Originally published in Antiquarianism and Intellectual Life in Europe and China, edited by Peter N. Miller and François Louis. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2012. 103–145.

Comparative history is about the art of the question. Like a question, comparison directs our attention to new horizons. And, like a good question, it contains within itself the seeds of an answer. But it is not an answer—it is a suggestion of what an answer might look like. Our comparison of the role of the meaning and study of antiquity in the shaping of scholarship and scholarly lives in Europe and China from 1500 to 1800 should be read as one long question.1

The European antiquarian tradition played a key role in the development of modern historical studies, not just in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—this much is charted—but even in the nineteenth and twentieth. Modern historians, nevertheless, have shown little interest in their maligned and obsolescent ancestors. Only very very recently can one point to a prejudice-free reexamination of this antiquarian legacy. The Chinese category of jinshi xue has been more respected, but whether it has been adequately appraised by historians is an open question. (This would mean understanding its limitations as well as its advantages.) Yet, over the course of the twentieth century it has effectively morphed into epigraphy and become a serious auxiliary science for archaeologists and historians—leaving aside the appeal it had on dilettantes, collectors, and calligraphers—and thus was subject to some of the same marginalization that affected antiquarianism and its successor auxiliary sciences in Europe. This process was driven by a common engine, imported with the biases of the European university at the founding of the modern academic system in China c. 1900. It would be no exaggeration to state that studies of Chinese antiquarian learning are today where the study of European antiquarianism was after Momigliano’s article was published in 1950—with no common bibliography, chronology, terminology, or teleology.

The essays in this book present various ways in which the study of antiquities gave a determinate shape to intellectual life in the European Renaissance and in the corresponding Ming and early Qing periods. In what follows, I would like to take Weber’s comparative model seriously and closely probe at several likely points of convergence in order to determine much more precisely the divergent and distinctive contours of the European and the Chinese antiquarian traditions. Weber’s next step, the detailed study of each of these on their own, is a task for others, and elsewhere.

The Monograph Tradition

In the Sather Lectures, Momigliano explained how the study of the deep past was called archaiologias by the Sophists, who were pointing to the kinds of records that extended beyond the memory of living men—the eyewitnesses preferred by historians for their supposedly greater reliability. But it was the Roman Marcus Terentius Varro (116–27 BCE) who effected the fundamental linguistic and conceptual transposition from the Greek archaiologias to the Latin antiquitates: a transposition that would hold for almost 1900 years, until the academic turn documented by Karl Bernhard Stark a century ago.

Varro’s gigantic Antiquitatum rerum divinarum humanarumque libri (Divine and Human Antiquities) was lost sometime in late antiquity (Petrarch thought it could still be found) and exists for us only in fragments and references. But we do know that of its forty-one books, twenty-five concerned human and sixteen divine antiquities. Each part was, in turn, divided into peoples, places, times and institutions: Qui agant, ubi agant, quando agant, quid agant (Augustine, City of God 6:3). In other words, the “Rerum Humanarum” was divided into four parts, each of six books, plus a one-book introduction. The parts consisted of the great men of Rome from the time of Aeneas (men), geography of Italy and Rome (places), chronology of Rome with a discussion of calendars and events in Roman history (times), and institutions, customs, legal, and military systems (things). The Rerum divinarum adds a fifth part, on the gods, so that its structure was pontiffs, augurs, quindecemvirs (men), shrines, temples, religious places (places), holidays, circus, theater (times), consecrations, private rites, public rites (things), and gods certain, uncertain, principal, and select.

Compared to Livy’s contemporary historical project, which also recounted the glory that was once Rome in order to uphold it for a future Rome, we can easily grasp just how different Varro’s was. Even within his categories of “people” and “places” Varro was not aiming at the kind of seamless narrative that Livy created. On the other hand, moral exhortation through exemplarity, and dedication to the mos maiorum, was certainly part of what Varro was on about. We can grasp some further, more precise sense of Varro’s cultural place by looking at how his work was interpreted by his friend Cicero, in the latter’s Academica. The dialogue begins with the arrival of Varro at Cicero’s villa near Cumae. After some banter about whether Varro wouldn’t finally say something about philosophy, Cicero offers an appreciation of what he had written:

‘What you say, Varro, is true,’ I rejoined ‘for we were wandering and straying about like visitors in our own city, and your books led us, so to speak, right home, so that we could at last realize who and where we were [tui libri quasi domum reduxerunt, ut possemus aliquando qui et ubi essemus agnoscere]. You have revealed the age of our native city, the chronology of its history, the laws of its religion and its priesthood, its civil and its military institutions, the topography of its districts and its sites, the terminology, classification and moral and rational basis of all our religious and secular institutions, and you have likewise shed a flood of light on our poets and generally on Latin literature and the Latin language, and you have your self composed graceful poetry of various styles in almost every metre, and have sketched an outline of philosophy in many departments.’2

Cicero stresses Varro’s conservative project (“who and where we were”). But the catalog of the project also corresponds precisely to what we know of Varro’s encyclopedia with its visions of chronological ordering and cultural systematizing, and defines for us, as well, the content of antiquitates.3 Finally, in Cicero’s metaphor of wandering (and straying) we have the prototype for Petrarch’s and Poggio’s walks through Rome, and in his image of being “led right home,” for Freud’s therapeutic peregrination through our mental Romes.

The end of the Roman world meant the end of the world for which Varro wrote and for whom he was meaningful (even his negative meaningfulness for Christians such as Augustine—for which we have much to be grateful for) dissipated once pagan Rome was no longer even worth mocking. The disappearance of his work from that of subsequent scholars followed from this physical disappearance. But what if the Roman Empire had lasted for another 1000 years? Then Varro might today have the status of his near-contemporary, Sima Qian (145–86 BCE), who gave Chinese dynastic history its lasting shape.

Sima Qian’s Shiji is a history of China from the mythical Yellow Emperor down to the author’s own time, the beginning of the first century BCE. The history contains 130 juan. But in contrast to the diachronic order of the earlier historical works, like the Springs and Autumns (Chunqiu) and the Bamboo Annals (Zhushu jinian), this history is divided into five groups:

1. Twelve scrolls (juan) that are basic annals of rulers of successive dynasties (benji).
2. Ten scrolls of biao, or tables, with chronological concordance of rulers of various preimperial states, but also genealogies of the families ennobled early in the Han.
3. Eight scrolls of shu, literally “documents,” but actually treatises on subjects important for good government, such as ritual, music, calendar, etc.4
4. Thirty scrolls on hereditary families (shijia).
5. Seventy scrolls of biographies (liezhuan) of prominent figures in all walks of life. These also include information on the foreign peoples with whom the Chinese came into contact during this period.5

By including biographies and monographs (treatises) as well as narrative, diachronic, and political history, Sima Qian set forth for the future the combination of—and the model of how to combine—synchronic and diachronic forms within a single historical investigation. One reason why the Chinese antiquarian tradition may have escaped careful attention is that it was incorporated into a living mainstream practice of history from the very beginning. Unlike in Europe, where the success of Thucydides, Livy, and Tacitus, to choose only a few examples, emphasized the distinctiveness of Varro’s antiquitates, in China both diachronic and synchronic studies were subsumed into “History” and thus excluded no separate practice that could be revived later.

Sima Qian’s model took hold immediately.6 When Ban Gu (32–92) wrote the Hanshu, or History of the Han, he not only followed Sima Qian by making a dynasty the unit of measure, but by adopting the same fivefold division of material. He added new treatises and omitted others, for a total of nine: calendar, rites and music, punishments and laws, food and money, state sacrifices, five phases, geography, land drainage, and literature.7

The invention of the monograph, or treatise, was a great success. Indeed, so great was it that it burst the bounds of dynastic history under the Tang dynasty, where administrative reform created an ongoing need to know about religion, calendars, and public law, and gave birth to a whole new and separate genre, the “encyclopedia,” or leishu writing.8 Paradoxically, however, the invention of this new form made it possible to view the monograph tradition as separate from the historical, creating something like a Chinese equivalent of Momigliano’s polarity between the “ancient historian” and the “antiquarian.” History, in China as in Europe, narrated deeds or events (res gestae) from which readers could learn proper virtue. The treatises conveyed information about the proper cosmological positioning of past rulers, and the encyclopedias useful information for bureaucrats, but neither fed into the culture of moral education by narrating the exemplary deeds of the good and great.

