Landscapes and Local Identity: The Eight Views of Linfen

Landscapes and Local Identity: The Eight Views of Linfen

Andrea Janku (SOAS University of London, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1807-6.ch006

Abstract

This chapter is the first part of an exploration into the history and meaning of landscapes, based on a case study of the “must-see” scenic spots or Eight Views (bajing 八景) of Linfen County in the south of China's Shanxi province. County histories not only include poems and travel accounts describing these places, but often also, from the 18th century onwards, images representing them. They are thus well-documented places, which makes it possible to trace fragments of their history and draw conclusions about the relationship between humans and their physical environment. This part of the study focuses on how the physical environment interlocked with the historical heritage of a place to form a cultural landscape that gave identity and meaning to a place and its people.
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The Genre Of The Eight Views

Sets of Eight Views described in poetic four-character phrases can be found in many local histories, usually in the chapters on geography as appendices to the sections on “Mountains and rivers” (shanchuan 山川) or “Famous scenic spots and traces of the past” (mingsheng guji 名勝古跡). Overview maps often indicate the sites of some if not all of them. Literature chapters abound with poems and travel accounts describing the beauty of these landscapes. From the eighteenth century onwards local histories often include illustrations of the views. Due to their popularity with the literati they are generally well documented places, making it possible to reconstruct fragments of their history and draw conclusions about the relationship between humans and their physical environment. At the same time, it has rightly been assumed that the Eight Views are largely imagined landscapes, representing certain aesthetic and cultural norms designed to create an auspicious aura as well as a sense of identity and belonging for the cultural and political elite. Accordingly, it has been stated that they are significant not because they show any “objective natural features,” but because they “create historical and cultural value.” The genre is thought to represent the “perfect harmony of nature and culture, history and reality,” and it is closely linked to ideas of the harmonious unity of man and nature (天人合一) and geomancy (Zhang, 2003).

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