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Picturing Tools for a Perfect Society: The Presentation of Agrarian Tools in the Yuan-dynasty Book of Agriculture

Date: 20 January 2011 (Thursday)
Time: 5:00pm
Venue: Room 2.38, Main Building, HKU

The Book of Agriculture or Nong Shu 農書 (circa 1303) by Wang Zhen 王禎 (act. 1300s) is hailed as a scientific achievement that consolidated information on agriculture. The original text is lost, but later versions indicate it contained an extensive amount of woodblock-printed imagery. Scientific inquiry informed the depiction of implements and techniques; however this is only one aspect. Wang Zhen regarded agricultural knowledge as the means to perfect society. Through close textual and pictorial analysis, this presentation draws upon visual culture materials to reconstruct the larger discourse that surrounded the presentation of technological information. The Book of Agriculture includes literary citations, imagery, poetry, etymological studies, historical accounts, and discussions seeking to legitimize the heritage of Chinese agriculture during the Yuan era (1271-1368) of Mongol domination. Wang Zhen sought to perfect society through re-invigorating agrarian knowledge; he aligned the representation of agricultural tools and techniques with at least two distinct, interrelated strands of classical thought: the Zhou-era (c.1100-256 BCE) Confucian texts and Northern Song (960-1125) reformulations of them.

Speaker: Roslyn Hammers

Dr. Hammers conducts research on the history of Chinese art and art theory. She is interested in the representations of labor and technologically-informed imagery. Her book Pictures of Tilling and Weaving: Art, Labor and Technology in Song and Yuan China (Hong Kong University Press, 2011) is a recipient of the College Art Association’s Millard Meiss prize. She is presently finishing a book-length manuscript on the Qing-dynasty Pictures of Tilling and Weaving and writing two articles, one on the acculturation of nature in Song-dynasty art and the other on the representations of cotton production in the Qing era.

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