Author Archives: MJF

Chinese-European Lecture Series 2024

Crafting Legacy: Tracing the Threads of Traditional Craftsmanship

The making of things to fulfill daily and luxury needs is probably as old as mankind. However, it was only the emergence of industrial mass production that led to the separation between craft object and machine-made object and thus the concept of traditional craftsmanship in contrast to the former came into play. This has by no means led to the frequently invoked death of the traditional crafts though. Craftsmanship, in the sense of unique skills and specialized knowledge through which materials are manipulated, is a universal testament to human ingenuity and cultural heritage that transcends temporal and geographical boundaries. This lecture series delves deep into the heart of traditional craftsmanship, spotlighting questions of knowledge transmission and the pivotal role of networks in sustaining and developing these practices.

Through a panoramic exploration spanning continents and centuries, the lecture series puts the focus on the intricate web of relationships that facilitate the passage of practical knowledge—from master to apprentice, across familial ties, and through vibrant professional networks.

Central to this exploration are the multifaceted networks that underpin traditional craftsmanship: (1) Geographically, how did trade routes and cultural exchanges facilitate the spread of techniques and materials? How did geographical networks shape the evolution of craftsmanship within specific regions, and how did they interact with distant cultures through trade and migration? What role did trade routes and cultural exchanges play in shaping techniques and styles? (2) Interpersonally, how did personal networks within communities foster collaboration and skill-sharing among artisans? How did informal apprenticeships and community networks nurture the growth of traditional crafts? How did the personal networks of artisans intersect with broader institutional frameworks? (3) Institutionally, what institutional structures, such as guilds and workshops, provided support and regulation for craftsmen? How did these institutions and their roles evolve over time?

Yet, amid this rich tapestry of knowledge transmission, lies the elusive challenge of studying tacit knowledge among non-elite artisans. How do we capture and study the nuances of skills passed down through generations, frequently undocumented and deeply ingrained in embodied practices? This lecture series grapples with this dilemma, exploring methodologies and approaches to uncover the practical knowledge embedded within traditional crafts.

We also invite lectures to explore the continuing role and resilience of traditional craftsmanship in the face of modernization and globalization in the present time. What role play cultural initiatives, grassroots movements and digital platforms in the transmission and revitalization of knowledge in the traditional crafts?

The series aims at bringing together approaches from various disciplines exploiting a vast array of sources, including archaeological findings, historical texts, material objects and ethnographic insights, in order to illuminate the socio-economic dynamics that underpin the dissemination of non-elite knowledge.








[Review] 张西平:《中国和欧洲早期思想交流史》(Zhang Xiping: History of the Intellectual Exchange between China and Europe in the Early Modern Period)

Zhang Xiping 张西平, Zhongguo he Ouzhou zaoqi sixiang jiaoliushi 中国和欧洲早期思想交流史 (History of the Intellectual Exchange between China and Europe in the Early Modern Period), Beijing: Beijing Daxue Chubanshe 北京大学出版社, 2021. ISBN: 978-7-301-32228-4, 531 pages, 138 RMB.

Reviewed by Zhou Yuping 周宇平 (Albert-Ludwig University of Freiburg)

This monograph by Zhang Xiping, distinguished professor at Beijing Language and Culture University (北京语言大学) and Beijing Foreign Studies University (北京外国语大学), focuses on the intellectual exchange in philosophical and religious fields between China and Europe. This includes classical and medieval philosophies and Christianity in Europe and Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism in China. First published in 2001 and republished in 2010 and 2021, the 2021 edition of the book belongs to the book series Ruxue yu Ouzhou wenming yanjiu 儒学与欧洲文明研究 (Studies on Confucianism and European Civilization). According to Zhang, the 2021 edition inherited the structure of the previous editions but with a few amendments to details, which readers can notice from his citation of more recent publications (p. 530).[1]

The book covers a period spanning 300 years from 1500 to 1800 and consists of a total of 16 chapters divided into two sections. The first section deals with the transfer of European ideas to China, and the second examines the dissemination of Chinese thought and culture in Europe. Zhang’s primary sources in his study are the writings of Catholic missionaries in China during the Ming- and Qing-period. Some of these writings are translations and annotations on the works of well-known European and Chinese thinkers. Among the missionaries, the Jesuits and their publications are the focus of this research.

