The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting: A Reevaluation of the First Edition
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The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, first published in 1679, has been hailed as the most influential guide to painting ever produced in China, yet there is little evidence in support of this assertion. A close examination of the aesthetic qualities of extant prints from early editions of the manual, the social environment of the early Qing (1644-1911), and the nature of commercial book publications in this period clarifies the significance of this publication in contemporary society. In exploring each of these facets, I argue that the manual functioned as a luxury commodity, a symbol of elite status in a changing social order. For wealthy and socially ambitious members of the early Qing a high-quality, beautifully produced publication like the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting was not only a physical embodiment of elite culture, but was also a means of cultivating oneself for entrance into high society.