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Title: Seeing Red : the trade and uses of shanhu, red coral in Qing China, 1644-1795
Author: Lacey, Philippa Nina
Awarding Body: University of East Anglia
Current Institution: University of East Anglia
Date of Award: 2012
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This study explores a liminal, brightly coloured substance - red coral - through its trade and its uses in the early to mid-Qing China, 1644-1795. During the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries, Mediterranean Corallium rubrum was employed as an expression of the self-representation, cultural identity and political organisation of the Qing imperial court. Indeed, red coral, shanhu, was one of the few European commodities to be welcomed in China, where it was regarded as a 'national treasure' . This examination focuses on the use of red coral by evoking a Qing 'period eye', with reference to past Chinese dynasties. It investigates the historic incentives for the appreciation and value of coral and looks at how earlier beliefs, attitudes and uses of this unusual substance influenced the material culture of the Qing dynasty. The first part explores the nature of red coral, its trade, processing and crafting. It follows 'The Coral Network' recreating the journey taken by coral via the various nodes, from the Mediterranean to Beijing. Coral was crafted in Italy, Guangzhou and the imperial workshops, zaobanchu. The second section explores the court of the Qing emperors. As 'son of heaven', they were the centre around which the Chinese empire was arranged. Here, David Summers' ideas about centrality are employed as a means to help understand the status of red coral as a mysterious, metamorphic red material, in addition to its significance in combination with pearls and with turquoise in imperial regalia. The value and agency accrued by red coral is examined through an exploration of coral's colour and materiality, and the uses and layers of associations placed upon these. This study of red coral in Qing China utilises objects, texts and visual representations to suggest new ways of considering shanhu as a distinctively coloured prized in both religious and official Chinese material.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available