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Constance A. Cook and John S. Major, eds., Defining Chu: Image and Reality in Ancient China. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1999. ix + 254 pp.*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 March 2015

Alain Thote*
École pratique des hautes études, Section des sciences historiques et philologiques, 45–47 rue des Écoles, 75017 Paris, France


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* I wish to thank Marianne Bujard for her suggestions, and John Lagerwey for assistance in correcting the English of this review.

1. On Chu culture, several publications have appeared since the 1980s, such as Zhengming’s, Zhang 張正明 Chu wenhua shi 楚文化史 (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin, 1987)Google Scholar, and a collection of eighteen books Zhang has edited in 1995–1996 under the general title “Chu xue wenku” 楚學文庫. Even subjects on which information is scarce are dealt with and many of the books are very useful. It should be noted that in China the regional approach often tends to highlight the specific contributions of one region to Chinese civilization, while leaving aside the contributions of the other regions.

2. Such as Tomb 4 at Dangyang Zhaoxiang 趙巷, and probably a group of large tombs that have been identified nearby but not yet excavated. See Wenwu 文物 1990.10, 2532Google Scholar.

3. In the table the site of Jingmen 荊門 Guodian 郭店 appears, on which a report was published in 1998 (Jingmenshi, bowuguan, Guodian Chu mu zhujian 郭店楚墓竹简 [Beijing: Wenwu, 1998]Google Scholar), while the site of Jiangling Jiudian, published in 1995 (yanjiusuo, Hubei sheng wenwu kaogu, Jiangling Jiudian Dong Zhou mu 江陵九店東周墓 [Beijing: Kexue, 1995]Google Scholar), is not mentioned.

4. Wenwu 1981.11, 5154Google Scholar.

5. See Thote, Alain, “I Zhou orientali,” in Storia Universale dell'Arte: La Cina, ed. Pirazzoli-t'Serstevens, Michèle (Turin: UTET, 1996), 123Google Scholar; and Thote, “Le renouveau des études sur la Chine pré-impériale” (review of The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 B.C., ed. Loewe, Michael and Shaughnessy, Edward L. [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999]CrossRefGoogle Scholar), Arts Asiatiques 56 (2001), 159Google Scholar.

6. The tomb contained nineteen bronze vessels (and not “less than thirty,” p. 36).

7. Some of the pieces from Xinyang Changtaiguan Tomb 1 have their exact mates in Jiangling Baoshan Tomb 2. For example, compare the openwork cup-like objects identified by Jessica Rawson as incense-burners and the bronze dui 敦 vessels from both tombs. See yanjiusuo, Henan sheng wenwu, Xinyang Chu mu 信陽楚墓 (Beijing: Wenwu, 1986), 51 (fig. 35), and 50 (fig. 34)Google Scholar; kaogudui, Hubei sheng Jing Sha tielu, Baoshan Chu mu 包山楚墓 (Beijing: Wenwu, 1991), 192 (fig. 121), and 105 (fig. 63)Google Scholar.

8. Seidel, Anna, “Post-mortem Immortality or: The Taoist Resurrection of the Body,” in GILGUL: Essays on Transformation, Revolution and Permanence in the History of Religions dedicated to R.J. Zwi Werblowsky (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1987), 223–37Google Scholar.

9. The dating of Jiangling Mashan Tomb 1 seems to me problematic. Among the numerous Chu tombs discovered in the Jiangling area, this tomb turns out to be one of the latest to belong to Chu culture.

10. Alain Thote, “Lacquer Craftsmanship in the Qin and Chu Kingdoms: Two Contrasting Traditions (Late 4th to Late 3rd Century B.C.)” (forthcoming).

11. For example, on p. 39 it is a pair of vessels, not one vessel, in bronze inlaid with gold and silver that has been found in Jiangling Baoshan Tomb 2; see Baoshan Chu mu, 189. Also, the caption of fig. 3.8 should have mentioned that the bronze bird with deer antlers from Suizhou Leigudun Tomb 1 can be identified as a drum-stand. So has recently agreed with this identification; see Music in the Age of Confucius, ed. So, Jenny F. (Washington, D.C.: Freer Gallery of Art/Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 2000), 137CrossRefGoogle Scholar. So describes on p. 44 two different figures from the Chu Silk Manuscript as having the same identity (the deity of the twelfth month), which is not possible. Moreover, fig. 3.13 seems to be the second of the two figures described, not the first.

12. On the yin-yang theories of the late Warring States period, see Harper, Donald, “Warring States Natural Philosophy and Occult Thought,” in The Cambridge History of Ancient China, ed. Loewe, and Shaughnessy, , 813–84Google Scholar.

