Guji as artefact and category in Chinese local gazetteers

Guji as artefact and category in Chinese local gazetteers

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“Map of The Past Traces of Taicheng (Taicheng Gujitu)” from the Zhizheng era Record of Jinling, datable to 1344 (Song Yuan fangzhicongkan ed., p. 5308).

My project explores the nature of guji (古蹟) as artefact and as category of place-representation in China, by analyzing variations in the contents, allocation, and rationale of guji records in local gazetteers. Emerging from my book project on the construction and representation of guji in the city of Nanjing, I seek to identify broader patterns regarding their relative association with imperial or local social networks and typologies of material memory, and to understand their role in structures of knowledge about place in premodern China. I propose that contrary to what is often assumed, guji are not preeminently associated with imperial or official traces, and do not accumulate seamlessly over time in local gazetteer records. Rather, varieties in their material typology, and their associations with local, trans-local, and imperial identity, and shifts in editorial allocation, suggest that the semantic meaning and local profiles of these artefacts deserve further investigation. To test and improve my findings to date, this project pursues a systematic analysis of differences and similarities in the temporal identities, material typologies, and editorial allocations of guji across the archive. Insight into patterns of change or continuity along these parameters would allow researchers to address questions concerning the connection of guji to imperial and local networks and forms of spatial production, and to historical and local modalities of material memory. The goal of this research project is to reach a more comprehensive understanding of the semantic meaning, materiality, and social functions of guji, grounded in evidence from a broader dataset. Local gazetteers provide an incomparable resource for understanding cultural constructions of place in China, and guji records in these gazetteers constitute a rare opportunity to conduct systematic research into the relation between forms of material memory and local identity from a cross-historical and cross-spatial perspective.