Hardback: $57.00
ISBN-13: 9780824827724
Published: June 2004
232 pages | color & b/w illus.

Elegant Debts: The Social Art of Wen Zhengming

  • About the Book
  • This book takes an innovative approach to one of the great figures of Chinese culture, the writer and painter Wen Zhengming (1470–1559). Renowned as one of the great “scholar painters” of the Ming dynasty, Wen was enmeshed in a complex web of social obligations, his “elegant debts” as he called them, which led to many of his most celebrated works.

    Using an unprecedented quantity of primary sources for his life and work, Elegant Debts looks at the ways in which social obligation and gift exchange were central to personal and individual identity in the Ming period. The book also examines Wen’s family relationships, his friends, mentors, and pupils, his sense of a distinct local identity, and the interplay of national and regional politics with the achievements of his long life. It uses the insights of a range of scholarship—art history, social and literary history, and anthropology—to show how “self” was constructed in Ming China. In doing so, it makes a major contribution toward a more diverse art history that is less dependent on European conceptions of artists and their work.

    Craig Clunas has published extensively in the field, and is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading scholars of Ming culture. Featuring many images of the work of one of China’s major painters, this book is accessible to all who are interested in China’s culture and history, as well as to students and scholars of art history and the history of culture.

  • About the Authors
    • Craig Clunas is Percival David Chair of Chinese Art at SOAS, London, and the author of Superfluous Things, Fruitful Sites: Garden Culture in Ming Dynasty China, Pictures and Visuality in Early Modern China, and Art in China.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Elegant Debts situates Wen Zhengming within Ming society with a degree of comprehensiveness and detail nowhere else available.
      Art Bulletin
    • Thorough and rigorous
      Journal of Asian Studies
    • Lavishly illustrated in color, this book is a ‘must-have’ for art historians and a feast for all who are interested in Chinese culture.... Essential.
    • A mine of information on Wen Zhengming and the elite culture of his period, Elegant Debts enriches in substanial ways our understanding of China and of what art is in general. It sets a new standard, and it will probably serve as a model for similar studies on artists in China and elsewhere.
      Lothar Ledderose, chair of East Asian art, University of Heidelberg
    • Without studies in depth of this kind, it will never be possible to comprehend the role of painting or artists in Chinese society. Craig Clunas provides an illuminating and fascinating account for this most important artist of the sixteenth century.
      Jessica Rawson, warden of Merton College, University of Oxford
  • Subject Areas