5 April 2016
MIAO ALBUM. – [Miao people’s daily life in pictures]. N.p., n.d. [ca 1800].
2° album containing 29 full-page watercolor paintings and 27 leaves of facing Chinese calligraphic manuscript, each drawing measures approximately 257 x 195 mm and inset on larger sheets measuring 310 x 235 mm (flaws). Accordion-bound between white silk mounted on paper card-stock, title-label on front cover. Provenance: Zui Ming De Yu Zhai studio (signed in Chinese on title label); modern cloth folding box.
A fine example of a “Miao album” (Miaoman tu or Bai Miao tu), a primarily visual genre that emerged in 18th-century imperial China during the Qing Dynasty (1636–1911), which used prose, poetry, and detailed illustrations to represent minority ethnic groups living in fontier regions under imperial Chinese control. In these bound editions, hand-painted illustrations are coupled with calligraphic classical Chinese poetry and prose. Miao albums were produced for predominantly Manchu and Han nobles, scholars, and gentry.
These officially commissioned albums depict ethnic minority groups living in the southern and southwestern frontier regions of the Manchu-ruled empire and arose in tandem with the awakening of ethnic consciousness and state building in late imperial China. As such, they present a uniquely valuable lens through which to view both non-Western ethnography and colonialism in the early modern period (here defined as 1500–1800).
They reveal how imperial China viewed culturally "other" frontier populations, and contain valuable information for anthropologists, geographers, and historians, and are coveted by art collectors for their beautiful imagery. "Miao" in this context refers not just to groups that called themselves Miao (Hmong) or were classified as such by the majority Han culture, but generally to the many minority peoples in China's southwest.
See Deal & Hostetler, The Art of ethnography: a Chinese ‘Miao Album’, Seattle: 2006.
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