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The Calligraphic Art of Chen Hongshou (1768-1822) and the Practice of Inscribing in the Middle Qing


This dissertation investigates how calligraphic carving emerged as a new literati cultural practice during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in China, by focusing on the versatile scholar-artist Chen Hongshou 陳鴻壽 (1768-1822). Toward this end, the dissertation examines five related issues: first, the extent to which literati engaged in creating inscriptions on solid objects during the period; second, the growing sense of the literati that ancient writing was executed in materials that were distinct from those employed in their brush-based calligraphy; third, how calligraphic carving developed into a literati-style art via seal carving; fourth, the ways in which the active pursuits of the literati in seal carving and the study of ancient bronze and stone inscriptions were extended into their inscribing practice; and lastly, the cultural and intellectual boundaries between the literati and professional artisans that were increasingly blurred. By conducting all these avenues of research, this dissertation demonstrates that a substantial number of mainstream literati engaged in the practice of inscription making during the period as their enjoyable pastime or even as a fashion.

In analyzing calligraphic examples carried in a variety of material objects, the dissertation reconstructs the interaction between diverse forms of art not only in visual feature but also in method of execution. In so doing, the present study underscores the importance of cross-media examination in Chinese art. By investigating how the literati practice of inscription making was derived from their artistic sensibility and growing recognition of diverse works of craft as valuable cultural objects, the dissertation demonstrates that the cultural practices of literati and artisans increasingly merged in this period of China’s history.

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