Week 11: Artisans and Craftsmen

Final project

You will receive feedback from me on your selection of sources, and a few tips or suggestions for other sources or how to approach your topic from a different angle if you did not find quite what you were looking for. This is quite a normal process to go through: many a researcher sets off with one research question and ends up writing a completely different article or book because the material simply isn't there, or they got interested in something else along the way. But by all means, keep me up to date with any changes because 1) I am curious; 2) I may be able to direct you to a few shortcuts or prevent you from getting lost in the swamps of impossible topics; 3) despite all appearances to the contrary: research is a collective, not an individual process. Sharing is caring!

Keep working on your project: reading, drafting, outlining ideas etc. Your next step will be to submit an outline and a fully worked out paragraph on Nov. 13. (See the description on the final project page), but it's best to do this a bit at a time.

Guess which side I'm on? Big fan of the Pomodoro technique here!
"Stuff" this week

Election day on Tuesday, so if you need to stand in line or you're working at a polling station, fear not! You can: I have adjusted the due dates for the Tuesday assignments to Wednesday. Should you still need more time because this week is just one big mess as a result of everything in all your courses needing to move around, shoot me message. Your participation in the democratic process is needed and I'll happily adjust!

I am fully aware there is a lot of unease about the election or while we wait for a result and that could take a while, and that this may have an impact on your ability to do coursework. This is my current plan: to keep the course going as is for the time being, but we will adjust on an "as needed" basis. It is hard to make plans, due to the uncertainty of everything. But please talk to me, individually or as a group (video, CloudLounge, email,...), if you have suggestions, or just need to ... you know, talk. We'll figure something out. Remember: everything about this course is figureoutable. Remember there are drop-in tutorials that can function as community hours if you want some camaraderie while history plays out. (I rather study history than be part of it, I always knew but since March I have proof.)

One small adjustment I'm making already: I'm dropping the third of the four reflections - in hindsight, they are spaced a bit too close together to be meaningful. It would have been due on Friday but I don't think it's a good use of our collective time, when we are also working on the final project, no need to create busy-work. If you do want to write a reflection because you enjoy it or find it useful, and want to share it for feedback, please do, but I am not making it an assignment.

Should I continue the weekly themed question with a breakout room? There has been extremely low interest, although I think it's a great suggestion. Answers on a postcard. Erm, I mean in an email. I'll be there on Wednesday at 11.30am to field all your questions about your projects, the course contents, and anything else on your mind, and I can give you a central question to chew on, maybe even in a breakout room if more than 1 person shows up! When you compare what you learned about artisans/craftspeople in premodern China so far, with how we treat the people who make "stuff" nowadays (and that includes craftspeople, artisans, but also laborers), what differences and similarities do you observe? Let's chat!

Table of contents

This week's topic: Artisans

We have encountered artisans before- from the people who were killed following the death of the First Emperor of Qin (Week 4) or who helped to build what we know as the Great Wall (Week 2), to the excellent carving skills of Gu Erniang in the inkstone business (Week 9), (and the people who created the woodblock prints) and the laborers involved in the porcelain production at Jingdezhen (Week 10). This week's material looks in more detail at artisans specifically, so we can connect the dots.

You have a choice between three texts and there are a few optional extras to look through.


Pick one of the following three options. Add on "Optional Extras" based on your available time and curiosity.

Option 1: Social status in Early Imperial China

  • Barbieri-Low, Anthony J. Artisans in Early Imperial China. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007.
    • Chapter 2: "Artisans in Society" (sections marked in red brackets: pp. 36-66) (PDF)
    • Guiding questions: What was the social position of the artisan in early China? What different types of view were there, and who held them? Depending on the options you chose earlier in the course, you can compare with what you learned there (often that was about much later time periods and things do change!).
    • Note: The book is also available in the library, should you want to work more on this topic.

Option 2: Social status in Late Imperial China

  • Moll-Murata, Christine. State and Crafts in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Social Histories of Work in Asia. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018.
    • Chapter 9: "The Artisans Place: The 'Four Occupational Groups' and the Social Position of Craftspeople" (ebook Trexler)
    • This chapter provides an overview which does include Early Imperial China (but not in as much detail as Option 1), and shows the historical evolution through the centuries, as well as the historiography (that is: how historians have written about this topic), before looking at what happened to society and the position of the artisan/craftsperson in the late nineteenth century when ideas from the West and the pressure to reform Qing society began to proliferate. What changed, and was it for the better? Includes some information about female artisans, too.

Option 3: Convict craftsmen/laborers in early Imperial China

  • Barbieri-Low, Anthony J. Artisans in Early Imperial China. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007.
    • Chapter 6: "Artisans in Irons" (PDF)
    • Since many of you were fascinated by the idea of the convict laborers and craftsmen creating the tomb complex and the defense project we know as the Great Wall under the Qin, I thought you might be interested in this chapter which looks specifically at the involuntary labor force of the Early Empire.

