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Title: A study of how packaging reveals categorisation and status in the Qianlong Emperor's collection
Author: Chou, Ying-Ching
ISNI:       0000 0004 9355 1660
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis studies the practice of packaging at the imperial court of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), in particular the agency of packaging in the Qianlong Emperor’s (1711-99) art collection. It discusses the functions of packaging in the imperial collection and provides a new perspective to examine it. It fills an important gap in our understanding of Chinese art history. The thesis analyses the collection and relevant archives to explore the role of Qianlong’s packaging. It argues that packaging was the way Qianlong handled his collection in order to convey essential information about those items. Applying the existing theory of secrecy to study the imperial collection, it demonstrates that, the emperor used packaging to create a sense of secretiveness to the objects. The thesis also shows that Qianlong made use of the objects’ secretiveness to redefine the objects’ histories (definition), as well as to develop a relationship with his officials. The findings of the thesis call for a reconsideration of the widely accepted view that simply equates owning the imperial collection to having the sovereignty to rule. A close look at the collection shows that Qianlong utilised different forms of packaging to engage himself with the objects. By doing so, his engagement was materialised and integrated to become part of the objects’ histories. He must have been conscious of the power of packaging as he actively participated with the imperial workshops in the design and production of packaging the imperial collection. Qianlong’s ideas of packaging are best realised in the curio box, an assemblage of many different objects in various packaging devices. It is the packaging, rather than the actual objects, that makes the assemblage a curio item. Much effort was thus made in devising the structure of the curio boxes. Packaging in the imperial collection comes in a large diversity of forms. Such a diversity indicates the importance of packaging and the necessity to understand it, especially how Qianlong designed it to affect our perception of the collection, and of his sovereignty. Unlike the traditional studies which have long neglected the packaging of the imperial collection or considered it as subsidiary to its contents, this thesis uses a new approach to examine the imperial packaging and objects enclosed.
Supervisor: Rawson, J. M. ; Harrison, Henrietta Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Chinese Archaeology ; Chinese Art History