When the Tang Emperor Taizong established the History Bureau in 629 its members were assigned to add monographs to the Five Histories. Completed in 636, new treatises were written on ten topics: rituals and protocols, the calendar, astrology, the five phases, ritual music, commodities, penal law, bureaucracy, geography, and books. The last treatise, a survey called “Monograph on the Classics and Literature’ (jingjizhi), was an attempt to classify knowledge by dividing books into four categories, Classics, History, Philosophy, and Belles-Lettres, which were then further subdivided into thirteen classes. In this schema, there were 874 titles under “History,” containing 13,264 fascicles.9

The next important contribution to the development of a “Varronian” tradition in China comes during the Song. Zheng Qiao’s (1104–62) General Treatises (Tongzhi, 1157) was organized into three parts: annals, biographies, and monographs. Zheng preferred “monograph” to “treatise,” explaining that the former were linked to Erya, the authoritative reference book for classics; this textual reference was a bid for increasing their prestige in the eyes of the wider public.10 In addition to the old topics (rites and rituals, laws and punishments, civil service, recruitment of talents, agriculture, and trade) we find genealogies of important clans, categories of ideograms, phonetic sounds, astronomy, geography, cities and towns, posthumous titles, ceremonial costumes, music, food and money, literature and writing, the comparison and verification of documents, diagrams and illustrations, bronzes and stones, cosmological portents of catastrophes, and flora and fauna. The monograph on books is organized into twelve categories which reflect his sense of how all human knowledge in book form looks (it is slightly different from the list of monographs), including classics, rites, music, philological and phonetic works, histories, philosophers, knowledge of heaven, five phases, arts, medicine, encyclopedic works, and literature. Zheng’s stress on huidong, or meeting and linking (or convergence and comprehensiveness), gives his encyclopedism a theoretical dimension.

The increasingly ambitious range of these monographs comes out even more clearly in Ma Duanlin’s (1245–1322) General Study of Literary Remains. Like Zheng, Ma argued for the interrelatedness of synchronic and diachronic, and thus for the utility to the historian of a toolkit that included both annals and treatises. “Therefore,” he writes, “to understand the reasons for the gradual growth and relative importance of institutions in each period, you must make a comprehensive and comparative study of them from their beginnings to their ends and in this way try to grasp their development; otherwise you will encounter serious difficulties.”11

He superimposed on this the reality of continuity in Chinese history. Thus, from the Qin and the Han down to the Tang and Song, the regulations concerning rites, music, warfare, punishments, taxation, and the selection of officials, as well as the changes and elaborations in bureaucratic titles or the developments and alternations in geography, did not suddenly spring into being as something unique for each period. In other words, Ma was not merely trying to link modes of presentation (synchronic versus diachronic), but also modes of human experience, of time (continuity versus change).

Indeed, Ma scored Sima Qian for his relentless diachronicity, turning on its head the historian’s commitment to chronology-as-explanation. Instead, Ma argues that this offers “facts without continuity, without reciprocal relationship (buxiang yin).” Étienne Balázs’ interpretation of Ma (c. 1960) shows us how familiar these texts could seem to those immersed in the work of Braudel’s VIe section of the École Pratique des Hautes Études: “In other words, the history of events, dominated by contingency, is without great interest.” (“Autrement dit, l’histoire événementielle, dominée par la contingence, est sans grand intérêt.”) And thus, Balázs cited Ma in that same preface, but now quoting Jiang Yan (444–505), saying, “Nothing is more difficult in historiography than to write monographs,” and added that “in effect, monographs are related to statutes and cannot be written by someone who has not been familiar with institutions for a long time.”12

Ma’s insistence on practical familiarity defines the antiquarian in much the same way that the classical European insistence on the primacy of the eyewitness privileged a different class of historical writer, the military participant (viz. Thucydides, Josephus, Sallust). But it also helps us understand the methodological as well as thematic connection between these encyclopedias and the local administrative gazetteer, or difangzhi. These, according to James Hargett, contained individual essays ranging across what we might call cultural geography, discussing territorial divisions, the founding of cities, and local products and customs.

Difangzhi had their origins in the seventh century genre of tujing, literally “maps/illustrations and treatises.” These were collections of maps, or illustrations with accompanying explanations, that were intended to supply bureaucrats with information on local communications, administrative institutions, customs and legends, products, and landmarks. Over time, the texts gradually displaced the illustrative material in importance.

In Li Jifu’s (758–814) preface to the sole surviving Tang tujing, the Yuanhe junxian tuzhi, he explained that geographers have “placed greater emphasis on antiquity than on contemporary matters” so that “those who collect folk customs for the most part transmit what is suspect and miss what is factual.” In other words, antiquity had dominated to the detriment of present need. What was required, he implied, was a new focus on the present, and new rules for insuring that it was well-served. Thus, whereas in early modern Europe we find that it is the prestige of antiquity that provided “cover” for a new empirical approach, in China it is the opposite: the needs of imperial government provided the prestige that lent authority to an empirical turn.13

Li signals an important change that began in the Tang and fed the Song genre of fangzhi, or gazetteers, for political, administrative, and military purposes. Again, to the European eye, this seems like a marriage of Varro with Ludwig August von Schlözer, the late eighteenth-century German founder of Statistik, or science of the state. Schlözer took the structural study of economy, agriculture, land, geography, and population—what we might think of as the antiquarian heritage applied to modern times, or as a Western version of the tujing—and made it into a modern university field, somewhere between political science, sociology, and human geography.14

More tujing were compiled in the Northern Song than in any other period. Ouyang Xiu, in the Xin Tangshu, writes that the Supernumerary Gentleman in the Bureau of Operations and Court Gentlemen was in charge of “matters pertaining to maps, walls and moats, strongholds and garrisons, beacon mounds, frontier guards, road distances and naturalization of the four aliens.”15 In other words, the kind of information that now found its way into this literary genre was linked directly to an administrative officer. The lone surviving Northern Song tujing, Zhu Changwen’s Wujun tujing xiuji (1084), with its discussion of topography, monuments, technological improvements, and human features, is a kind of chorography, not so different from those of Conrad Celtis (Germania Illustrata, c. 1500) or William Camden (Britannia, 1607), or indeed from their ancestor, Biondo Flavio’s Italia Illustrata (c. 1453), though given definitive shape by administrative necessity.16

According to Hargett, it was the blending of this tujing with another genre, that of the zhi, or study of the capital city, that produced the “modern” difangzhi. The only surviving zhi dates from the eleventh century, Song Minqiu’s (1019–79) Chang’an zhi. The preface was written by none other than the famous historian Sima Guang and is important for its emphasis on the encyclopedic character of the work, on the way in which the study of a city could open out on to various subjects—as an early modern European antiquary might propose for ancient Rome and as Stark later offered as a model for a new cultural geography:

As for [periods when Chang’an was] declining and prospering, shifting and changing, as well as the records of its mansions and chambers, its inner and outer walls, wards and market-hubs, homes and dwellings of officials, townships and market towns, villages and hamlets, mountains and rivers, fords and bridges, roadside pavilions and stations, temples and shrines, tumuli and graves, together with traces and vestiges of its ancients and forefathers, the refinements and elegance of its notable persons, the excellence and abilities of its prefects and magistrates, the unusual and outstanding specimens of its flowers and plants—in no case has the author failed to provide information. Compared to Wei [Shu’s New] Records [on the Two Capitals], this work is well over ten times more detailed! When you open this work it will bedazzle you—the information therein will seem to be right in your palm of your hand! Truly, this is a book about everything!17

Hargett notes that in the Southern Song the difangzhi become “overwhelmingly” textual, perhaps as a consequence of needing to be more easily used by administrators. The shift away from geography toward a “rational” system would occur in Europe as well, though there would be nothing comparable to the needs of a centralized imperial bureaucracy until the early modern rise of the state.

Under the cover of administrative necessity, autopsy comes to the fore. Chen Qiqing (1180–1236), in the preface to his Jiading Chicheng zhi, explains that “Whenever my venerable elders could not explain something, I would rely on stone-tablet inscriptions; whenever stone-tablet inscriptions could not resolve something, I would rely on written records; whenever the content of written records was indecipherable, I would then make a judgment based on reason, at the same time basing my decision on human nature.”18

But there was a tension at work here; if antiquity versus autopsy describes one of its axes, generality versus particularity does another. As particularity was itself, inevitably, the arena in which autopsy could be practiced, the tendency to seek justifications in antiquity, and conclusions that were wide-ranging, could be read as a reaction against close looking.19 Compilers of these texts were, by tradition, mostly professional geographers or officials, not academicians. But starting with the Southern Song, men of letters were more and more their authors, and they wrote for their fellow literati, not for provincial administrators.20 By the twelfth century, commensurate with this shift in producers came a shift in production: less oriented toward physical geography, administration, and customs and drawn more toward human affairs and their lessons. The appeal to “history” masks a methodological slide from “descriptive” to “exemplary.”

