In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Concepts of Authentication in Premodern China

  • Introduction
  • Law and Statecraft
  • Literature

Chinese Studies Concepts of Authentication in Premodern China
Bruce Rusk
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0199


People in premodern China (here, the period from the earliest recorded history in the twelfth century BCE to the late nineteenth century CE) were often concerned with establishing the authenticity of things, texts, and people, as well as that of more abstract entities such as ideas and emotions. There is no single field of study that encompasses all of these, nor was there a single term in Chinese to refer to all of them. Rather, different groups and different domains of knowledge had their own standards of authentication and their own methods for asserting, testing, and guaranteeing it. We are, of course, much better able to reconstruct practices that left material traces and especially those recorded in writing, and as a result most scholarship in this area has focused on the literate elite, in particular on scholarship and collection practices. Textual studies and connoisseurship are thus well-represented while everyday authentication activities such as judgments about goods in the marketplace are understudied. Moreover, there has been little comparison of practices across these domains. There are few general overviews of the topic and no bibliographies focusing on it, though there are useful overviews of some of the scholarly fields involved. Long-standing concepts and practices inform contemporary concepts of authenticity and practices of authentication, for example in the connoisseurship of art, where they coexist with technoscientific forms of knowledge-making.

Commerce and Daily Life

The authentication of goods exchanged and of other objects encountered in daily life was a frequent challenge during these periods, especially for those involved in market transactions. In some periods, and for some categories of goods, the state regulated the market and through regular inspections attempted to assure that prices and quality were standardized.

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