Optional extras

Read if you are interested and have time available:

  • Sennett, Richard. The Craftsman. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.
    • This is a more philosophical approach to the idea of craftsmanship and the artisan, and in this brief selection the author focuses on the process of learning a new skill, developing concentration, and mastering a craft.
    • How does an account like this make you look anew at the objects we have covered so far in this course? What is it like to try and describe in detail how an object is made, step by step? (PDF) (20 mins)
    • The book is also available as an e-book in Trexler library, and I highly recommend it.
  • Li, Chen. Han Dynasty (206bc-Ad220) Stone Carved Tombs in Central and Eastern China. Oxford: Archaeopress Publishing, 2018.
    • Brief excerpt from chapter 1, section 1.3.2 on the artisans who created and carved the tombs of early China. This is a so-called "state of the field", and shows you what research is available on this topic, and what the shortcomings and strong points are of each of those publications. (PDF) (15 mins)
  • Barbieri-Low, Anthony. "Artisans of Ancient China" slides and voice over lecture. (43 mins)
  • Ruitenbeek, Klaas, and Ban Lu. Carpentry and Building in Late Imperial China : A Study of the Fifteenth-Century Carpenter's Manual, Lu Ban Jing. 2nd rev. ed. Sinica Leidensia, V. 23. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996.
    • A short excerpt that focuses on "carpenters, and other building workers" (so it ties in with what we saw in week 8). This is from a study of the Lu ban jing, a fifteenth-century manual for carpentry, but this study also includes information about the social and legal status of carpenters and builders in Late Imperial China (i.e. Ming [1368-1644] and Qing [1644-1911] period) in general. (PDF, 25 mins)


All times are "Muhlenberg time" (US Eastern Time) Please note that clocks move back 1 hour on Sunday: an extra hour of sleep! (and not last week: that was Europe, and this trips me up every year. Why did nobody say anything?)

Feedback on the reflections about inkstones/books

2 points, due by Wednesday Nov. 4, 11.59PM (participate in the democratic process by voting or working at the polling stations on Tuesday!)

You know the drill 🙂 Read more and become a better reader and writer, as you learn from others' insights and feedback. Here are two students' Reflection posts on buildings, please comment on both:

  • Post 1:
  • Post 2:
  • Comment using Hypothes.is group HST137
  • Content: example: draw the writer's attention to something they missed, or point out how they highlight something you weren't aware of.
  • Style: do you have tips how the writer can make their reflection pack a tighter punch? Does the writer have great sentences or choice of words? What would you like to emulate? Share it!
    • Note: Spelling and phrasing are not the most important, but if you notice a pattern, it is helpful to point it out.

When you're ready, head over to Canvas and fill out the Declaration Quiz to claim your points.

- I commented on two fellow students' end of week reflections on readings about ceramics/porcelain, using the Hypothes.is group HST137.
- I made sure to leave substantial comments that help the writer to improve the post, or to identify their strengths.
- I left comments that I would like to receive myself: thoughtful, helpful, kind, but also pointing out errors so they can be fixed.

Initial post on artisans

3 points, due by Wednesday Nov 4, 11:59PM, but start reading earlier so you have time to digest.

Read through the basic set and use the slides for illustration; pick 1 of the options and mix in the extras as you see fit.

In the slides I include a starting point for the post, but you can also begin from your own observations of what is strange, remarkable, or interesting.

  • Include the bibliographic references for the materials you choose, so we know which ones you picked.
    • Top tip: copy-paste from the list, they are (hopefully) correctly formatted in bibliography format for Chicago Notes and Bibliography style.
    • No need to copy the (PDF) or (ebook Trexler library) bit, that's just there to help you!
  • Add an image that illustrates the topic of your post, with a caption and credit for the image (e.g. a hyperlink to the source).
  • Include the word artisans in the title
  • Add it to the category hst137 on your blog.

This post is your "opening salvo" in a discussion of these course materials. This is also the place where you can ask questions about things you don't understand: perhaps there are contradictions in or between the texts you read, or you can't make head or tail of something?

When you're done, read this declaration carefully, and then fill out the Canvas quiz to collect your points.

- I wrote a post of about 200 words in response to the readings about artisans and craftspeople.
- I included the bibliographic references for the materials I used for my post.
- I included an image, and provided a caption and credit (source) for the image.
- I use the word artisans in the title, added the post to category hst137

Discussion and comments in Hypothes.is

2 points, due Thursday Nov. 5 by 11.59pm.

Below you find links to four blog posts from your fellow students. If one of the websites is your own, or it is twice the same person's, refresh the page, and you should get new sites. Please comment on all four:

  • Post 1:
  • Post 2:
  • Post 3:
  • Post 4:

Leave feedback, questions, thoughts, insights about the contents of the posts of your fellow students, using Hypothes.is group HST137. You can ask for clarifications, point out similarities and differences with the material you covered, or with your interpretation. This should encourage you to nose around a bit deeper in the materials you maybe gave less attention in the first round.