Contemporaries now explicitly linked the administrative gazetteer to the monographs found in the dynastic histories. Wang Xiangzu (thirteenth century), in his preface to Chicheng zhi (Gazetteer of Chicheng), writes, “The Gazetteer of Chicheng was written by the Grand Historian, master Chen Qiqing. His guiding rules of compilation were strict and discriminating; he rejected and selected the essential and reliable. The various prefaces praise his writing style for its similarity to the monograph style of Sima Qian and Ban Gu. No other writer can match him.”21 By the Ming period, these fangzhi were actually considered as history.

Finally, a third realm of structural narrative related to the monograph form was genealogy.22 Hugh Clark has argued that “the redefined genealogy” of the Song period “became one of the most unique records of local history through the later Chinese imperial era.”23 For later periods there are prefaces, directions for use, tables of contents, generational descent charts, lineage origins, imperial patents, biographies and funerary inscriptions, ancestral hall inscriptions and ancestral rituals, household regulations and lineage covenants, household instructions and household traditions, charitable estate inscriptions, tomb inscriptions and tomb charts, and essays and writings. Like the treatises and difangzhi, this is a synchronic format that aimed at description.24

But here, too, as in the case of the difangzhi, the Song-era treatises showed new trends, marking less a change in methodology than approach. Those who see a “neo-Confucian” revival have pointed to the genealogical thinking of Ouyang Xiu and Zheng Qiao as examples of it. Some Song thinkers viewed this a narrowing of genealogy’s function. Zheng Qiao, for example, in his treatise on clan and family, contrasted the traditional genealogy, with its dual function of assisting governments in selecting officials and great houses in arranging marriages, with a new approach that was all about lineage.25 But what we do not find, even among these leading scholars, are new uses of the genealogical materials to create a new kind of history.

If we want to get a sense of the genre, it makes sense to take a look also at its “neighbors.” For example, in the “Bibliography of [Ming] works” found in the standard history of the Ming compiled in the Qing, we find ten categories of historical works: official histories (zenghshi), miscellaneous histories (zashi), sundry historical recordings (shichao), anecdotes (gushi), geography (dili), genealogies (pudie), biographies (zuanzhi), information on imperial bureaucracy (zhiguan), rites and ceremonies (yizhu), and penal codes (xingfa).

Reading this as a Europeanist, it is hard not to think of the researches of seventeenth-century antiquaries such as Peiresc, or André du Chesne or Charles du Fresne du Cange (to stay in France), or of the mid-eighteenth–century historical curriculum, with biography, political history and the Hilfswissenschaften, or of Schlözer’s revisioning of geography and ethnography as Statistik at the beginning of the nineteenth century.26

The Song Moment

Some time between Augustine and Petrarch, Varro disappeared. And while various imperial and, especially, Papal programs of Renovatio invoked the glory that was Rome, they were piecemeal, lacking the vision of a whole conveyed by our use of the word “civilization.” For this, we have to wait for the creation of an ideology of Antiquity in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Traditionally, this has been associated with Francesco Petrarca, though as Ronald Witt has argued most recently in English it was the Latin revival in France which brought a “classicism” to the strivingly autonomous comunes of northern Italy—two generations before Petrarch.27 Moreover, the legal and political culture of the communes required trained Latinists. In this context, it was impossible to segregate the practical functions of Latin from its historical and cultural overtones and associations. Only afterward did the impractical lure of poetry triumph over the how-to manuals of the ars dictaminis.

Witt’s key point is that access to the past came through access to new modes of expression. The poet’s pursuit of language—in this case, crucially, an ancient language—made possible a new kind of history. We might say that this is the birth of history out of the spirit of poetry. Witt adds that a “strong impetus” for a new kind of historical precision was the search for tools to separate past from present and so reduce the threat of a glorious pagan past influencing, inundating, and threatening the fragile Christian present.28 Bracketing off the past was only possible if one could make sure that past was actually another country. Alberto Mussato (1261–1329), for example, had found the way back to this distant space by recovering lost time in Latin syntax.29

What we might only half-jokingly term the “discovery of the past perfect” implied a radical break, of a “then” and “now” separated by a great chasm of time. In Europe this was real; in China, by contrast, this sense of irreparable rupture was less obvious. In Europe, this new sense of time through poetry extended from the wider world into the narrower frame of the self. It now became possible to describe one’s own life not in relative terms like youth or old age, but to experience it in discrete increments of time. Identity and time—and time’s slow but inexorable passage—were now joined. “In the next generation,” Witt writes, “the implications of considering one’s life experience as a continuity of precisely defined temporal units would hit Petrarch with their full force. Preoccupied with time, desperately anxious about its measured passage, compulsively autobiographical, Petrarch obsessively returned to his own past.”30 “In order to forget my own time,” Petrarch wrote, “I have always tried to place myself in spirit in other times. Therefore, I took pleasure in history.”31 This is where Mussato’s discovery comes home to roost: in the human possibility of seeing oneself existing in a long time continuum and then imagining what it might be like—or what it was like—to occupy a different position on that very same continuum. Poetry and history meet in the nexus of imagination and reconstruction.32 Petrarch the poet, who immersed himself in Ovid and Virgil, had acquired this sensibility as second nature. But we would be wrong to see only a literary imagination at work here. For Petrarch had also entered into a deep dialogue with Augustine, and with Cicero, from whom he would have also encountered a similar sense of the depths of time, as in Cicero’s breathtaking account of how a walk through Athens evoked the cultural history of that place.33

Much has been said about Petrarch’s antiquarianism—probably more has been said about him on this subject than was actually written by him. He was certainly captivated by Cola di Rienzo’s discovery of the Lex de imperio Vespasiani in 1347 and lent his authority to Cola’s political revolution. His interest in coins and inscriptions was genuine, though superficial and very imperfect.34 Where he intuitively grasped the past was on the page—he was a manuscript-hunter and collector of the first rank—and in the heart.

Indeed, were we to properly assess Petrarch’s contribution to the study of antiquity we would have to celebrate as paramount his “spatialization” of the past, his ability to see the past in its physical space and through its physical space. His famous letters about the antiquities of Rome were letters about walking across Rome.35 This would prove crucial for subsequent generations. But for him, even the physical remains of the past were just a different kind of fuel for the imagination. And so it was less the learned, precise reconstruction of ancient Rome that he sought—not, of course, that it would have been possible at that time—so much as to use the remains that were there to evoke and stimulate interest in a Roman past that was much richer than its physical survivals.36 In the famous letter to Giovanni Colonna describing his walk through the ruins of Rome, it was “not so much because of what I actually saw as from the recollection of our ancestors [non tam ob id quod ante oculos erat, quam recordatione nostrorum maiorum], who left such illustrious memorials of Roman virtue so far from the fatherland.”37 As atop Mont Ventoux, it was not the place itself, so much as what the place called to his mind’s eye, that Petrarch beheld. Indeed, Petrarch actually feared the consequences of too great a familiarity with the “real” remains of ancient world, “fearing that what I had imagined in my mind my eyes would belittle at the moment of reality, which is always injurious to a reputation.”38

Nor did Petrarch think of this kind of account as “history.” In the Itinerarium ad sepulcrum Domini Nostri Ihesu Christi), written in 1358 in the form of a letter and sent to Giovannolo Guido da Mandello, governor of Bergamo, Petrarch described the places along the route from Genoa to Jerusalem. He himself had, of course, not visited most of these places. In this, as in his earlier antiquarian work, he was writing through his mind’s eye. But in this letter he was explicit that it wasn’t history either; “Nor indeed I am now writing history, but am describing places” (“neque enim scribo nunc historiam, sed loca describo”). It was under the rubric of “place” that Petrarch then broached, as in the example of Genoa, the manners of the inhabitants, the disposition of the site, quality of its buildings, fleet, the mole, the artificial port, city, coast, mountains, and the customs, spirit, and style of life of its inhabitants.39 Place, then, offered Petrarch a way into the distant past—as at Rome—and distant present—as at Genoa. Both these aspects remained part of the European antiquarian legacy.

