Black Tigers

A Grammar of Chinese Rubbings

Kenneth Starr

  • Published: 2008
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; Art History / Asian Art; Visual Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 320 pp., 101 illus., 8 in color, 7 x 10 in.
  • Contents

Since at least the early sixth century C.E., ink rubbings of stone, metal, clay tiles, and wood inscriptions and pictorial images have been used in China to make precise copies of culturally valued material. These paper copies sometimes are all that remain of original works that have become illegible through erosion, or that have been destroyed by war or development, or have been rendered inaccessible through events such as flooding resulting from dam construction. Chinese rubbing techniques are used throughout East Asia to create copies that often also are prized in themselves as works of art. Despite the primary importance of this technology to history, art, archaeology, printing, and many other fields of knowledge, Black Tigers is the first comprehensive study of rubbings in a Western language, and as such will be welcomed by both scholars and collectors.

In Black Tigers, Kenneth Starr recounts what he has seen and learned in fifty years of fascination with rubbings and travels to China in search of the early inscriptions from which they came. The book is a history of rubbings, a guide to connoisseurship, and a technical handbook on the materials and techniques used to make rubbings. Now readers of English, with the author as their affable guide, can gain rich insight into a rigorous discipline of classical scholarship, the way in which traditional scholars viewed their world, and some of the exquisite subtleties of Chinese high culture and connoisseurship.

Black Tigers will be an essential resource for students of Chinese art, history, calligraphy, archaeology, and the history of printing.
Kenneth Starr is the former director of the Milwaukee Public Museum and, earlier, curator of East Asian archaeology and ethnology at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

"An extraordinary work, brimming with essential information available nowhere else about one of the characteristic products of Chinese civilization - the ink rubbing. For all scholars of Chinese material culture, rubbings are important resources, not only for their aesthetic and art historical interest, but also for the information in texts they record."
-Robert E. Harrist, Jr., Columbia University

"There is no comparable history of ink rubbings in any Western language. Starr truly has the 'organic feel' for his subject, having made and studied ink rubbings for decades. His knowledge is encyclopedic, and he describes materials and processes with graceful familiarity and clarity. The fine details of connoisseurship and aesthetic judgments, as well as the wealth of tradition and technique involved, are beautifully laid out, and the reader feels privileged to look over the shoulder of a great craftsman and scholar."
-Amy McNair, University of Kansas

1. The History and Functions of Rubbings
2. Orchid Root and Rhinoceros-Tail Hair
3. The Gentle Art
4. Gentler Still
5. Variations on the Theme
6. When the Work Is Done
7. The Rice and the Chaff

Appendix 1. Historical Periods
Appendix 2. Terms for Rubbings, the Rubbing Technique, and Related Processes
Appendix 3. Terms for Papers Used to Make Rubbings
Glossary of Chinese Characters

"A lively and enjoyable look into a world mastered by few. . . . [Starr] has gathered a half-century of personal experience and study of ink rubbings, in China, Taiwan, Japan and the US, into this unique volume."
-T'oung Pao

"In the case of truly spectacular books, reviewers can find it difficult to know how best to begin singing the requisite praise-songs. Black Tigers is one such book, for it encapsulates, in remarkably lucid prose, the lilfetime of experience that its author brings to the study of ink rubbings. . . . Black Tigers lays out every part of the process so methodically and with such quiet authority that the reader can only feel a degree of awe as she pours over the riches offered by Starr's account. . . . Starr shows exemplary balance..and his own book is proof, if such were needed, of the level of refinement and erudition that proper training in connoisseurship and long experience can bring to particularly fraught subjects-fraught in this case because many latter-day nationalists cast rubbing histories as an index of Chinese identity. Starr's appendices alone are worth the modest price of this book."
-Journal of the American Oriental Society