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[Review] 吕庙军《清华简与文武周公史事研究》(Lü Miaojun: Research on Tsinghua Bamboo-Slip Manuscripts and Historical Events of King Wen, King Wu, and the Duke of Zhou)

Lü Miaojun 吕庙军, Qinghua jian yu Wen Wu Zhou gong shishi yanjiu 清华简与文武周公史事研究 (Research on Tsinghua Bamboo-Slip Manuscripts and Historical Events of King Wen, King Wu, and the Duke of Zhou), Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe 上海古籍出版社, 2021.
ISBN 978–7–5732–0021–1, 329 pages, 88 RMB.

Reviewed by Felix Bohlen (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)

The discovery of the oracle bones in the early 20th century marked a new era for modern historical research on early China. Ever since, excavated texts on bone, bronze, bamboo, silk, and wood regularly grab headlines and receive strong scholarly attention. The so-called Tsinghua manuscripts, a corpus of numerous manuscripts on bamboo slips, are the latest significant find of this sort. The collection was acquired in 2008 by Tsinghua University in Beijing, although the texts were probably illegally looted from an ancient tomb, and their exact provenance remains unknown. Despite these unfortunate circumstances, academia widely considers them authentic sources from the Warring States Period (ca. 480–221 BCE), primarily based on philological arguments. Since the discovery and subsequent successive publication, these manuscripts have been subject to intense debate and extensive research.[1] Lü Miaojun’s book, under review here, is another study in this field, written for specialists in Western Zhou history (1045–771 BCE) and the Tsinghua manuscript collection. As such, the book requires readers to have at least some basic knowledge of the history of the Western Zhou and the source texts.

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Illegal Caravan Trade and Outlaw Armed Escorts in the Qing Dynasty: Critical Analysis of Two 18th Century Memorials

by Laurent Chircop-Reyes (CEFC, associated CECMC and IrAsia)

Cases of attacks on merchants by brigands abound in the official reports of the Qing dynasty (1644–1912). Successive emperors ordered local governors to solve the brigandage problem. Apart from imperial measures intensifying military patrols in certain areas where brigandage was endemic at varying degrees, merchants (especially those from Shanxi Province) hired private escort companies (biaoju 鏢局) to ensure caravan protection during journeys over land and water.

Full text of the research note see:

[Review] 贾立元《“现代”与“未知”:晚清科幻小说研究》(Jia Liyuan: The “Modern” and the “Unknown”. A Study on Late Qing Science Fiction)

Jia Liyuan 贾立元, “Xiandai” yu “weizhi”: Wan Qing kehuan xiaoshuo yanjiu《“现代”与“未知”:晚清科幻小说研究》(The “Modern” and the “Unknown”: A Study on Late Qing Science Fiction). Beijing: Beijing Daxue Chubanshe 北京大学出版社, 2021. ISBN 978-7-301-32379-3, 316 pages, 59 RMB.

Reviewed by Sabine Weber (Universität Bonn)

Since the English translation and the subsequent international success of Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem (Santi 三体) in 2014, Chinese science fiction has experienced a “new wave” in production and consumption, causing an equivalent rise in scholarly attention. Previously, the genre had been marginalized ‒ disregarded as “juvenile” at best, forbidden as “counter-revolutionary” or “escapist” at worst.

