Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
July 28, 2004
Ankeney Weitz Zhou Mi’s Record of Clouds and Mist Passing before One’s Eyes: An Annotated Translation Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2002. 398 pp.; 50 b/w ills. Cloth $214.00 (9004126058)
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Zhou Mi’s Record of Clouds and Mist Passing Before One’s Eyes: An Annotated Translation offers a stimulating and well-documented discussion of art collecting in late-thirteenth-century China. Revised from her dissertation, completed in 1994 at the University of Kansas, Ankeney Weitz’s book is centered on her copiously footnoted translation of Yunyan guoyan lu, an important catalogue by Zhou Mi (1232–1298).1 The title of Zhou’s work, translated as Record of Clouds and Mist Passing Before One’s Eyes, is Zhou’s ironic twist on a well-known comment by the poet Su Shi (1037–1101), who compared painting and calligraphy to evanescent clouds and mist in order to free himself of the desire to possess them. Documenting over forty Hangzhou collections of calligraphy, paintings, and antiquarian objects, Zhou’s catalogue has long been a standard source for scholars and curators researching the provenance of specific works. With Weitz’s lucid translation and extensive annotations, Zhou’s records are now accessible to all students of Chinese art. She has numbered each entry in the translation for convenient comparison with the Chinese text, which is reproduced with punctuation in appendix 5.

Of more general interest are Weitz’s three introductory essays in part 1, entitled “Art Collecting in Early Yuan China,” where she discusses Zhou Mi and his catalogue in various historical, social, and literary contexts. The first chapter, “Zhou Mi: His Life and Times,” introduces the author and his immediate forebears, examines his education and official career under the late Southern Song dynasty (960–1279), and explores his penchant for making lists and collecting anecdotes. Drawing on primary-source research by the historians Jennifer Jay and Xia Chengtao, Weitz refutes an earlier generation of art historians, who interpreted Zhou’s writings on art as primarily an expression of his Song loyalism or as an attempt to preserve the Chinese cultural heritage after the Mongol conquest. Instead, she convincingly argues that Zhou had inventoried some of the collections even before the Song’s fall, and that his father had inspired him to write about historical events and interesting customs, to provide a corrective to official accounts that might be vulnerable to manipulation.

Nor did Zhou remain bitter or despairing about the Mongol conquest, even though it destroyed his own estate in nearby Wuxing, along with the family’s art collection. After a few years of writing passionately loyalist poetry, he accommodated himself to his changed world and used his expertise in connoisseurship to secure a place for himself in the new social and economic order of Yuan Hangzhou. Many of the collections he documented belonged to individuals who served there as officials of the Yuan government, including northern Chinese who had already experienced Mongol rule for two generations, as well as assorted foreigners from other parts of the far-flung empire. Sojourning in the former capital of the Southern Song, these men had opportunities to acquire prestigious works in an art market flooded with the former possessions of impoverished members of the fallen regime. The arts provided a “social lubricant, a point of contact for men of widely differing backgrounds” (4), enabling “highly incongruous social groups—most notably Song loyalists and Yuan bureaucrats” (17) to find common ground and get beyond “the animosities and resentments between these two groups” (17). Weitz could have pursued the implications of this revisionist insight, which challenges the truism that southern Chinese literati were oppressed throughout the Yuan period, an interpretation inspired by twentieth-century anti-Manchu nationalism. Nonetheless, her illuminating discussion of the cultural pursuits that facilitated interaction and reconciliation between Hangzhou’s “leftover subjects” and the new political and economic elite lays the groundwork for further investigation.2

Chapter 2, “The Social History in the Record,” provides an illuminating introduction to the varied individuals whose collections are recorded in Zhou Mi’s catalogue. Their identities are significant because the Record of Clouds and Mist is the first Chinese art-historical text to be organized by collection, rather than by the artists’ qualitative ranking, time period, social status, or subject matter.3 The collectors include a few old and established southern families related to the fallen Song royal house, as well as larger numbers of new collectors, who often were northerners and occasionally Central Asians.4 Except for Zhao Yuqin (b. 1180s), who belonged to an earlier generation and whose collection probably was known to Zhou only from an existing inventory (28–29), Zhou knew all the collectors personally and had seen the works he documented.

