Notions of “authenticity” are both culturally constructed and historically contingent. What one deems to be genuine or fake follows norms agreed upon by their particular communities. In this project, we explore the construction of “authenticity,” and its consequences, in relation to China’s cultural heritage - those objects, texts, and intangible practices concerned with China’s past. How do standards for authenticity change in time, space, and between various object- or text-types, and why? Who arbitrates what counts as authentic, and from where does that authority stem? Who made forgeries, how did they circulate, and what was their economic effect? How has forgery been used to contest ownership of the past, to enact political protest, or push intellectual programs? How do current anxieties over authenticity impact the management of China’s cultural heritage today? While there is plenty of research on the scientific identification of forgeries, it is only in recent years that scholars have come to see authenticity as a broad, multi-faceted concept worth discussing on a conceptual level. The present project is interested not only in these conceptual issues, but also in the practical ramifications they have for work done in cultural heritage management, museums, antiquities trade, collecting, and academic research.
“Understanding Authenticity in China’s Cultural Heritage” commenced during the 2019-20 academic year with a targeted network that has brought together scholars in various fields from Oxford and other local universities, along with stakeholders from various other cultural heritage organizations, museums, libraries, auction houses, and law firms, to hold roundtable meetings and other discussions about authenticity in China. In the 2020-21 academic year, we initiated a virtual seminar series with talks that reach a broader, global audience. On 16-20 March 2021, hosted a larger international conference that brings together experts to discuss “authenticity” and China, in respect to (1) art and material culture; (2) texts and manuscripts; (3) museums, collections, and displays; and (4) cultural heritage management. A volume is forthcoming, disseminating the fruits of that exchange and our talk series. In the summer 2022, we are planning to host a follow-up conference, that moves into cross-cultural comparisons as well.
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