Petrarch also understood that there was much he did not know. But like everyone else in his day, and before, and most since, he preferred literary to material sources. He found them easier to work with, of more meaningful content, and more familiar. On top of that, what material had survived was often broken, or at least so damaged as to require exquisite powers of remediation. Books, by contrast, seemed more whole. “Seek in books and you will find authorities. Explore the entire city and either you will find nothing or the tiniest signs of great works.”40

These two lines of access to the ancient world launched by Petrarch had rich fortunae afterward: space as a prompt for the learned imagination, and words on monuments as the preferred kind of antiquity (favoring numismatics and epigraphy).

Thinking about Petrarch in this way can help us recognize the antiquarian in Ouyang Xiu, and the extraordinary efflorescence of the study of ancient objects under the Northern Song. For the Moderns who created the academic study of the Chinese antiquarian tradition, the eleventh and twelfth centuries were a kind of miraculous moment of birth and zenith all at once. The explicit methodological justifications for the study of old things, so close in sound to modern justifications of historical evidence, would surely have caught the ear of the Chinese scholars trained at European universities of the late nineteenth century who then created the literature on Chinese antiquarianism—and of course for the Westerners who followed in their footsteps. Moreover, that these Song texts were foundational for the Chinese study of their own antiquities from the eleventh century onward—not necessarily for the same reasons, though the Chinese canonization was later read in terms of the Western sensibility of evidence which the Song were believed to have possessed—also established their worth.

The raw facts of this moment of origins, in the Northern Song, according to Li Yusun in 1824, are that there were sixty-one antiquarians in the Song. Yang Dianxun in 1926 counted eighty-nine titles from that period that no longer survive. Thirty do, and the earliest is from 1092. This is Lü Dalin’s Kaogu tu, and in its preface he gives three practical purposes for the work, namely, to account for the origin of ritual institutions, to fill lacunae in the classics and commentaries, and to correct the errors of older scholarship. Lü described in words and line drawings 210 bronze artifacts and 13 jades from the Shang to the Han dynasties, in the Imperial and in 30 private collections.41 Lü’s method included line drawings of artifacts, facsimiles of any inscription, ekphrasis of physical appearance and dimensions, and use of terms from classic texts to designate artifact types and decorative designs.42 This catalog established the canonical type and was imitated a few years later (1107–10, revised 1119–25) in the Bogu tu, the catalog of 839 artifacts in the collection of Emperor Huizong (r. 1100–1126). The catalog “entry” model became normative, containing a line drawing, image of the inscription and its transcription, and then a short record of basic information and a study of particular aspects of the object.43

Whether or not he was the most established scholar of the group, it is Ouyang Xiu, like Petrarch, who set the tone. A high court official and reformer, in the 1040s Ouyang emerged as an intellectual leader during the decades that followed.44 He directed examinations at the time when Su Shi (1037–1101) and Cheng Yi (1033–1107) were taking them. Ouyang’s exam questions of 1057 offer a parallel to the European tradition of viewing history, by which was meant ancient history, as the teacher of life (Historia magistra vitae). According to Peter Bol, “Ouyang’s questions are oriented toward selecting individuals who studied the classics for the conceptual skills necessary to deal with similar affairs in the present, as a source of general principles necessary for the task of government, and as part of traditions of factual knowledge.” Antiquity and classics were foundations for Ouyang’s questions, and Bol contrasts this sharply with Hu Su’s questions of 1059, for example.45

This interest in the human world was reflected also in Ouyang Xiu’s projects of the 1050s, the revision of The New Tang History and The Remarks on Poetry. A widely shared view of Ouyang Xiu was that his importance lay in broadening the basis of historical research beyond government documents to include works of fiction and historical anecdotes, etc. As a stylist he was a crucial figure for advocating guwen, or archaic literary style, as developed in the Tang.46

Is there a resemblance between Ouyang Xiu and Petrarch? Could there not be a resemblance between the two? Again, this is a question that has not yet been asked from within Chinese studies.47 But a Europeanist, thinking about the craze for better and better Latinity in the Renaissance, might easily view a preference for, or return to, archaism as something characteristic of the best ambition of fifteenth-century Italian humanists, or even the worst excesses of the “Ciceronians” pilloried so magnificently by Erasmus (1528).

In the first treatise of his New History of the Tang, “Rituals and Music,” Ouyang Xiu lays out his historical theory. His very real sensitivity to ritual as lived history echoes a commonplace defence of court rites; the point is, rather, how available was a rhetoric which could now be redeployed for hermeneutical purposes.

The ancients used palaces and conveyances for abodes, garb and headgear for clothes, sacrificial vessels for utensils, and natural materials for music. Thus did they attend the sacrifices and approach the court, serve the spirits and order the populace. Their annual and seasonal assemblies took place as audiences and visitations; their happiness and social intercourse took place as archery contests and communal feasts. They gathered the masses to undertake projects, creating hunting parks and schools down to hamlets and paddy fields. Whether auspicious or ominous, sorrowful or joyous, all the affairs of the populace came as one out of ritual.48

As a court official, he was also involved in a fascinating episode which turned on the materiality of ritual music. Robert E. Harrist suggests that the very impetus for the rise of antiquarianism came from the imperial court, where Confucian ritualists wanted to identify proper models for vessels used in court ceremonies. The efforts at the court of first Renzong (1010–1063) beginning in 1034 and then Huizong (1082–1135) to reform court music aimed at replicating the bronze bells and tripods of the Zhou. Efforts to do this based on textually supported practices did not succeed. The chance discovery of three actually ancient bells in the 1030s suggested the possibility of a breakthrough, though recasting from the objects, as opposed to from the texts, ran into stiff resistance. The project faltered; but several decades later—decades filled with the work of Ouyang, Lü, and other pioneering students of ancient inscriptions—Huizong did succeed at modeling new bells on an ancient model.49

The episode of the bells pitted the authority of ancient texts against the authority of the eye (autopsia) and ear. To this same contest we could add Ouyang Xiu’s famous, genre-launching discourse on the peony and its attention to the social, economic, and cultural rituals surrounding the cultivation of flowers. Here the challenge was to the idea of textual power tout court, since in this essay Ouyang gleaned information from gardeners, artisans, and other lower class types.50

And, similarly, in his Remarks on Poetry Ouyang argued that poets were men like himself, responding with emotions to events. The poem is a commemoration of responses to life. These discrete, emotionally unique responses to life are embedded by the poet in his scholarly colophons.51

How does this connect to Ouyang Xiu’s path-breaking antiquarian operation, Ji gu lu (Collected relics of the past, 1061), one of the most cited and reprinted of all the Song antiquarian works? Ouyang had been interested in ancient inscriptions from the time of his exile to Luoyang, where he associated with other scholars then promoting a revival of ancient prose, of the sort found in inscriptions—just as in Europe epigraphy and humanism went together.52

Ouyang Xiu proclaimed his attraction to these “most bizarre and extraordinary, majestic and striking, skillfully crafted and delightful of material things.” This is more than just an attraction to the archaic. (One should be clear that he refers here, as elsewhere, to inscriptions and their vessels—but he only concerns himself with objects on which there is writing.) Unwilling to leave inscriptions to the elements, or to entrust them to the faulty hands of human copyists, he decided to make rubbings. And knowing that even this collection of rubbings would eventually be broken up, he decided to make a catalog of colophons “where I have recorded the facts they contain that they may be used to correct the textual historical record. It is my hope that this will be transmitted to future scholars as a contribution to learning.”53

It is this rhetoric of historical utility that has attracted the attention of scholars ever since, leading them to view Northern Song antiquarianism as the foundations of modern historical practice in China.54 Ouyang Xiu argues that an inscription can correct a copyist’s error in the textual record, supplement that textual record, or clarify something misunderstood in the textual record. This could easily be read as a statement of evidentiary sophistication “far in advance of its time.” It led Zhu Xi (1130–1200), not much later, to name Ouyang Xiu the first to collect and record “inscriptions on metal and stone” (jinshi).

But Ouyang Xiu was no scientist. He collected rubbings, not the things themselves, and then he wrote about them. He was not creating a catalog of calligraphy as models for use (as done by Emperor Taizong [976–97] at the beginning of the Song dynasty). Taizong used the word “models” [fa] and Ouyang Xiu “past” [gu]; Taizong looked for examples to improve future practice, Ouyang Xiu old and idiosyncratic inscriptions that were almost by definition resistant to any future adaptation.55

Looking closely at Ouyang Xiu’s antiquarian colophons, Ronald Egan concluded that very rarely did Ouyang Xiu in fact offer a methodological perspective. Egan’s main point is that though Ouyang Xiu gestures toward historical utility, it is a concessionary gesture toward his audience, not a reflection of his personal commitment. Personally, it was all about “amusement” (wan). Over and over again in the preface and the colophons we find him justifying his practice in terms of the pleasure it gives him.

