Liulichang: the Institution and Practice of the Antique, Art, and Book Market in Late Qing Beijing

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Abstract

The unique characteristic of the late Qing Beijing antique and book market lies in the existence of Liulichang market, a geographically and culturally integrated marketplace on a scale that was not found in other parts of contemporaneous China. Starting with examining the changing urban landscape and reconfiguration of Beijing’s social and cultural spaces in the Ming and Qing dynasties, this paper investigates the uniqueness of Liulichang market through the lens of the distinctive architecture, organizations, and practices of its antique and book shops. The dominance of a regional market preference for particular artworks, represented by the canonization of paintings by the early Qing orthodox masters at Liulichang, demonstrates that the market was not only an economic institution, but also an essential public space for formalizing collective judgment, meanings, and relationships driven by the agendas of the bureaucratic elite class in the Qing capital. The emphasis on specific formative and decisive forces in constructing the regional markets and directing art consumption in late Qing China further aims to add different nuances to our understanding of the fluidity and specificity of different urban cultures in the late Qing dynasty.

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