Given the genre’s unsteady history, the rudimentary coverage in literary criticism and studies is to be expected. While this changed over the course of the 2010s, a scholarly backlog still haunts more specific branches of the field, including the genre’s early history. The first monographic study on early Chinese science fiction was defended as a PhD thesis in Comparative Poetics only in 2012.[1] Such was the state of the field when Jia Liyuan (贾立元, *1983), himself an acclaimed author of science fiction under the pseudonym Fei Dao 飞氘, wrote his thesis about the beginnings of science fiction literature in China. This thesis, defended successfully in 2015, is the basis for the book under review here and is one of the first monographs specifically on early modern Chinese science fiction.

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[Review] 劉尊志《漢代墓外設施研究:以王侯墓葬与中小型墓葬為参考》(Liu Zunzhi: Auxiliary Surrounding Structures of Han Dynasty Tombs. Case Studies on Tombs of the Nobility and Small- and Medium-Sized Tombs)

Liu Zunzhi 劉尊志, Handai mu wai sheshi yanjiu: Yi wanghou muzang yu zhong-xiaoxing muzang wei cankao 漢代墓外設施研究:以王侯墓葬与中小型墓葬為参考 (Auxiliary Surrounding Structures of Han Dynasty Tombs. Case Studies on Tombs of the Nobility and Small- and Medium-Sized Tombs), Beijing: Kexue Chubanshe 科學出版社, 2021. ISBN 978-7-03-068149-2, 718 pages, 278 RMB.

Reviewed by Eric Bouteiller (PhD candidate EPHE-PSL, CRCAO)

This timely book shines a new light on archaeology of the Han period (206 BCE–220 CE), collecting almost all the recently published data concerning above-ground funerary features of tombs left by Han era social elites. It includes numerous high-quality maps, drawings, and photographs from published excavation reports. The focus of the book is an area often neglected by archeologists in China, who are usually fixated on underground architecture – and the “treasures” therein – in isolation from above-ground facilities, thus de-contextualizing the tombs. Han period graves are very complex structures with often lavishly decorated underground chambers, and features above ground that include all sorts of funerary monuments, such as memorial halls and offering shrines, but also a wider range of facilities built within extensive cemetery gardens.

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[Review] 李楠《汉代西域行政制度与屯戍体制研究》(Li Nan: Research on the Military Colonies Settlements and General Frontier Administration of the Western Regions under the Han Dynasty)

Li Nan 李楠, Handai Xiyu xingzheng zhidu yu tunshu tizhi yanjiu 汉代西域行政制度与屯戍体制研究 (Research on the Military Colonies Settlements and General Frontier Administration of the Western Regions under the Han Dynasty), Beijing: Zhongguo Shehui Kexue Chubanshe 中国社会科学出版社, 2020. ISBN 978-7-520-3692-37, 226 pages, 88 RMB.

Reviewed by Arnaud Bertrand (ARscAN – Central Asia, UMR 7041; Catholic Institute of Paris)

Between the end of the second century and the early years of the first century BCE, the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 9 CE) expanded to the west and developed a complex administration to control the conquered territories. Prior to this expansion, the Korean peninsula, the Mongolian steppe, northern Vietnam, and the Western Regions were peripheral to what was “China” at that time. During Emperor Wu’s reign (141–87 BCE), these remote areas were no longer buffer zones with other Asian powers but became partly, or totally, integrated into this growing empire.

Li Nan’s work focuses on the administrative practices deployed by the Western Han, Xin (9–23 CE), and Eastern Han dynasties (25–220) in connection with the occupation of the northwest. More precisely, he focuses on the strategies used by the central administration to rule over the city-states of the Tarim Basin. The study deals with the Western Regions (Xiyu 西域) roughly corresponding to modern Xinjiang. Since the high Neolithic age, this region has constituted a space of constant interactions between the “Chinese” and the “Central Asian” worlds. It stretches from Loulan in the east to Kashgar in the west, though the latter never became an imperial commandery (jun 郡). During the period dealt with in this book, the region was governed by a General Protectorate (Xiyu duhufu 西域都護府), with the aim to control the local economy of the city-states in the form of an imperial colony. The book examines how the Chinese practically managed this Protectorate.

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