And what gives him pleasure is itself very interesting. In a colophon he writes, “Moved by the thought that all material things eventually go to ruin, and realizing that even metal and stone, for all their hardness, do not last forever, I resolved to collect and record inscriptions left to us from ancient times and preserve them.”56 This is the same melancholy sense of time’s rule over all things human that takes us back, as Alain Schnapp has shown, past Pindar’s sixth Pythian ode, to ancient Mesopotamia and Old Kingdom Egypt, but also, via Ovid’s “Tempus edax rerum, tuque invidiosa vetustas, omnia destruitis,” to the antiquaries and humanists of the Renaissance.57

It turns out that, according to Egan, what gives Ouyang pleasure is contemplating the fragility of the human trace. In another colophon he writes: “The things that scholars who are fond of the past collect and preserve do not necessarily serve any use in the world today. It is just that when they come across such fragments that are buried or strewn about the countryside, they view them with special affection and pity. Such is the obsession of fondness for the past.”58

What Ouyang does not do is justify his studies by reference to their exemplary value. This of course cuts completely against the grain of justifications for studying the past that we find in the great historians. Nor is Ouyang’s “past” all that past. By Egan’s reckoning, 60 percent of his material is from the previous dynasty (Tang). And yet, for all this proximity, Ouyang feels himself as if living on one side of a chasm that separates his era from pre-Song times.59 This sense of a break, of lost time and lost people, permeates his work.

And so the colophons, and the history of their artifacts, become occasions for reflection, rather than objects of study. Much as Pierre Hadot has taught us about ancient stoicism as a philosophical exercise, and much as I have myself tried to argue for antiquarianism in early modern Europe, studying the past could also be a philosophical exercise because of its instruction in the fragility of the human trace. Ouyang Xiu seems to be articulating this same principle.

The broken inscriptions he studies remind Ouyang of the broken lives of their authors or of the inexorability of time’s passage. Their illegibility, in turn, helps him mark that passage. When Ouyang finds some great piece of calligraphy by someone totally unknown, he immediately reflects on how thin is the thread saving that forgotten figure from an undeserved oblivion. “How could they ever be fully enumerated, such gentlemen as this man, who were outstanding in their time for their exceptional learning but through misfortune did not have their names transmitted to posterity? And how could we ever grieve sufficiently for them? … Could they ever be fully enumerated, those gentlemen who had true ability but were never appreciated by others?”60

This is a crucial point: in the Chinese tradition, as in Europe, textual survivals facilitated the “time travel” that enabled moderns to learn from ancients.61 With Ouyang, the same sense of the depth of the human condition is now being read through things, not words. Reading Ouyang Xiu’s colophons alongside of the prefaces of the Comte de Caylus (1692–1765) makes us wonder about the work performed by old things in the human emotional economy.

I declare that this particular examination is the essential point and the principal object of these reflections, because it presents in effect the greatest advantage of the study about which it is a question, that it shows to the antiquary the millions of men immured in the abyss of time, which will carry him off in turn in its whirlwind. He perceives a considerable number of Kings, absolutely ignored where even a name is hardly known … The return to oneself that these examples trigger is perhaps the most effective means to destroy Egoism, the great enemy of man and the most bothersome defect in society.62

The names recorded in the old inscriptions transported Ouyang to other times, other places, other fates. One colophon reflects on an inscription containing the names—only names!—of all those who visited Mount Hua over a 200-year period. Ouyang contemplated the dates and noted that some marked the best of times, and others the worst. Some individuals had luck and others did not. But “in the end these 500 men all shared the same end in death. The winds and frosts through the years have cracked their names, so that while some are still preserved others have been lost … Whenever I place my hand on the rubbing, I am overcome with emotion.”63

When he actually knew the people named, the emotion was even more keenly felt. In another colophon he explained that when he opened a box and took out his rubbings, he thought of all those with whom he visited the site. Many were now dead; “Moved by these events, and yearning for the past, I am overcome by grief.” Egan notes that when Ouyang Xiu is held up as the forerunner of epigraphic studies in China, “what is ordinarily omitted from accounts of the project is this personal dimension that we have been discovering in the colophons.”64 Indeed, when Ouyang looks into the past he is not seeking a lost archaeological truth, but more like a poet connects across time and space through the medium of an emotional reception. The poet in Ouyang Xiu makes the past present for the historian in Ouyang Xiu. His colophons were ostensibly devoted to making sense of an inscription but were actually opening on to the human experience.

The poet studying the physical remains of the past and infusing them with imaginative spirit while at the same time launching a whole new scholarly tradition; an exile with a commitment to pursuing antiquity and antique style back through language. This pursuit of the materialized past is the foundation of modern antiquarian studies. But with all this, the past remains more food for emotional reflection than for science. Are we talking here about Ouyang Xiu … or Petrarch?

The Renaissance and the Ming

The most important thing about Petrarch the Antiquarian is that he failed. Or, more precisely, that he had few followers and was soon superceded. Looking back, it might seem that Petrarch was the earliest figure to have recognized the importance of numismatics and epigraphy for history, and he certainly was a great polemicist on behalf of antiquity, but there is really no comparison between him and the great triumvirate of antiquarian studies of the 1440s, Cyriac of Ancona, Poggio Bracciolini, and Biondo Flavio. With them there is a dramatic leap forward in the depth, range, methodological seriousness, and success with which the material remains of the past were plumbed.

The important thing about Ouyang Xiu the Antiquarian is that he succeeded. As an epigrapher—whether one accepts Egan’s view or hews to the received, “scientific,” interpretation of his motives—he created a genre, and the catalogs of antiquities assembled by Lü Dalin and by the Emperor Huizong became canonical. For the next seven or eight hundred years their work was reprinted, in ever so slightly changed forms, and established the framework in which Chinese antiquities were formally studied. The Song “Moment” came to define antiquarianism in China. Ouyang Xiu’s legacy meant, in practice, a focus on epigraphy and a disembodied relationship to materiality—carriers of textual meaning, often linked to reflection on time’s passage, but not evidence for the social and cultural history of past civilization.

It is precisely this, by contrast, which increasingly came to capture the attention of those Europeans who followed Petrarch. If his immediate fourteenth-century followers struggled with the aporiae of classical epigraphy, by the 1430s the great and mercurial Cyriac of Ancona had cracked the code. His travels around the Aegean, always with notebook in hand, mark the zero hour of classical epigraphy in Europe. His notebooks were copied over and studied by contemporaries and it is because of this vast contemporary reception that we know anything of his project, since his own papers have been lost to fire, carelessness, and “eating time.”65 But it is just as important to remember that Cyriac was full of fancy, and that as precise as he was, there was an extraordinary imaginative energy at work in his reconstructions. Invocations to Mercury, his personal deity, stand cheek by jowl with very careful ekphrases of sites and inscriptions. This poetic power is a Petrarchan legacy that would live on in Pirro Ligorio, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and Jean-Jacques Barthélémy. If, as Wood argues in this volume, the history of modern scholarship can, in part, be read as a long effort to purge from itself its “substitutional” origins and recast itself as “archaeology,” the presence and power of these figures—and one could stretch the story up to our own time—is deeply challenging.

