Here Lives Our Culture

17 July 2023 - March 2024


Confucius was trapped in Kuang. He said: “King Wen is dead; does culture (wen, 文) not rest now in me? If Heaven intends culture to be destroyed, why was it vested in me? If Heaven does not intend culture  to be destroyed, what should I fear from the people of Kuang?” - The Analects of Confucius

Wen, or ‘culture’, is a complex concept in China, with connotations that have changed over time. Originally it meant ‘pattern’, but slowly evolved to mean ‘natural pattern’, or ‘the configuration of nature by humans’. Its meaning as ‘culture’ was defined by the Confucian Book of Change: “transform all under Heaven via the human configuration of nature”.

Here Lives Our Culture proposes that after  the death of Confucius, this transformative power manifested in a shared practice of organising knowledge. Libraries lie at the  heart of Chinese culture, and after the use  of paper became popularised during the  Han (202 BCE–220 CE) and Jin (266-420 CE) dynasties, their size increased dramatically.  As a result, the classification and proper arrangement of books became a necessity, not just to order the volumes but to establish a hierarchy in knowledge structures. Of these, the four-category systemClassics, History, Masters, and Literaturewas arguably the most popular. This was used in China’s largest collectanea, the Si Ku Quan Shu (Complete Library of the Four Treasuries, 1773-1784), which included works from other nations such as Japan.

Using this classification system as a starting point, Here Lives Our Culture examines the historical, literary and cultural links shared  by materialsboth Chinese and Japanesefrom the University of Melbourne’s Rare East  Asian Collection. By showcasing items that  are both included in, and excluded from, the Si Ku Quan Shu, this exhibition invites you to explore the constituent components of a culture that ‘transforms all under Heaven’.