Art and Diplomatic Gifts in Early Modern East Asia

Title: 1324 | Art and Diplomatic Gifts in Early Modern East Asia
Area: Border Crossing and Inter-Area
Stream: Art/Art History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Yoonjung Seo, Myongji University, South Korea (organizer, presenter, chair)
Jaebin Yoo, Hongik University, South Korea (presenter)
Ja Won Lee, California State University, East Bay, United States (presenter)
Ji Young Park, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany (presenter)
Ying-Chen Peng, American University, United States (discussant, chair)


This panel explores the practice of gift exchange in East Asia as a device of cross-cultural diplomacy as well as a mirror of aesthetic tastes, economic values, and ritual protocols. Focusing on the role of art, material goods, and images depicting foreign envoys in Sino-Korean and Korean-Japanese diplomatic encounters, as well as exchanges with Western countries from the early modern period to the twentieth century, the panel examines how such exchanges influenced the production and circulation of art and material culture and shaped mutual understanding between cultures.
Each presentation delves into the transculturality and materiality embedded in diplomatic gifts and the practice of gift exchange, by examining the following four case studies: Joseon painter-envoys’ activities during their journey to Edo and the roles assumed by the lord of Tsushima as a de facto power to administrate diplomatic ceremonies; a Joseon screen painting depicting tribute bearers bringing diplomatic gifts to the Chinese emperor; Chinese antiquities depicted in Books and Scholarly Utensils, which are closely related to the practice of gift exchange between Joseon envoys and Qing Chinese; and Korean cultural artifacts officially presented to Western countries as diplomatic gifts by the Joseon court in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These papers explore what types of gifts were chosen by whom, who participated in the decision-making process, how these artifacts served specific diplomatic and political purposes, and how gift-giving imagery, along with the lavish displays of pomp and ceremony enhanced the efficacy of material goods and highlighted the symbolic significance of gifts.

Panel Abstracts:
Gift-Giving Images In the Late Joseon Dynasty: Screen of Tribute Bearers
This paper examines the screen of Tribute Bearers Bringing Gifts to the Chinese Emperor, produced by Joseon court artists in the late nineteenth century as the imagery of an idealized gift-giving ceremony and a procession of foreign envoys in East Asian history. As political mediators, cultural agents, performers of diplomatic rituals, and authors of travelogues, diplomats exerted a profound impact on the pattern of gift exchanges. Thus, the lavish display of gift-giving and a ceremony of receiving an audience, as well as the manner of its representation, constitutes a critical component of gift-exchange practices, which enhanced the efficacy of material goods and highlighted the symbolic significance of gifts. A portrayal of foreign envoys with exotic features and costumes bearing local goods and animals is not a depiction of an actual event, but rather articulates the rhetoric of the traditional tribute system based on Sinocentrism. However, this visual representation specifically demonstrates how the Joseon people used this rhetoric to promote their own political identity, and to express their curiosity toward Qing and European material culture. As visual representations of the cultural “other” and exotic gifts must be read through the lens of the artistic tradition which produced them, it is also important to investigate the prevailing socio-political circumstances and the diplomatic relationship between Qing China and Joseon Korea. With regard to this, this study examines what motifs were selected to represent a gift-giving ceremony in Korean art, and how the traditional pictorial theme of ‘tribute bearers’ was appropriated in the late

Impromptu Gifts: Diplomatic Function of Paintings by Joseon Painter-Envoys to Japan
This paper examines the paintings made by Joseon painter-envoys during their journey to visit the Shogun of Japan, as the diplomatic presents which accorded with the needs of both countries. As cultural exchanges became important components of diplomacy between Joseon and the Tokugawa shogunate from the late seventeenth century, calligraphy and paintings became an important part of diplomatic gifts. Unlike the Tokugawa shogunate, which prepared their tribute screens in advance, the Joseon court sent the court artists as envoys to instantly comply with requests for paintings on the spot. The dispatch of the court painters was specially requested by the Japanese side, especially the feudal lord of Tsushima, who mediated the diplomacy efforts of the Tokugawa shogunate and Joseon dynasty. He was granted exclusive permission to handle the paintings and writings of Joseon envoys, which he resold at a premium to other feudal lords or offered to the shogun as a bribe. As the popularity of the foreign writings and paintings soared in the eighteenth century, demonstrations of writing and painting by the Joseon court artists was included in the event which presented artistic prowess of Joseon entourage such as martial art and archery. The event was enthusiastically hosted by the lord of Tsushima thanks to its dual benefits for both sides, a tribute ceremony for the Shogun as well as the reception for the envoys. This study explores the monetary value of the works by painter-envoys presented to local Japanese lords as well as the performative aspects of the

Visualizing Culture: Chinese Antiquities in Korean Ch’aekkŏri Screens
This paper examines the motifs of Chinese antiquities featured in screens of Books and Scholarly Utensils, also known as ch’aekkŏri, with a particular focus on the practice of gift-exchange and collecting in late Chosŏn Korea. Over centuries of interaction between China and Korea, numerous materials of cultural significance, including books, paintings, and other valuable antiquities, were brought to Korea. It is notable that Chosŏn court painters began to produce ch’aekkŏri screens in the late eighteenth century when Chosŏn envoys established the fashion for appreciating and collecting Chinese antiquities through their acceptance of Qing visual and material culture. The acquisition of such rarities was closely connected with scholarly pursuit, personal cultivation, and the assertion of social standing. Most significantly, this environment served as a key force to develop new genres of paintings depicting Chinese antiquities in various ways. How did the practice of gift-exchange and collecting establish the characteristic of visual culture in late Chosŏn Korea? Through a close analysis of archaic bronze vessels and porcelains, namely the Zhou Wen Wang ding, Xuande-type burners, and fencai vases appearing in ch’aekkŏri screens, this paper investigates how Chosŏn envoys shaped cultural patterns as active agents through their practice of gift-exchange and collecting, and how artists incorporated certain aspects of Chinese antiquities in response to changes in taste, cultural and social behavior. It demonstrates that ch’aekkŏri screens provided a crucial cue for patrons who sought to highlight their cultural sophistication and present their social prestige.

The Place of Joseon Diplomatic Gifts in Korean Art Collecting and Display Narratives
From the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries, the Joseon royal court presented various Korean items to foreign governments and diplomats in Korea. Korean delegations used the King’s gifts to promote amity or celebrate the national event of a country they were visiting. Foreign missions and diplomats also received presents in commemoration of their visit to the royal court or as token of gratitude from royal family members. These carefully chosen royal objects were supposed to represent Korea’s power as well as the country’s cultural and historical specificity. However, the meaning and value of such objects was bound to differ from one society to another, and thus altered once the object was transferred to the West and semioticized within a new context, such as folk art or decorative art, as well as the fine arts. Today, some of these gifts remain in the museums of receiving countries. They have necessarily been housed in public collections since they were delivered, and have since been augmented by personal Korean souvenirs donated to the museum. This paper focuses on several cases of Korean artifacts that were officially bestowed on Western countries as diplomatic gifts by the Joseon court, and follows their afterlife in the American and European museums, where they were collected, conserved, and displayed, shaping a notion of Korean Art as well as being shaped by it. In tracking such varied types of gifted objects as Goreyo celadons, Goreyo armor and folding screens, I try to capture their place within the

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