In chapter 3, “Zhou Mi’s Texts on Art,” Weitz analyzes the history and transmission of the catalogue itself, examining different editions and identifying the interpolations of later commentators in the text. Many of the entries are duplicated in Random Jottings from the Hall of Elegant Intent (Zhiyatang zachao), Zhou’s chronologically organized miscellaneous notes, which he made between 1289 and 1295 and subsequently used in compiling the Record. The catalogue survived only in manuscript versions until the late Ming, when an error-ridden edition was published to feed the demands of a rising art market for texts on collecting and connoisseurship. Although a relatively reliable printed edition finally appeared in 1887, Weitz’s discussion suggests that the vicissitudes of transmission have made it all but impossible to reconstruct Zhou Mi’s original work exactly as he intended it. Finally, she briefly notes “misuses” of the text by forgers and unscrupulous dealers, who used it as a guide for their fabrications.

After her extensively annotated translation of Zhou Mi’s Record, which forms part 2 of the book, Weitz provides several useful appendices of information compiled from or related to the catalogue. Appendix 1 is an index of all the paintings and calligraphy mentioned, organized alphabetically by artist and cross-referenced with their citations in the text. Appendix 2, by far the longest, is a dossier of surviving paintings, calligraphy, and other objects—many of them well known—that are linked in some way to items listed in the Record. Weitz subdivides them into three groups: works that are likely to be the very ones recorded by Zhou Mi (e.g., two album leaves by Ma Hezhi in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan); works whose relationship with the recorded ones is unclear (e.g., Han Gan’s Shining White of the Night in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); and works that probably are not the same ones that Zhou saw (e.g., Li Cheng’s Reading the Stele in the Osaka Municipal Museum of Art). Each entry compares the basic features of the extant piece with Zhou’s description, and most works are reproduced in monochrome photographs at the end of the book. Appendix 3 compiles all the prices mentioned in Zhou Mi’s Record as well as in several other early Yuan art texts, offering a hint of the relative valuations assigned to various types of artwork in the late thirteenth century. Appendix 4 lists all the genres and subjects of the paintings cited in the Record, divides the calligraphy and books into various subcategories, and itemizes the different kinds of three-dimensional objects. For each subcategory, Weitz has tabulated the number of examples held in Song and Yuan collections respectively, as well as providing totals. Appendix 5 contains the Chinese text of the Record, and appendix 6 is an index of the few handwritten symbols that appear in the catalogue, mostly denoting seals.

Weitz’s general discussions, annotated translation, and useful appendices provide a wealth of information that other scholars can build on, and her observations suggest a starting point for future studies of taste, collecting, and social relations among early Yuan elites. Despite occasional errors in translation and glitches in editing, the book’s scholarship is very sound. However, if a revised edition is ever envisioned, a few improvements should be made. For example, it seems odd that Weitz translates the titles of some works of painting and calligraphy but not others, presumably reflecting the names with which she is most familiar. For consistency and maximum accessibility, all titles should be translated. In view of Weitz’s numerous quotations from other Chinese texts and her frequent use of Chinese names and terms, the absence of Chinese characters (apart from the text of Yunyan guoyan lu itself) is inconvenient and at times confusing. It is surprising enough that so expensive a book does not include characters in the body of the text, but they do not even appear in a separate list at the back, much less in the index. As Brill is a publisher with a reputation for Sinological scholarship, it should not be difficult to include Chinese characters in a future edition. Finally, the index is useful for finding artists by name, but it should be expanded to include entries for concepts and themes; it should also point to discussions both in the text of the Record and in Weitz’s introductory chapters. In the meantime, the book is a solid contribution to the field of Chinese art studies, offering insights that should interest other readers as well.

Julia K. Murray
Professor, Department of Art History, University of Wisconsin, Madison

1 The Library of Congress cataloguing entry reproduced on the copyright page inexplicably gives Zhou Mi’s dates as 1232–1308.

2 In a journal article also based on her dissertation, Weitz discusses numerous cases in point; see “Notes on the Early Yuan Antique Art Market in Hangzhou,” Ars Orientalis 27 (1997): 27–38.

3 The first digit in Weitz’s numbering system identifies the collector.

4 There are also three collective headings: the former Song Imperial Library (collection no. 38, in Weitz’s numbering system), the Yuan palace (no. 44), and “random collectors” (no. 45).

Please send comments about this review to editor.caareviews@collegeart.org.