Research projects

Modernisation of Calligraphy in East Asia

Two Chinese Scholars Practicing Calligraphy in Their Studio, unidentified artist, Japan, ca. 1840s. Polychrome woodblock print, ink and color on paper, 25.1 x 37.5 cm. William S. Lieberman Collection, no. 2007.49.264. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Eugenia Bogdanova-Kummer

Calligraphy is often associated with the traditional Sinocentric cultural order in East Asia. Created in China and imported to the neighbouring countries, characters and calligraphy as their aesthetic manifestation served as a common cultural denominator for the region, placing China in the centre of East Asia’s cultural flows. However, with Japan’s rapid transformation following the Meiji reforms of the late nineteenth century and its reorientation towards Europe and the United States, this cultural order and calligraphy’s privileged position within it became contested.

This project investigates the complex processes of modernisation of calligraphy in East Asia from the late nineteenth century until the end of the Pacific War. It studies the affinities and cultural exchange among calligraphers across East Asia, which coincided with the major political and social cataclysms in the region. By looking at transregional exhibition history, history of art networks, and social history of calligraphy, this project highlights calligraphy as a contested ground between the traditional Sinosphere and the modernising Japanese Empire, and the epicentre of negotiating East Asia’s cultural identity.

Key expected outputs