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250 × 190 × 22 mm
288 pages
199 illustrations, 61 in colour
01 May 2007
  • £35.00

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Empire of Great Brightness Visual and Material Cultures of Ming China, 1368-1644 Craig Clunas

Empire of Great Brightness is an innovative and accessible history of a high point in Chinese culture, seen through the riches of its images and objects. Not a simple emperor-by-emperor history, it instead introduces the reader to themes that provide stimulating and original points of entry to the culture of China: to ideas of motion and rest; to the position occupied by writing and objects featuring writing; to ideas about pleasure, about violence and about ageing. It challenges notions of Ming China as a culture closed off from the rest of the world by emphasizing the vibrant interactions between China and the rest of Asia at this period.

Craig Clunas uses a wide range of pictures and objects from Ming China to illustrate familiar areas such as painting and ceramics (including the blue-and-white porcelain of the period, arguably the world’s first global ‘brand’). He draws on items from public and private collections from around the world, which will be new even to specialists, including weapons, architecture, textiles and items of dress, printed books (from Ming pornography to the world’s first illustrated reading book for children). He also examines contemporary sources from government edicts to novels and phrasebooks of colloquial Chinese as well as the most recent scholarship to illuminate this most diverse period of Chinese art and culture.

Empire of Great Brightness offers a varied and stimulating resource for all scholars of China’s cultural history, for historians and art historians of related aspects of the early modern world, and for readers who are intrigued by China’s past.

‘In pursuing the various aspects of Ming social and material perception and consumption, Professor Clunas vividly depicts a lifestyle in a society where social statuses and moral attitudes were shifting, and where global contact was lively and active. In drawing the connections the Ming had with the preceding Yuan dynasty and the Qing dynasty that followed, this book is a rich reference that provides the context with which to approach and evaluate Ming art history . . . The book is an excellent companion for the study of Ming art, as well as giving established scholars food for thought and engaging in Ming Chinese culture.’ — The Art Newspaper

‘This is an eminently readable history of the high point of Chinese cultures, seen through the riches of its images and objects. Great Brightness introduces the reader to themes that provide original points of entry into Ming China: ideas of motion and rest the position given to writing and objects to do with writing ideas about pleasure, about violence and ageing. The book offers a varied and different approach to this period of Chinas cultural history.’ — Asian Art Survey

‘It is the measure of Clunass success in this fascinating and compelling study that "the Ming" becomes new again, prompting the reader to look at Ming China or any field within Chinese studies with a fresh, enlightened and invigorated gaze.’ — Études chinoises

‘Craig Clunas, is one of the great historians of material culture practising at the moment he really is able to show us how a society functioned by means of studying its objects . . . hes very good at guiding the reader through what is undoubtedly very unfamiliar material.’ — Mary Laven, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern European History, University of Cambridge

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Craig Clunas is Percival David Chair of Chinese Art at SOAS, London.And is Professor of History of Art at the University of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford.He has published extensively on the culture of the Ming period and is the author of Superfluous Things (1991), Fruitful Sites: Garden Culture in Ming Dynasty China (Reaktion Books, 1996), Pictures and Visuality in Early Modern China (Reaktion Books, 1997), Art in China (1997), Elegant Debts: The Social Art of Wen Zhengming (Reaktion, 2004), and Empire of Great Brightness : Visual and Material Cultures of Ming China, 1368-1644 (Reaktion, 2007).