13. In n. 12 to p. 69, Cook errs in citing the work of Lothar von Falkenhausen to support her statement that “[a]rchaeological evidence suggests that this practice [ritual instructions inscribed on the outside of bells] may have been imported from the south in the middle of the Western Zhou period.” In fact, in the work cited, von Falkenhausen, , “Chu Ritual Music,” in New Perspectives on Chu Culture during the Eastern Zhou Period, ed. Lawton, Thomas (Princeton and Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1991), 5658Google Scholar, it is stipulated that yongzhong “had undoubtedly been diffused from the south,” but absolutely not the use of inscriptions on bells. On the contrary, von Falkenhausen’s magisterial study, Suspended Music: Chime-bells in the Culture of Bronze Age China (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Oxford: University of California Press, 1993), 46Google Scholar, says the exact opposite: “All the high court officials documented through Western Zhou bell inscriptions appear to have resided in the Zhou metropolitan area. Moreover, the polities ruled by bell-donors all seem to have been located in the vicinity of the royal capital (though some, notably Chu, were later relocated).” Curiously, Suspended Music does not appear in the bibliography of Defining Chu, whereas von Falkenhausen’s 1988 Ph.D. dissertation does.

14. Concerning the bronze inscriptions defined as ritual instructions, Cook refers, mistakenly, to von Falkenhausen, Lothar, “Ritual Music in Bronze Age China: An Archaeological Perspective” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1988), 676–84Google Scholar. Most of the descriptions of rituals supplied by von Falkenhausen are based on the content of poetry, and exceptionally of bell inscriptions (and in that case, information is indirect).

15. The term is misspelled xiangri in n. 61 to p. 86.

16. Not eighteen kilometers north of Jiangling as stated on p. 101. The best summary of this site is Dewei, Guo 郭德維, Chu du Jinancheng fuyuan yanjiu 楚都紀南城復原研究 (Beijing: Wenwu, 1999)Google Scholar.

17. On p. 104, Peters associates ritual bronzes with lacquer containers as examples of goods used by “the aristocratic Chu town resident.” However, we have no information concerning the containers used by the Chu elites in daily life. Probably they had lacquer wares. The reference to a passage in the Yantielun 鹽鐵論 of the first century B.C. indicating that a lacquer cup was worth ten bronze cups cannot be used to highlight the economical and social situation three centuries earlier. Tomb furnishing clearly shows that lacquer craftsmanship was widespread in the capital and its suburbs, near Jiang-ling, as recognized by Peters. This craftsmanship did not require large workshops and strong organization comparable to the bronze workshops, which were placed under the patronage of the court. By contrast, the first century B.C. ear cups mentioned in the Yantielun were probably produced in the imperial workshops, such as those in Sichuan. Their craftsmanship required a sophisticated organization, of the kind that is mirrored in the lists of artisans provided in their inscriptions. Produced by specialized craftsmen who worked in workshops according to a division of labor and were placed under the control of a specific administration, these lacquer wares were very expensive. Furthermore, one has to keep in mind that the Yantielun debate over iron and salt took place at a time when bronze had lost most, if not all, its initial prestige, being used during the Han dynasty for the production of daily wares, and no longer for ritual vessels. Behind this discussion there is precisely the notion of relative value changing over time, which Peters appears to have missed. Concerning mass production in ancient and pre-modern China, see Ledderose, Lothar, Ten Thousand Things: Module and Mass Production in Chinese Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000)Google Scholar.

18. Through artifacts that are found in archaeological sites located far away from their site of production, the movement of goods can be reconstructed, not the physical presence of ethnic groups distinct from the local population. On the archaeology of exchanges applied to the case of ancient China, see Pirazzoli-t‘Serstevens, Michèle, “Pour une archéologie des échanges: Apports étrangers en Chine—transmission, réception, assimilation,” Arts Asiatiques 49 (1994), 2133CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19. The archaeologists have discovered not “a pair of bronze bamboo shaped containers” (p. 111), but two sets of five tallies each, in bronze imitating bamboo tablets. Once reunited, the five bamboo tablets composing a set form a cylinder. The site is located near Shouxian. A detailed presentation and a full translation of the “E Jun qijie” are provided by von Falkenhausen, Lothar in The Golden Age of Archaeology: Celebrated Discoveries from the Peoples' Republic of China, ed. Xiaoneng, Yang (Washington, D.C.: The National Gallery of Art, 1999), 340–44Google Scholar. It is regrettable that an illustration of the tallies is not included in the book under review, as well as a map of the trade routes that have been reconstructed on the basis of the names mentioned in the tallies.

