The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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Nexus of Memory: The Colophon Phenomenon in the Early Twelfth Century

Principal Investigator

CHEUNG Hiu Yu Jack

Total Fund Awarded


Funding Source

RGC General Research Fund

Abstract of Project

Considering the crucial role played by Chinese elites’ comments on written documents and paintings, which were commonly called colophons (ti 題 or ba 跋) in traditional culture, this research project will explore the development and proliferation of colophons in the early twelfth century, when the Song (960–1279) elites were facing the Jurchen threat from North China. The early twelfth century is of particular importance to colophon studies because this period witnessed the birth and development of various colophons that carried the literati’s memories of the past. These colophons formed a “nexus of memory” for elites who shared nostalgic stories about the “good old times” under the Northern Song regime. Through both a historical and an artistic lens, my proposed research plans to access the “nexus of memory” conveyed by these colophons in the early twelfth century, thereby providing a profound understanding of Song literati’s mentality, reasoning, and memories. The proposed project serves as an attempt to explore the general practice of composing colophons among literati of the early twelfth century, which is termed as a “colophon phenomenon” in this proposal. By examining different dimensions of Song colophons from the perspectives of politico-intellectual history, literary studies, art history, and memory studies, this project attempts to deepen our understanding of the cultural meaning of Song colophons in historical, artistic, and material senses. Specifically, this project fills in an indispensable missing link for comprehending the purpose of colophons. As a distinct literary genre, colophons in the early twelfth century not only carries artistic values but also serves as a special medium that conveys a historical meaning and a historiographical function regarding the construction of that meaning. In this light, this project will add novel and multi-faceted dimensions to the study of colophons by exploring the historical and historiographical contexts of the Song “colophon phenomenon.” While the project plans to tell us some new stories about the historical and historiographical implications embedded in the colophons of the early twelfth century, it also acknowledges the significant role played by colophons in cultivating artistic and literary connections among the Song literati elites. Moreover, literati’s fascination with the presentation and production of colophons reveals their interests in the material side of colophons. With a more balanced view of Song colophons, this project sets the ground for a possible revisit of colophons and its role played over the whole period of Chinese history comprehensively.

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