China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Artisans are often poorly documented and hard to study. This interdisciplinary panel brings together a variety of perspectives to explore how knowledge about or from artisans was produced, interpreted, or repurposed in China from the Shang dynasty to the Republican period.
Using archaeological evidence concerning Shang period bronzes, Kent Cao examines the mindset of artisans and calls into question the credibility of later textual records about bronze casting. In collaboration with scientists and conservators, Daisy Yiyou Wang looks at a sixteenth-century lacquer-making treatise authored by an artisan and argues that the treatise signals the author’s effort to construct the image of a learned artisan at a time of intellectual, social, and economic changes. Susan Naquin turns to working-class artisans, using texts cast or carved onto the objects that they made in late imperial China. Naquin suggests the advantages of the collection and aggregation of a great many examples as a method for the study of these ordinary artisans. Kaijun Chen investigates an early twentieth-century project led by an official-businessman to preserve and utilize historical writings concerning artisans in the context of industrialization and nation building.
Matters raised for discussion include who created artisan knowledge, for whom, and for what purposes; the relationship between text-based and object-derived knowledge; and the identity of an artisan. The panel opens up to a broad reflection on issues of the historiography of artisans, new sources and methodologies in the study of artisans, an underexplored subject in the history of art, science, and technology.