20. One should also mention the possibility that gold objects were recycled. The earliest use of gold by Chu people is evidenced by discoveries made in tombs of Chu elite members at Xichuan Xiasi (sixth century B.C.). However, the use seems to have become important later on, during the fourth century B.C., probably following the expansion of the kingdom.

21. It seems that silver coins did not exist in Chu. See Thierry, François, Monnaies chinoises. I. L'Antiquité préimpériale. Catalogue (Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 1997), 143n64Google Scholar.

22. The style of the inscription on the blade of the sword seems closer to Jin calligraphy than to standard Chu calligraphy. See Thote, Alain, “Les épées de Wu et de Yue et leurs imitations,” Arts Asiatiques 52 (1997), 142–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The fact that the metal comes from Fanyang, which is considered to be a southern mining site (located in Xincai 新蔡, Henan), does not mean that the sword was cast by Chu workshops. Indeed, the style of the sword is different from the standard Chu style swords.

23. See yanjiusuo, Henan sheng wenwu, ed., Henan Kaogu sishi nian (19521992) 河南考古四十年 (Zhengzhou: Henan renmin, 1994), 75 (fig. 32)Google Scholar.

24 The tomb at Yinwan 尹彎 in Shandong containing a manuscript with a TLV pattern (cited in n. 13 to p. 127) is dated to the reign of Han Chengdi 成帝 (r. 32–7 B.C.). See bowuguan, Lianyungangshiet al., Yinwan Hanmu jiandu 尹彎漢墓简牘 (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1997)Google Scholar.

25. See Mundkur, Balaji, The Cult of the Serpent, an Interdisciplinary Survey of its Manifestations and Origins (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983)Google Scholar.

26. See Thote, Alain, “Intercultural Relations as Seen from Chinese Pictorial Bronzes from the Fifth Century B.C.E.Res (Harvard University), Spring 1999, 1141Google Scholar; and Thote, , “De quelques conventions picturales : le char et ses représentations aux Ve–IVe siècles avant notre ère,” Études chinoises 18 (printemps-automne 1998), 179220Google Scholar. There is a third group of representations of men and animals in combat, defined by Charles D. Weber in his Group VII. See Weber, , Chinese Pictorial Bronze Vessels of the Late Chou Period (Ascona: Artibus Asiae, 1968), 113–33Google Scholar.

27. bowuguan, Hunan sheng, “Changsha Chu mu”長沙楚墓, Kaogu Xuebao 考古學報 1959.1, 49, fig. 2.2Google Scholar.

28. For Riccardo Fracasso's work on Xiwangmu, one wonders why Major cites a Taibei mimeograph dated 1985 rather than Fracasso, , “Holy Mothers of Ancient China: A New Approach to the Hsi-wang-mu Problem,” Toung-pao 74 (1988), 146CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

29. Surprisingly, Sukhu translates Chuci as “Chu Texts,” instead of “Chu Verses” or “Verses of Chu,” both more appropriate in the context of poetry.

30. See Rawson, Jessica, “Chu Influences on the Development of Han Bronze Vessels,” Arts Asiatiques 44 (1989), 8499CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

31. See Martin, François, “La parole poétique,” in Paroles à dire, paroles à écrire, ed. Alleton, Viviane (Paris: Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 1997), 5181Google Scholar.

32. This is all the more surprising since Xu Shaohua states that “approximately 70 percent of the three thousand Chu tombs of the Jiangnan region excavated to date are located in Hunan” (p. 32).

33. Hubei sheng wenwu kaogu yanjiusuo, Jiangling Jiudian Dong Zhou mu; yanjiusuo, Hubei sheng wenwu kaogu, Jiangling Wangshan Shazhong Chu mu 江陵望山沙塚楚墓 (Beijing: Wenwu, 1996)Google Scholar.

34. I have no idea about the final publication of this paper. In Childs-Johnson, Elizabeth, “The Metamorphic Image: A Predominant Theme in the Ritual Art of Shang China,” Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 70 (1998)Google Scholar, the author says (n. 68) that it was read at a Shang Conference in 1987 at Anyang. In the same note, she says that the subsequent publication of that paper would be The Ghost Head Mask and Metamorphic Shang Imagery,” Early China 20 (1995), 7992CrossRefGoogle Scholar. And if one checks this last article, then one finds (n. 1) that the paper is in press in the proceedings of the Beijing Conference of 1993.

35. In particular, on vessel functions and shapes one would profitably consult Ling's, Li article, “On the Typology of Chu Bronzes” [Translated and edited by von Falkenhausen, L.], in Beiträge zur Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden Archäologie 11 (1991), 57113Google Scholar.

36. See Wei, Chen 陳偉, Baoshan Chu jian chutan 包山楚簡初探 (Wuhan: Wuhan daxue, 1996), 192–93Google Scholar.