Two of Cyriac’s Roman friends were secretaries in the Papal Curia, Poggio Bracciolini and Biondo Flavio. With them, too, we discern the impress of Petrarch, and in one way even more powerfully than with Cyriac. For they absorbed and explicitly acknowledged his message of the spatialization of the past. Poggio used the same convention of a walk through Rome to present his study of Roman inscriptions (Book 1 of de Varietate Fortunae, 1448),66 and Biondo based an entire volume of studies on the physical disposition of Rome’s monuments (Roma Restaurata, 1446). If for Petrarch space was a prompt for the imagination, for Poggio and Biondo it was the skeleton on which they performed their autopsy of an ancient civilization, exposing and classifying its guts.67

We do not find this step from Petrarch to Poggio in China. From the giants of the later eleventh century, we have to wait until the later seventeenth for a comparable step “forward” from the imaginative to the analytical—and even then, as we will see, there is a question as to whether that later step is not in fact an entirely new beginning. If we look to the parallel Song-Ming “transition,” we find it is the philosophical, ruminative, and connoisseurial dimension that is continued.68

To the Europeanist, the Ming attitude to antiquities—or at least what scholars assert of it—looks very close to what we might describe as a “neoclassicism.” Momigliano’s “age of the antiquaries” was, after all, not the seventeenth century, with the pioneering scholarship of people like Casaubon and Scaliger, but the eighteenth, when the fruits of this revolutionary deepening of knowledge of the ancient world was deployed by architects, designers, and artists. Consumption patterns, rather than incisive scholarship, ruled the day. James Watt in his 1987 catalog on literati art and life in the Ming makes this point that antiquity served as a lifestyle option (“archaic elegance”). By the late Ming, “the ability to understand ‘antiquity’ became a common prerequisite in cultural education.”69

Indeed, if we compare Ming China with later seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe we indeed find a similar production of manuals and catalogs that would enable bourgeois collectors to acquire practical information without long years of hard scholarly labor. The closest parallels are between Henry Peacham’s The Complete Gentleman (1634), Baudelot de Dairval’s De l’Utilité des voyages, et de l’avantage que la recherche des antiquitez procure aux sçavans (1686), and the many-times republished Ge gu yao lun (c. 1388). This was a world in which the goal was not amassing knowledge for original work, but acquiring the necessary trappings for cultural advancement. As Yang Mei-li suggests, “In the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, the trend of ‘fondness for antiquity,’ with scholars as its fountainhead, stimulated wealthy merchants and others of means to adopt an air of artistic cultivation. It also promoted expansion of the antiquities market in the Kiangnan area, which in turn stimulated major developments in handicraft techniques.”70 This would be an equally valid description of Momigliano’s eighteenth-century “Age of Antiquaries”—the conventional identification of which he sets out to undermine, or at least sidestep, in his 1950 essay.

This description fits perfectly with the received trajectory of “antiquarian” study in China, namely, that it came into existence, near full-blown in its complexity and self-consciousness, in the late Northern Song period; became aestheticized; continued in this vein under the Ming; and reappeared with new vigor and conceptual acuity in the Qing period.71 This standard account reflects the fact that many of those Song texts survived into the modern period (i.e. the twentieth century) in Qing era editions.

Even when it is not the book but the eye that confers authority, of the sort that we find in the Northern Song in the unique person of Shen Gua and his Brush Notes from Dream Brook (Mengxi bitan, 1056–77), it is often transformed into something formulaic. Take for example the diary of the translator who accompanied Admiral Zheng He on the fourth of the great Ming blue-water flotillas of the early fifteenth century. The Yingya shenglan (The overall survey of the ocean’s shores, c. 1433), contains information about the nature of the people in these different lands, their culture, physical environment, and political borders. Ma Huan’s preface of 1444 puts the ethnographic into an imperial context.

It records the distances to the lands of the island barbarians [lit. barbarous tribes], the changes in the countries, the places which adjoin the boundaries, and the arrangement of cities and suburbs, with the differences of costume, the varieties of diet, the punishments and prohibitions, laws and regulations, customs and products. Nothing is left unrecorded, because it was this gentleman’s intention, his whole wish, to make the people of the future, for a thousand years hereafter, realize that the way of our country is in harmony with nature and that we have achieved this measure of success in civilizing the barbarians of the south and east.72

If we look at some of the places visited we find a regular and repeating set of categories. For example, describing Vietnam, Ma Huan begins with a description of the capital city and proceeds through the king’s costume, people’s costume and appearance, housing, climate, natural resources, animals, flora, economic life, marriage customs, wine, writing culture, punishments, calendar, new year’s holiday, government (ruling and resigning), superstition, and customs. There is only slight variability to this list, usually adding in categories of especial local relevance. Thus, for the entry on Calicut, he devotes attention to Hindu rites; for Hormuz Persian dates, precious stone merchandise, and goats; and for Mecca a brief history of Islam, doctrines, and geography, etc.

Indeed, the preface places the text squarely within the category of quasi-bureaucratic reckonings of others, of the sort produced in quantity by Chinese diplomats and embassies sent out to deal with and report on the neighbors. This obviously resembles the administrative gazetteers discussed above, as well as the later imperial ethnographies discussed by Shin in this volume and in the work of Hostetler and Crossley.73

There is no comparable bureaucratic intensification in Europe. In the Renaissance, many “embassies” and missionary expeditions are undertaken, and these do return a wealth of ethnographic information, but always reflecting the perspective of the individuals involved—usually clerics or merchants. The single exception to this rule has, however, played an oversize role in the history of historical scholarship: Venetian ambassadorial reports, which have been mined for their precious nuggets from Ranke onward. One has only to reflect on the rollicking eccentricity of Cyriac, with his prayers to Mercury, or on Poggio embedding his epigraphic text in a volume on the varieties of fortune whose concluding book is in fact a description of contemporary travel to India. It is precisely this idiosyncratic viewpoint that is absent in Chinese observation reports. (We would want especially to know about the impact or absence of the merchant perspective on observing the surrounding world since the argument can be made that it is this point of view that is decisive in Europe.)

But as enigmatic as are those grand flotillas, so too the triumph of text over observation among those Chinese who traveled to, and beyond, their frontiers. This, of course, is a function of the classics and the dominant cultural position they occupied. Indeed, one could argue that a similar “bias” would be true of any highly evolved civilization, whether Jewish, with its textual tradition, or Roman, with its strong association of material culture with the work of slaves (viz. Cicero’s sharp and value-laden distinction between the “liberal” and “mechanical” arts). That is what makes the next step in the European antiquarian tradition such a revolution.

If we can credit Petrarch with initiating the “spatial turn” in the study of the past, and his prestige for insuring its appeal a century later, we need also to remember that spatialization can underpin a variety of presentational formats. Thus, while Biondo Flavio followed Petrarch, as well as his contemporary Poggio, in using the physical reality of Rome to determine the disposition of his Roma Instaurata, his next work, Roma Triumphans, instead adopted a systematic, theoretical vision of the Roman world, with books devoted to law, government, the army and religion, etc.74 This was the model adopted, in turn, by Johannes Rosinus, whose Romanorum antiquitatum libri decem (1583) is really the first modern Handbuch of antiquities. And it is almost entirely untouched by archaeology, with only a few illustrations, nearly all relating to public life, such as altars, weapons, clothing, and all drawn from coins.75

Rosinus was able to compile this textbook because so much work had been done recovering the Roman textual tradition.76 And philology was, as discussed above, intimately linked to antiquarianism, both theoretically, in terms of parallel justifications for encyclopedic claims, as well as practically, since the interpretation of objects drew on texts even as objects were used to fill lacunae in the existing interpretations of them.77

But nothing in Rosinus could prepare us for the turn toward the material reality of ancient history that can be linked first to Pirro Ligorio, and through him to the circle of antiquaries supported by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese in the second half of the sixteenth century: Onufrio Panvinio, Girolamo Mercuriale, Fulvio Orsini, Antonio Agustín, and Alfonso and Pedro Chacón. Only Panvinio, Mercuriale, and Orsini were in the Farnese employ, but they served as magnets for other scholars, especially younger ones, such as Tommaso Bosio, who pioneered the study of Christian antiquities, and non-Italians, such as the Flemings Phillips van Winghe and Jean l’Heureux (Macarius), who launched the historical study of images (iconography). The novelty and power of this turn was not lost on contemporary scholars. Another northerner, Philip Rubens, the painter’s brother and Lipsius’s star student, wrote, “It’s incredible how much the study of coins, epigraphy and other ancient monuments adds to the fuller understanding of antiquity. Indeed, I would dare to assert that these things, scarcely able to be grasped from ancient writers, can be properly understood from these physical sources and indeed well explained.”78

The connections between philology and antiquarianism, and indeed their deepening connection is evident in the roles played by Joseph Scaliger and Fulvio Orsini.79 Each, in his different ways inspired the next generation of scholars who viewed the ancient world as a historical experience to be reconstructed in the round. Scaliger’s reach was continent-wide; Orsini, in Rome, provided a bridge to the work of seventeenth-century antiquaries such as Lelio Pasqualini and Lorenzo Pignoria. It was Cardinal Francesco Barberini, in the 1620s, who assembled the next powerful antiquarian équipe. His household included Girolamo Aleandro, Giovanni Battista Doni, Lucas Holstenius, Jean-Marie Suares, Jean-Jacques Bouchard, Athanasius Kircher, and was presided over by his secretary, Cassiano dal Pozzo.80 This group was itself partly assembled by, and partly animated by, the Provençal antiquary Peiresc.81 Their achievement in focusing attention on ancient material culture and its meanings continued to drive the best work of the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that of Bellori, Bianchini, Piranesi, and Winckelmann.

