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Chang, Jennifer Chih-Chieh (2024) Personal Commemoration and Collective Enactment: Performing Literati Identity through Autobiographical Landscape in 19th-century China. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This dissertation distinguishes a new genre of autobiographical materials under the rubric of landscape, in which early 19th-century Chinese intellectuals performed the ideal male selfhood through intertextual discourse. I term these works as “autobiographical landscapes 小傳山水”. According to its prevalence, the scope of this dissertation is set to the Jiangnan area between 1796 to 1850, an era experiencing intense domestic and foreign crises. Usually mounted as handscrolls, an intellectual would commission the landscapes to convey his agency and invite selected viewers to offer their colophons. In this process, this distinctive group of landscape handscrolls served as a means for private commemoration and a vehicle for collecting commentaries from peers. The collective engagement led to the fashioning of literati identity for the individual and the community. My overarching argument is that autobiographical landscape should be considered biographical rather than hagiographical, offering localised, separate histories outside the official grand narrative. In addition, the visuality and the materiality of such landscapes in handscrolls contribute to their potency. This study centres on seven selected autobiographical landscapes and structures their representations of male individuality around the Confucian epitome, “cultivating the self, regulating the family, and governing the state.” I arranged the three themes in reversed order from external to internal. The themes explored are achievements in officialdom and scholarship, dedicated maternal education and filial sons, and philosophical beliefs delivered via the narrative of dreaming. These case studies led to further investigations on developing topics in the study of Chinese literati painting and autobiography, such as assorted commissions of biographical materials, images of instructing offspring, gendered viewing of artworks, narrative painting, and employment of dreams in autobiography. By contextualising these landscapes, this study establishes the significance of autobiographical landscape and offers new perspectives on 19th century literati culture.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Shane McCausland
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 03 May 2024 13:44
Funders: Other

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