Craig Clunas And How He Research Paper

Length: 10 pages Sources: 3 Subject: Art  (general) Type: Research Paper Paper: #13861147 Related Topics: Art Of Fiction, Martial Arts, Max Weber, Confucianism
Excerpt from Research Paper :

He argues that the exact thing happened in the case of paintings. The aim of the book "Superfluous things: material culture and social status in early modern China" (Clunas, 64) was simply to examine Chinese art in the light of material culture. This shows that Craig Clunas was of the view that evolution of art in China was deeply linked to materialistic and opportunistic needs. This train of though could be observed in all his writings. In this book there is a comparison of luxuries with the eighteenth-century England as well as the development of the society which is consumer focused. (Clunas, 67)

The arguments on art and commoditization of art are not without merit. The argument that as luxuries are demanded the tendency to mass produce for the market cannot be entirely brushed aside. The arguments of the consumption of luxuries are not unique to Culinas. Many other authors have also touched on the subject. The "growth of luxury consumption among the very wealthy, especially silk, mirrors, and so on of the period caused the material production of the items, formerly a reserve of artisans, and this was called by Werner Sombart as objectification" of luxury. (Pomeranz, 114) Thus there could be substance in the argument that commoditization could occur once the demand for art goods increased and a commercial production began. But the entire evolution of art is not based on commoditization but the popularity of art makes it perhaps a commodity of luxury. (Pomeranz, 114)

The entire argument thus rests on the premise that the Ming artifacts seem mass produced on account of the large number of available specimens, and the fact that similar pottery was also to be found exported to Europe. This premise gives rise to the material interpretation of the Chinese art. In fact there seems to be a distinction in the consumption of luxuries which marks the point from where the materialist interpretation begins. For example when art objects were displayed in the British museum it is argued that decorative arts had classified "clothing, chairs, wine jars, and other materials that traditional Chinese classification of art did not include. Art thus is seen as a way of categorizing a wider set of manifestation of material culture." (Barringer, 43)

Thus Culinas shows an obsession to see the entire history from the materialist point-of-view, ignoring other possibilities. We have to caution ourselves here that as we examine Fairbanks and his work we have to remember that Fairbanks was looking at China as a historian and not an expert on art. No doubt his views on Chinese art are valid and different from those of Culinas but are to be seen in a broader light and span. Fairbanks was concerned with the Chinese society, political, economic and social development, not only of ancient China but also of the contemporary, in his time, Communist China.

The views of John Fairbanks

A neutral essay for example the Cambridge History of china shows that the use of creative art is more of a social phenomenon which the rulers or leaders use to inculcate belief into the populace. Sociologists like Mary Sheridan and Joseph Hung have attempted to use fiction as a means of understanding culture and evolution of art forms and expressions. The contention is that fiction bears resemblance to the actual conduct of the times and therefore reflective of the society. The question is if we could trace the element of materialism into these researchers. It is a fact that other writers have not insisted on the Chinese art as being material. John K. Fairbank, in contributing to the book has argued that the art forms rather reflect the evolving values in society rather than materialism. (MacFarquhar; Fairbank; Twitchett, 575)

The development of the society is not contemporaneous with the development of art but rather more on the availability of basic resources and the social order in using those resources. The available resources like huge tracts of land, and large number of workers gave the Chinese the resources to create enterprises and monetizing the economy. The effects of religion in art and culture and the expansion of thought cannot be overstated. We cannot make the mistake of ignoring the influence of religion in art and daily


This could not at all be based n materialism. For example Patricia Ebrey says that Buddhism was a great factor in influencing the community of China and its monasteries and customs reflect this. Stories and depictions of earlier periods including art reflect the common spiritual belief. This is in contrast to the view of Craig Clunas who has with one sweep made a materialist interpretation without considering the driving forces that shape the society and hence art. (Ebrey; Liu, 121)

The rise of Confucianism, Buddhism, and their influence on "Chinese arts, culture, economics, society" (Ebrey; Liu, 122) have been researched well by other authors who have succeeded in showing the essential complex relation between the Chinese society, religion, ethos and cultural progress that was reflected in the art that each period produced. The Ming artifacts thus would be much more than a commercial production based on demand and supply. (Ebrey; Liu, 122) There were other researchers who have analyzed the Chinese history like Frank-Jurgen Richter. (Richter, 178) Richter, in comparing the Chinese community with the net work theory combines social activities e with the economic thought. Thus Max Weber analyzed the Chinese culture in terms of the factors that is not conductive to economic development. Most scholars have a negative attitude to Chinese Culture but it is shown that John Fairbanks retrieves that south Asian countries particularly China has a conservative inertia that prevents it from globalizing. Fairbanks believed that modernizing China will have to essentially remove Confucianism. Later on the success of China has now made it clear that China could progress with the values intact. If that is the case then the Ming dynasty could have also been a period of progress that need not have been materialistic as argued by Craig Clunas. (Richter, 178)

Fairbanks not only analyzed the culture but also showed that there was essential difference in the very basis of how the west understood the Chinese way of life. Fairbanks's analysis of ritual practice extends to the political and martial aspects of thee Chinese. Chinese were an aggressive race and the Ming rulers fought 308 wars. Ming rulers viewed defense as a temporary way of overcoming a bad situation. Expansive ambitions are seen with the Chinese rulers, both Quoin and Ming. (Van de Ven, 255) The concept of vassals and tributes, and the way the ruling class treated the others were concerns of Fairbank. His enquiry did not begin with a comparison with the west, and to him art and art forms were the expressions of the nature of the state. The Chinese state had its own feudal order that could not be compared to any other. The earlier rulers believed that they existed in the center of the world and progressively as on went out of the centre things became worse. Hence the foreign influences on Chinese thinking and art would therefore be minimal. Fairbank has redefined the tributary system and the consideration comes in strangely studying the Chinese warfare. In the interpretations of Chinese culture, Fairbank looks at the subject as a true historian should, dispassionately and objectively. (Van de Ven, 255)

On the same subject, Craig points out that "study of Chinese culture (or for that matter any culture?) is a humanistic technology" that is both time consuming and complex. (Fairbank; Lindbeck, 32) The emphasis is on study of the Chinese culture first and then the evaluation from a through study / he laments that Chinese studies are almost non-existent. He cites the fact that after cultural relations expanded in 1950s many Latin American countries have instituted Chinese study groups and inter-cultural exchanges. (Fairbank; Lindbeck, 35)

Fairbank was the unquestionably the person who looked at China with an objective mind that did not come with a concept or frame into which the Chinese history had to be fitted. The obituary of John K. Fairbank, acknowledges that he was responsible as the Harvard history professor in creating a structured study "of the Chinese studies within the U.S. which is modern." (Gonzalez; Fairbank, 4) His theories and ideas were contemporary and mixed to some extent the politics of the times. He viewed the modern china s development into a totalitarian communist state with distaste but has not let that cloud his judgment and seek labels. The famous books "The United States and China, published for the first time by Harvard University Press in the year 1948" is an analysis of Chinese history, culture and civilization. His debate on "losing China" to the Communists caused ire especially with Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. The difference of opinions let him to take a milder stand on china with regard to political questions.…

Sources Used in Documents:


Barringer, T. J; Flynn, Tom. Colonialism and the object: empire, material culture, and the museum. Routledge, 1998.

Clunas, Craig. Superfluous things: material culture and social status in early modern

China. University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

Ebrey, Patricia Buckley; Liu, Kwang-ching. The Cambridge illustrated history of China.

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