Comparison with China, where the supremacy of textual access to the past was unchallenged, helps us recognize the novelty of this material turn. As suggested above, it is made possible by the centrality of Rome, which gave preeminence to a spatial mode of reconstruction. From this it was but a short sideways step to the reconstruction of the cultural artifacts that would have been used within that space. But once the material turn is taken, it develops a compelling logic of its own. This is seen most clearly in the increasing attention paid to Christian and medieval material evidence, which begins at the turn of the seventeenth century and reaches a kind of maturity in the work of Mabillon and the Bollandists. The sanction of antiquity is no longer needed for the study of instituta et mores through things.82

Antiquarianism in Europe and Kaozheng Studies in China

There would be few better ways of illustrating the power of the material turn in early modern antiquarianism than by turning to the paradigmatic antiquarian studies of China: Athanasius Kircher’s China Illustrata (1667) and Leibniz’s Novissima Sinica (1697). Kircher’s book is framed by the issue of comparative religion, itself a central concern of European antiquaries.83 But it is dominated by the study of matter: it begins with a long examination of the Nestorian Stone (“the Sino-Syrian Monument”) which includes careful physical description (both verbal and visual), translations, an account of its discovery (from several different sources), and an explanation of its likely origin. This, in turn, leads into the second part of the book, describing the various journeys undertaken by Christians to China (building on the history of the eighth-century Nestorians) and an account of the idolatry that spread from West to East, ultimately polluting what Kircher, as a Jesuit in the line of Ricci, viewed as the original purity of the Chinese tradition. The second half of the book, structurally, though not by weight, is devoted entirely to China: art, nature, architecture, mechanical inventions, and, finally, literature.

Especially interesting for our purposes is Kircher’s effort to present the Chinese as themselves possessing an antiquarian culture similar to Europe’s (or to the best of Europe’s). This was part of Kircher’s general effort to draw the Chinese as compatible with Europeans, but insofar as it reflects his sources it may still point us to some authentic aspects of the Chinese respect for antiquities. “The Chinese,” he reports,

are very curious about unusual things, and as soon as news about this stone had spread, learned people came from everywhere to see it. When the local governor, struck by the novelty of the affair, had considered the venerable antiquity of the monument, he set it up in an open place in a temple of the bonzes for the many people it attracted from all over the empire, for its fame had spread. He built a roof over it large enough for protection against the elements, and to allow the spectators to read, examine, and describe the monument.84

Kircher, like Peiresc and Cassiano, was deeply committed to travel knowledge; he wrote that since the kingdoms crossed by some of the returning missionaries he had debriefed were unknown, “and since the fathers observed many things that are noteworthy about the dress, customs and habits of those nations, they left this material with me deliberately in the form of manuscripts and drawings, so that these might be inserted into the account of the journey they completed.”85 For Kircher, geography and ethnography were directly connected.

Leibniz, whose complete mastery of the antiquary’s skills is only hinted at in the recent presentation of his historical writings, first came to China through Kircher’s book, which he read almost immediately after its publication.86 But China came to occupy the leading place in Leibniz’s discussions of non-European cultures. His Novissima Sinica is something of an anthology, perhaps modeled on the Jesuits’ compilation, Confucius Sinarum philosophus sive scientia Sinensis latine exposita (1687).

Leibniz’s deep commitment to the study of China was nurtured by his correspondence and contact with the Jesuit father Claudio Filippo Grimaldi (1639–1712), whom he met in Rome in 1689. In their letters and in Leibniz’s conversation notes, we find the same kind of antiquarian encyclopedic interest in recovering the daily life of a distant civilization: only now it is distance in space rather than distance in time that is the issue. In mid-July 1689 Leibniz and Grimaldi met. Leibniz’s notes on their conversation (“Locutus sum cum R. P. Grimaldi”) were then followed by a questionnaire for Grimaldi about China. One group of questions was devoted to how the Chinese made fireworks, porcelain, glass, metals, and their methods for mining, chemistry, and leather-working. There were questions about botany, flora, and medicine, and then others on geography, history, astronomy, chronology, and linguistics.87 Some of this material found its way into Leibniz’s Phoranomus.88

It was from these antiquarian inquiries, as much as from his philosophical investigations, that Leibniz came to his view of China as an “Oriental Europe.”89 Writing to the French Jesuit Antoine Verjus in 1697, Leibniz described the current contacts between Europeans, represented by the Jesuits, and the Chinese, as “un commerce de lumière.”90

Kircher and Leibniz represent, in some ways, the apex of antiquarian efforts to grapple with the Chinese. But in decades in which knowledge of the extra-European world was increasingly mobilized as a safe means of attacking Christianity, Confucius could be assimilated to Socrates, as in François de La Mothe le Vayer’s De La Vertu des Payens (1642) (Socrates having already been likened to Christ, even humorously, as early as Erasmus’s Colloquies, 1518). The project of comparative religion, which might have reached its learned apogee in Van Dale’s work, was also captured in projects such as Noel Alexandre’s Conformité des cérémonies chinoises avec l’idolatrie grecque et romaine (1700) or in Bernard Picart’s visual religious ethnographies.91

Benjamin Elman’s work on the kaozheng xue, or “evidentiary scholarship” movement of the late Ming and early Qing periods, if not that of the kaozheng scholars themselves, picks up from where Kircher and Leibniz leave off. Focusing on the very same period, Elman reflects on the history of scholarship in China as someone comfortable using the categories of contemporary European historiography.92 While he does not explicitly frame his argument in terms of the historiography of European antiquarianism, his discussion of early Qing scholars in From Philosophy to Philology and On Their Own Terms comes closest to tying together the narratives of the Occidental and Oriental Europes.93

Elman describes evidential research as “a mode of empirical scholarship that sanctioned new, precise methods by which to understand the past and conceptualize the present. As a style of scholarly method and representation, evidential studies marked the beginning of an unprecedented strategy for research.”94 But because of the preeminence of texts in China, the only way to reach back to the correct understanding of wisdom was through a science of words. Elman, working within the Chinese context, juxtaposes a historical to a philosophical approach to words. The Ming and early Qing “return to antiquity” movement (fugu) was about rejecting philosophical daoxue for return to the most ancient sources, “in order to reconstruct the classical tradition.”95 Hence Elman’s central point: “philology, not philosophy, became the methodology to restore the past.”96 The European early modernist cannot fail here to catch the clarion call of “the new humanism” of the antiquaries: Lipsius’s declaration that “From Philology I made Philosophy” (E philologia philosophiam feci).

For Elman, the compiling of the Siku quanshu, the great Qing recension of 3,460 works totaling 36,000 volumes reproduced in seven manuscript copies for the court’s main libraries between 1773 and 1782, showed the kaozheng movement ascendant. The editors criticized undersourced contributions for “being deficient in evidential research” or for “not constituting a contribution to evidential research.”97 The importance of philological reconstruction led to a new focus on textual veracity and this, in turn, to a new awareness of the need for tools. Evidentiary scholarship, in short, put an emphasis on “evidence,” but also on the tools needed to identify, extract, manipulate, and validate that evidence. And thus, according to Elman, there was a new growth “of auxiliary disciplines such as epigraphy, bibliography, and collation. The techniques employed in these fields became essential tools in the more formal disciplines of textual criticism, historical geography, historical linguistics, classical studies, historical research, and mathematical astronomy.”98 What Elman has outlined here is almost exactly parallel to the shape of developments in Europe during the period 1500–1800. He himself looks “back,” toward the historiography of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century “Enlightenment,” rather than to the “scientific” history of the nineteenth, for parallels to the “evidentiary” movement.99

But is kaozheng to be identified with “antiquarianism”? No. Or better: not exactly. For while it represents an attitude to evidence that is shared by antiquaries in early modern Europe, Elman is clear that its focus was mostly textual. If European antiquarianism grew out of, but also alongside of, the study of texts (philology), kaozheng remained anchored to texts. And thus the “auxiliary sciences” that developed in China were those related to establishing the veracity of texts, such as epigraphy, whereas in Europe the practice of antiquaries moved outward from the text and gave birth to a wider range of Hilfswissenschaften. Even someone like Mabillon, the great restitutor of medieval public documents, recognized that manuscripts had to be studied as things, not just collections of words, and so delved deeply into seals, script, paper, and inks—the materiality of the text. Of course he was not the first to see evidence where those before them had seen texts, just the first to systematize what had been a body of artisanal knowledge. That his eighteenth-century continuators referred to him as L’Antiquaire makes plain this debt to his predecessors.

