dynasty and anonymous paintings of the Ming dynasty that exhibit the styles of these artists in order to look for seals of sixteenth century individuals.
None of these tasks need to be followed in any particular order, although the most efficient and potentially fruitful tasks are #1 and #2.

Technological tools used/needed for such work: In order to perform tasks #1 and #2, I currently have to find all collected writings (wenji 文集and biji 筆記), local and imperial histories and gazetteers in print form and examine the table of contents (if one exists) for titles of texts that might relate to painting and then look at those individual texts. This is tedious and extremely time consuming. Because the closest research university (University of Minnesota) now has the electronic imperial library from the 18th century, the Siku quan shu, which contains all books extant at the time and not subject to censorship, I can electronically search for artists' names and other terms with vastly more efficiency and speed. The problem is that the University owns the CD-Rom version, which is only installed on one workstation and is only accessible by driving an hour to the university when the limited hours of the East Asia Library are open (they are not open on weekends). There is also no printing facility available for the terminal. There is a Web-based version of the Siku quan shu and ideally access to this would enable me to do my research better and faster. This is very expensive, and my institution (small liberal arts college) simply cannot afford a subscription. Evidently, it was even too costly for the University of Minnesota to consider. There are also other electronic databases of historical texts that might be useful to me, mostly from Academia Sinica in Taiwan, but again, my institution cannot afford access. Databases of scholarly articles in Chiense also exist and the University of Minnesota subscribes to some, but I need to go there and download to PDF files to disk. While my situation could be worse, lack of easy access to the Siku quanshu database due to the fact that it can only be used on one computer terminal during the work week when I teach makes using this revolutionary tool very difficult.

For tasks #3 and #4, print sources do exist that reproduce all Chinese paintings in public collections (and a few private ones), and they have indices. The problem with this is that the individual photographs in such print sources are tiny black and white thumbnails for the most part. Thus, the inscriptions and seals are not legible. In the end, I need to see all works of potential importance to the project in person. This may not be feasible, but the specific technology that would best support my research in this area is the high resolution scanning of Chinese paintings in all museums worldwide . This would necessarily have to include any colophons attached to the original work of art. Then if one could gain access to such databases, it would be possible to save time and money by eliminating extensive travel. Even if only the museums with the largest and/or most important collections digitized in this manner, it would still greatly improve my ability to conduct research on this and other similar types of projects. More generally, because the language in which I do internet searches is classical Chinese (traditional/non-simplified characters), character sets for Microsoft Word (and presumably Mac if one is a Mac user) need to be large and include rarely used characters that nonetheless appear in most major print dictionaries. I also use such characters in scholarly writing as they often appear in the names of individuals.

In sum, my specific technology needs are threefold. First, large databases of historical Chinese texts exist, but I have either no or limited access to them primarily because of cost. Second, most of the visual material is not digitized and print reproductions have limited use for the above stated reasons. Moreover, the quality of the few paintings that are available in digital form is almost universally poor. Third, day to day usage of classical Chinese for research on the internet is somewhat hindered by limited character sets in Microsoft's software.

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