Artisans in Early Imperial China

This book represents the first in-depth social history of artisans in early China. How did they live? How were they trained? How did they market their products? How free were they? In this engaging and illuminating analysis, Barbieri-Low explores the artisans’ lives and careers from a variety of aspects.
Year of Publication
University of Washington Press
ISSN Number
Average: 4 (1 vote)


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A Social, Scientific, and Artistic History of Early China

Field of Interest/Specialty: Art & Social Studies
Posted On: 07/14/2016

In this thematically-organized book, Barbieri-Low takes on his favorite role of material-culture historian to produce a work that paints a detailed picture of life in early imperial China. With a fantastic variety of photos, diagrams, and charts--from handprints and incense burners to rates of taxation and topographic maps--Barbieri-Low uses archaeological data from workshop areas such as foundries, quarries, kiln sites, and a multitude of tombs to retell the stories of the leaders and artists of this time. The author combines scientific, technical, and stylistic examinations of a variety of works, often comparing the developments of the Qin and Han to ancient civilizations in Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Although the author sometimes takes the reader on a detour from the main path for more than a page or two with case studies of scientific discoveries, the activities of court cultures such as the Horn-Bunting Games, or the even pictures and detailed burial records of convicts, Barbieri-Low uses these tales as a unique way to examine the role of the artist in society. With an excellent use of a variety of well-documented primary sources, the social structure of early imperial China is dissected and many specific references are made to the stories of particular artists. By comparing the arts and focusing not necessarily on the materials but more on the culture of the products of early imperial China, today’s reader is able to develop a comprehensive understanding of the people living on the other side of the planet approximately two thousand years ago.
I was looking for a comprehensive text to help provide details for a high school art history course, but what I found in this book would be just as helpful to someone teaching World History or Ancient Cultures or anyone looking for interesting stories to add to a unit on inventions and scientific discoveries, unique scenarios for story problems in math, information to flesh out studies of social structures and caste systems, prompts for a creative writing or drawing assignment, or even someone looking for case studies in forensic science. Because of its well-organized format, someone can pick up and use this book for specific content without reading all 250+ pages.