And yet, the demands of kaozheng did lead some of these Qing scholars to things. Elman discusses the empirical turn in areas as distinct as botany and engineering.100 As in Europe, we find early Qing doctors thinking hard about the implications of observation.101 Dai Zhen (1724– 77) used mathematics to estimate the size and shape of the ceremonial bronze bells mentioned in the Artificer’s Record (Kaogong ji), a text in the Classic Rites of Zhou (Zhouli), and included diagrams as well, since he viewed texts and objects as archaeological evidence. Ruan Yuan’s Explications Using Diagrams of the Design of Wheeled Carriages in the “Artificer’s Record” (1788) improved on Dai Zhen’s research by reconstructing the dimensions of ancient vehicles, which he claimed could be reproduced. “Archaeological research,” Elman concluded, “was taking on a momentum of its own as a field of exact classical scholarship.”102 And Elman reports that Qing scholars also did a lot more field archaeology than did the famous Song antiquaries—over 3,000 ancient bronze finds were recorded during the Qing period, compared with 643 during Song.103 The evidence of jinshi xue was “a major element in kaozheng scholarship.”104

In this environment it comes as no surprise to find Qing scholars like Gu Yanwu (1613–82) recognizing in Song epigraphers such as Ouyang Xiu an ancestor—and precisely for the presence of a rhetoric of historical utility that sounded to him a lot like his own justifications for evidentiary research. In the preface to his Record of Inscriptions on Bronze and Stone Artifacts (Jinshi wenzi ji), Gu Yanwu wrote:

Ever since my youth, I have been fond of searching for the ancients’ inscriptions on bronze and stone objects, but at the time I did not understand them clearly. After reading Ouyang Xiu’s Collected Records of Antiquity (Jigu lu), I realized that the events recorded in these inscriptions and those described in historical texts could be verified one against the other; that such inscriptions could be used for interpreting the concealed, clarifying the unclear, supplementing the missing, and correcting the misrecorded, and so should not be valued solely for the grace of their literary styles. In twenty years’ travel in China, whenever I visited famous mountains, large towns, shrines, or Buddhist temples, I would without exception search for inscriptions on bronze and stone objects. I climbed risky peaks, explored deep valleys, handled fallen rocks, trekked through wild forests, walked on broken walls, and scooped up decayed soil; and as long as texts were legible, I transcribed them. When I found a text unseen by my predecessors, I would be so happy that I could not sleep … Day and night I have sought [such inscriptions] and used them to verify historical texts and to interpret the Classics. Many of my discoveries are not recorded in Ouyang Xiu’s Collected Records of Antiquity or in Zhao Mingcheng’s Record of Inscriptions on Bronze and Stone.105

Passages such as this led the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scholars studied by Shana Brown to connect the dots leading from their own conception of scholarly discipline back through the Qing editors of the Siku quanshu to the Northern Song epigraphers. Thus, Qian Daxin (1728–1804) (Critical Notes on the Twenty-Two Histories) “insisted that one must use the best editions of existing historical works and complement this with myriad other materials, such as writings on topography, rituals, astronomy, phonetics, and linguistics, including inscriptions on bronze and stones.” He added in also genealogies, biographies, geography, and the history of institutions. All this was to figure out what was right and wrong, so that history could be a guide to action (didactic).106 The rhetoric of a return to sources, of critical examination of evidence, reading widely, and broad contextualization—this all would have sounded like the way Germans taught history, only formulated first in China 800 years earlier. At what point, we might ask, did the historical tradition and the modern practice merge? Or, more precisely, how did the modern conception of practice affect the interpretation—and recruitment—of presumed intellectual ancestors?

Elman’s emphasis on the centrality of the Qing evidentiary turn raises, from a comparative angle, several fascinating possibilities. First, it would have the effect of bringing the rise of Chinese “critical” scholarship into exact chronological parallel with Momigliano’s “age of the antiquaries” and Gatterer’s development of the historische Hilfswissenschaften at Göttingen. Second, as a result, it would force us to reassess the nature of Song antiquarianism and the accepted narrative of Chinese antiquarianism. Perhaps the poetic and personal emphasis driving Ouyang Xiu, despite his use of the rhetoric of historical utility, made for a real continuity with the Ming tradition. Thus, rather than seeing the Ming as a connoisseurial interlude between the “serious” antiquarianism of the Song and Qing, perhaps the evidentiary movement should be viewed as the true beginning of modern historical scholarship in China. Third, since this crucial development occurred during the period in which China was exposed to European thinking via the Jesuits, it raises the question about whether there is a real genetic relationship between European and Chinese empirical scholarship, mediated by Jesuits and Jesuit texts. Indeed, Elman and others have argued that the impact of the Jesuits was precisely in areas in which empirical authority was decisive (observation, experimentation, etc.).

This final question, of the Jesuit role in linking the two antiquarian traditions, is important, but not easy to establish. We know that in China, they translated or copied 437 works between 1584 and 1790; 31 percent of these (131) were in sciences and 57 percent (251) on Christianity.107 But beyond raw numbers there is still too limited a sense of the breadth of the Jesuit contribution to Chinese thought. Its study has, thus far, tended to concentrate on the most obvious areas, such as astronomy and mathematics, and not—Peterson and Elman aside—with what we might call the epistemological foundations of that scholarship.108 In other words, if we start from the premise that the works the Jesuits chose to translate reflect the state of western epistemologies at a certain time, then we could conclude that nolens volens the Chinese were being exposed to a way of thinking when they thought they were only being exposed to a translated text. But to establish the impact of just this sort of “Trojan Horse” epistemology would require a great deal of close work.

Elman also looks to the social networks of knowledge—what could pass as a regional Republic of Letters—to trace some of this impact on the study of things. As in Europe, Fu She (Return [to Antiquity] Society) was deeply implicated in the turn to empirical, mechanical sciences. Many were directly or indirectly influenced by Xu Guangqi (1562–1633), the scholar-official who worked with Ricci on translating European works on mathematics, hydraulics, astronomy, and geography into Chinese. Elman makes the point, based on Sivin, Grafton, and Goodman, that the Jesuit contact cannot be restricted to the hard sciences while leaving out the human.109

Elman suggests that developments internal to Chinese intellectual culture—the whole debate about “things” (wu) and their “concrete” (zhi) investigation—prepared its receptivity to the Jesuits’ imported subject matter. He has also suggested that it was the transmission of kaozheng to Japan that, in turn, prepared their receptivity to “German Rankean history.”110 One could go a step further and suggest, building on the work of Shana Brown, that it was the persistence of Song and Qing learning that made for the receptivity of the generation of scholars c. 1900 who created the first studies of jinshi xue, or antiquarianism, in China. For most of the twentieth century, in Europe as in China, antiquarianism was a non-subject. In Europe, it had been identified with myopic pedantry in the Enlightenment and then shuffled off to the dusty basement of the modern university system. In an era that prized expertise, as expressed in disciplinary specialization and priority claims, there was almost nothing worse, nothing more out of step, than being an antiquarian. Even today, there are few condemnations scholars fear more than to be called “antiquarian.” Historians’ hostility may, however, reflect a “narcissism of minor differences.” In China, the psychic situation is very different. Until much more recently, veneration of antique heritage would have been the norm—but veneration is not the same as scholarship, and, in any event, the term “antiquarian” was absent. When it arrived, borne on the wings of modern German historical and archaeological scholarship at the turn of the twentieth century, it brought with it many of those negative European connotations. And so the founders of the study of Chinese antiquarianism were at pains to emphasize the way in which that whole tradition had been finally “overcome” and made “scientific.” Reviled, and therefore neglected, the European antiquarian tradition was able to survive more or less intact to be rediscovered and reexamined in the late twentieth century. Chinese antiquarianism, because so familiar and so valued, at some point ceased to exist as an object of study in itself, even as jinshi xue has continued to be practiced. Before its study can occur, it needs to be properly reconstituted as a field of questions, not just a collection of texts or a living tradition. With the flurry of new work on Song antiquarianism, perhaps this time has now come.

© Bard Graduate Center, Peter N. Miller.