Long-range Cultural Transmission before the Early Ming

Start: Mar 14, 2013 06:10 PM

Location: Room 209, Institute of Archaeology

Cultural transmission before the Early Ming

Clarence Eng (SOAS) will give the second International Centre for Chinese Heritage and Archaeology (ICCHA) China Night Lecture of Term II, 2012/13 at the Institute on 14 March.

Clarence's lecture is entitled 'Long-range Cultural Transmission before the Early Ming: the information paradox and how to handle it' and will be followed by a wine reception in Staff Common Room. All are welcome!  China Night events are free and open to the public (booking is not required unless otherwise stated).


Some aspects of Cultural Transmission and Diffusion are capable in a number of disciplines ranging from archaeology to sociology and linguistics of being methodically studied by statistical sampling, with results converted to chronological histories and even predictive algorithms. However, in subjects such as architectural history and the decorative arts the material evidence is found in the random and often accidental survival of a vanishingly small number of objects; sometimes single examples. These objects may have distant links to

structures or artefacts in other places and civilizations but, without compelling stylistic matches, the evidence for transmission is weak. The examples are either too few to classify or to offer meaningful statistical significance. The evidence is largely visual and may intersect other material cultures. Some examples are also far from durable.

At present, potential linkages are often found empirically, or through similarities (by chance) being noticed by individuals working in different fields. This process is far from methodical. However, the volume of information in which matches may be found is already large and growing fast, even whilst modern destructive forces (some accidental, many deliberate) are equally rapidly reducing the stock of unstudied material. Identifying potential matches is a process ideally served by digital technology but the data (images and documents) needs to be systematically stored and annotated (‘tagged’) to wait for matches. The processing power and massive data storage needed for such a project are now available at costs which are already reasonable and declining fast. An open-access system with an institution-based ‘gatekeeper’ might be a practical way forward.

Dr Clarence Eng read Natural Sciences and Law at Cambridge University before working for over 30 years with Shell International, with whom he held senior posts in Europe, China and the Far East. Since retirement from Shell he has pursued various interests, some academic, completing an MSc in Architectural History at the Bartlett School of Architecture in UCL, and then at SOAS an MA in Chinese Studies and a PhD in Art and Archaeology, for which his thesis considered 'The Use of Ceramic in Chinese Late Imperial Architecture'. He was formerly a Council Member of the Oriental Ceramic Society, and served for five years on the Board of the Heritage of London Trust. He remains a research associate at SOAS.

Any enquiries about China Night events may be directed to the ICCHA Administrator.