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Luxury Commodities in Late Ming China

Timothy Brook On January 19, the 50th Annual Edward H. Hume Memorial Lecture was given by Timothy Brook, Professor of History, University of British Columbia, on “Forging Value: The Production of Luxury Commodities in Late Ming China.” Professor Brook spoke about the diary of a 17th-century art connoisseur, Li Erhua, and echoed issues that are still relevant today: aesthetic quality and the economic value assigned to it, what it means to commit forgery, and the creation of production-driven markets.

The Chinese artistic style of the 17th century, according to Professor Brook, was defined not by the prominent artists who exemplified the style, but rather by the forgers who reproduced their works, and allowed the proliferation of their works by actively producing high-quality copies for a growing market. Tensions between art buyers and dealers were eased with the institution of branding. A brand guaranteed quality to the buyer and verified the dealer’s claim of authenticity. Ironically, the brand subverted its own initial purpose when it became more important than the authenticity and quality that it was meant to mark.

This lecture in honor of Dr. Edward H. Hume was made possible by the generosity of Dr. Hume’s family and many friends, and administered by the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale University. Dr. Hume devoted much of his long and vigorous life to working in China and elsewhere in the cause of health care and medical training. He graduated from Yale College in 1897 and received his medical degree four years later from Johns Hopkins University.