Monthly Archives: May 2024

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] 王锐:《革命儒生:章太炎传》 (Wang Rui: The Revolutionary Confucian Scholar. A Biography of Zhang Taiyan)

Wang Rui 王锐, Geming rusheng: Zhang Taiyan zhuan 革命儒生:章太炎传 (The Revolutionary Confucian Scholar. A Biography of Zhang Taiyan), Guangxi shifan daxue chubanshe, 2022. ISBN 9787559855367; 344 pages; 88 RMB.

Reviewed by Fabian Hiller (PhD candidate @ University of Tübingen)

Wang Rui’s new biography of Zhang Taiyan, entitled The Revolutionary Confucian Scholar, is part of a wave of new research on Zhang Taiyan in China sparked by the publication of the revised version of the Zhang Taiyan nianpu changbian  章太炎年谱长编 (Nianpu biography of Zhang Taiyan) and the new edition of Zhang Taiyan quanji 章太炎全集 (The complete works of Zhang Taiyan).[1] While the book is structured chronologically and written in the easy-to-follow style of a history textbook, the author supplements the biographical narrative with abundant information from different primary and secondary sources. Wang takes the approach of a historian when looking at Zhang Taiyan, differentiating this work from many recent more philosophical approaches, a trend that has been especially prominent among Western scholars.[2]

Zhang Taiyan has always been a highly controversial and complex figure within the tapestry of early modern Chinese history, his identity adorned with various attributions. In crafting this book, Wang strategically focuses on two seemingly contradictory yet interwoven dimensions of Zhang’s persona – that of a revolutionary and a Confucian scholar (hence the book’s title). This dual focus not only broadens the understanding of Zhang Taiyan but also underscores the intricate interplay between these seemingly divergent facets of his life. Wang’s narrative doesn’t limit itself to a detached exploration of Zhang’s individuality; instead, it serves as a captivating lens through which the author recounts the broader context of the late Qing Dynasty and early Republic of China.

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