Use the “Architect’s Model” of giving feedback, and engage with concrete issues. Go beyond “Yeah, I agree,” “I like” or “I think the same”, and instead explain why you have that reaction, or if you disagree, you can try to persuade the original poster of your idea or interpretation.

Remember that Hypothes.is allows for hyperlinks, e.g. to materials that support your argument, or you can include pictures (memes! [yes, there she is again]), videos etc. that help the original poster to learn more.

When you've commented on four posts, read this declaration carefully, and then fill out the Canvas quiz to collect your points.

- I commented on four fellow students' initial posts on the readings about artisans, using Hypothes.is group HST137.
- I made sure to leave substantial comments that move the discussion forward and help to create better insights, and go beyond a "nice" or "great".
- I left comments that I would like to receive myself: thoughtful, helpful, kind, but also pointing out errors so they can be fixed.

End of week reflection (on artisans)

3 points, due on Sunday, Nov. 1 by 11:59PM

If you really engaged with the topic of artisans, and the people who actually made the "stuff" in traditional China, your insights have changed over the course of the week, and you'll likely have encountered new information in your colleagues' posts that you did not cover in your readings. What have you learned about these people, their place in society, their world, and how does it connect to what you knew before from this course, or your own world?

Just like before, in your post you will also include three bullet points “Things I learned this week” – what do you know now about this topic in premodern China that you did not know at the start of this week?

  • Write a blog post of appr. 200 words (more is fine if you have Ideas), include the bibliographic details of the texts you refer to or engage with.
    • How have your ideas changed?
    • How do you think now about making something that requires great skill, or learning to master a new skill?
    • What new research questions can you ask, that you never thought about before?
  • Add your three bullet points with “Things I learned this week”.
  • Use the word Reflection in the title, and use the tag week11, and add to category hst137.

When you’re done, read this declaration carefully, and then fill out the Canvas quiz to collect your points.

- I wrote a blog post of appr. 200 words to demonstrate my changed/enhanced understanding of artisans and craftspeople in early Chinese history.
- I included a list with the bibliographic references of the texts I used to create my post.
- I added three bullet points under the heading “Three things I learned this week”.
- I use the word Reflection in the title, used the tag week11, and added the post to category hst137 .

Extra Credit

EC Week 11-1: Extra commenting

Due by Sunday, Nov. 8, 11.59pm; 2 points for three additional blogs

Do you like reading your colleagues’ work? Do you like helping them out by identifying ways to make their posts better? Here’s some good news! You can earn extra credit by doing extra commenting! This assignment will be available regularly throughout the semester.

I have collected posts that have not yet got a lot of comments from fellow students, so check them out and provide some feedback! It will also be a nice trip down memory lane as these may take you back to earlier weeks of the semester.

  • Post 1:
  • Post 2: 
  • Post 3: 
  • Use Hypothes.is group HST137, and leave feedback as we practiced with the Architects’s model
  • Add the tag extra to the comment (this helps me to keep track of how many people use this option.)

When you’re done, please read this declaration carefully and then collect your points on Canvas with the Declaration Quiz.

I selected three blogs I have not yet commented on before, from the posts provided in the Extra Credit exercise, and I used the Hypothes.is group HST137.
I made sure to leave substantial comments that help the writer to improve the post, or to identify their strengths.
I added the tag extra to my Hypothes.is comments.
I left comments that I would like to receive myself: thoughtful, helpful, kind, but also pointing out errors so they can be fixed.

EC 11-2: "Down the Rabbit Hole"

3 points, due by Sunday Nov. 8, 11.59pm

Are you curious? Can you spend hours on internet following one link after another trying to get to the bottom of something? Did you know you can now also get some extra credit for this?

Pick a topic, place name, object, book or person connected to our readings from this week, and follow your curiosity "down the rabbit hole", like Alice in Wonderland. Then share in a blog post with us where you went, and what you found. Your post does not have to be very long: 250 words should work; more is fine if you went on a deep dive, of course. Here's what to include:

  • What in the course materials this week got you inspired to go down the rabbit hole?
  • Include as hyperlinked text the websites you visited, and what you learned there.
  • Include an image, with caption giving credit for the image.
  • You may also critique the sources you find, in particular if you have your doubts about their reliability, or you come across conflicting interpretations. Which one did you side with, and why?
  • Add the post to category hst137, use the title template "Down the rabbit hole: [insert subject]", and add the tag extra.

Read the following Declaration carefully, and then head on over to Canvas to collect your points in the Declaration Quiz:

I wrote a post about additional materials on the internet I found, starting from a topic connected to course materials from this week.
I included the sites I visited as hyperlinked text, and explained what I learned on these pages.
I included an image, with a caption and credit for the image.
I added the post to the category hst137, used the tag extra, and used the title template "Down the rabbit hole:[topicxx]" for my post.

Where to ask questions?

Remember that it is highly likely that you are not the only one with that question. Save me time, and help your fellow students by asking questions where others can see them. If you know the answer to a question, jump in! I can’t be everywhere all the time.

Missing link? Wrong information? Typos? Email me!

"See something? Say something!"