Week 9: The world of the scholar

Oct. 19 – 25


As the semester gets busier, and you get more into your final project, I’ll try to do what I can to make the weekly reading load lighter. This means I will offer one basic piece of material for all to engage with. The optional materials are optional: if you are curious, you can explore more, based on your interests and on your available time. I’ll offer a time estimate but that can be a bit of a guess, so let me know if you move faster or slower so I can update this for future re-use.

New for Wednesday Zoom:

Based on a suggestion in the Reflections, I’ll have a central question for break-out rooms to discuss with your colleagues/without me, before regrouping and talking through your findings in the larger group. This is perfect if you worry about not having anything to say in a Zoom session: now you have a question to mull over! Join us at 11.30am – Find the Pink Link on the SECRETS page on Canvas.

This week’s question: what is it like to learn a new skill/art, and can you put it in words? Prof. Ko in the podcast shares that she insists on trying her hand at the processes and creating the objects she researches. You have all learned a new skill/art at some point in your life: a sport, a musical instrument, learning to drive, learning to write, or even mastering how to use your blog. What is for you the difference between reading about skills/arts and actually learning them? What’s it like to try and put into words the perfect move in your chosen athletic discipline?

If you can’t make it, that’s fine – the session does not add new content. And if you can make it, you can still ask questions all the questions you want to ask!

Table of Contents


The “four treasures” of the scholar are paper, brush, ink and inkstone. You use the inkstone to rub the stick of solid (dried) ink with a drop of water, to make the black “Chinese” ink, and then with the brush you write on the paper, or paint. In this week’s basic set, you can get a closer look (or rather “listen”) at the process of creating the inkstones and how they were valued as an object of art. The interview invites you also to think about the question of the artisan, the maker of the object, and their relation to the consumer and connoisseur, but also the question of status (of artisans, of women) and much more.

Books were also treasured possessions of the scholars, so I thought I’d include some additional materials about them as well. Have fun exploring the world of the scholar!


Basic (all students listen to this)

This week it will be easier to start with the podcast, and follow along with the slides for illustration purposes.

  • Podcast: New Books in East Asian Studies, interview with Dorothy Ko, author of The Social Life of Inkstones. (appr. 1hr)
    • Take notes while listening; don’t try to do something else at the same time: this is a conversation packed with information.
    • If you want to know more, the book is in the library: Ko, Dorothy. The Social Life of Inkstones : Artisans and Scholars in Early Qing China. A Study of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute Columbia University. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017. (ebook Trexler )
    • How does thinking about the materiality of the scholar’s world change our perspective on Chinese history? What connections do we see with earlier topics, themes, or objects we discussed, in particular in connection with creating material culture? What happens when we start to focus on the people who made objects, rather than those who commissioned or used them?
  • Slides (Gdrive)

Optional extras (pick and mix if curious/as time allows)

  • McDermott, Joseph Peter. A Social History of the Chinese Book : Books and Literati Culture in Late Imperial China. Understanding China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2006. (ebook Trexler)
    • chapter 1: “The Making of an Imprint in China, 1000–1800” pp. 9-42. (1hr read)
  • Smithrosser, Elizabeth. “Bookcare in Medieval China.” Medievalist.net.
    • Once a book has been printed (or in many of the examples in this text: been handwritten), you need to take care of it against mold, and silverfish, and bookworms! (15 min. read, incl. videos)
  • The familiar format of a book in the West we call a “codex”; in East Asia, there was also a long tradition of using a scroll, read from right to left. An example of a painting as a scroll is the famous “Going up the River at Spring Festival” (Qingming Shanghe tu) scroll. It shows from right to left the journey from the nearby countryside to a bustling city with traders, a market, food stalls and much of what life in the Song dynasty (960-1279) would have looked like.
    • Interactive website with annotations to the “Qingming Scroll” (note: requires Flash; does not work in Chrome. Reload the site if it appears blank) Most of the “fun” details are further out to the left side, so scroll along! (time estimate: as much as you like!)
    • On campus students: we have a replica in Trexler Library. If you want to use it, please treat it carefully and use a clean surface to unroll it a bit at a time, and have some clean weights (e.g wrapped in a clean shirt or pillow case) nearby. Use this video as a guide for how to handle a scroll: Safe Handling Practice for Chinese Handscrolls (time estimate: as much as you like!)


All times are “Muhlenberg time” (US Eastern Time)

Feedback on the reflections about buildings

2 points, due by Tuesday Oct 20, 11.59PM.

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 buildings, 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 inkstones and/or books

3 points, due by Tuesday Oct. 20, 11:59PM, but start reading earlier so you have time to digest.

Listen to the podcast and use the slides for illustration; pick options as you see fit.

Use the guiding questions and remarks as starting points, but you can also begin from your own observations of what is strange, remarkable, or interesting.

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?

  • 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.
    • Note: Don’t 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 book or inkstone in the title of the post
  • Add it to the category hst137 on your blog.

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 inkstones and books.
– 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 inkstone or book in the title, added the post to category hst137

Discussion and comments in Hypothes.is

2 points, due Thursday Oct. 22, 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 inkstones or books, 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.

Assessing sources

DUE: Thursday Oct. 22, 11.59PM.

Check out all the details on the dedicated webpage.

This is a non-graded exercise to get you thinking and talking about the spectrum of sources at our disposal; this will help you to find good sources for the annotated bibliography, step 2 towards the final project.

Heads-up: The second step of this exercise will be a discussion through comments on a Google Sheet with your answers to these questions, and that will run from Friday through to next week Wednesday.

Related: If you’re curious to learn what your colleagues in the course are currently planning to write about, check out this page. It is also available from the drop down menu at the top, in the weekly schedule > Final Project > Student Topics. You should coordinate with others if you have closely related topics to make sure you’re not covering the same ground!

End of week reflection (on inkstones/books)

3 points, due on Sunday, Oct 25 by 11:59PM

If you really engaged with the topic of the scholar’s world in traditional China this week, your insights have changed, 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 the high-brow world of the scholars, and the interactions with the world of the artisan, who created the objects they used?

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 the production of stationery, books, and the scholar’s world??
    • 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 week9, and add to category hst137.

When you’ve commented on four posts, 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 inkstones/books 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 week9, and added the post to category hst137 .

Extra Credit

EC 9-1: Introduce an Image

3 points, due Sunday 11.59pm

All the details on this webpage, incl. a link to declaration quiz.

EC 9-2: Follow that Footnote!

3 points, due by Sunday, Oct 25, 11.59pm.

Read the instructions on this separate webpage , incl. the link there to the declaration quiz.

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!

Scholar-Official in His Study, Philadelphia Museum of Art