AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 49

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Session 49: Picturing Labor and Technology in East Asian Art

Organizer: Roslyn Lee Hammers, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Discussant: Martin J. Powers, University of Michigan, USA

The political entities of East Asia may be regarded as bound by varying interpretations of shared cultural structures including Confucianism and Buddhism. Classical Chinese political theories emphasized the role of government to provide for the economic wellbeing of the populace. In early Chinese texts, an ethically correct government is based on the ruler’s ability to provide stability such that the yearly cycles of agrarian production occur. A corollary of this dictum is that individuals can and should assume responsibility for the maintenance of their living standards. Labor in East Asia, as elsewhere, is central to an individual’s relationship with government and society. Representations of laboring men and women necessarily position the people in an economic environment, negotiating relationships of social status, class interest, and political import. Representations of laborers often include or preclude references to technology, commenting on standards of living and quality of life. This panel addresses the representation of labor and technology in East Asian visual culture, and welcomes papers explicating the meanings and images of labor and technology through the course of this region’s history. How did images of labor come to be defined? What were the frameworks within which concepts of work and exchange were lodged as epistemic and hermeneutic agents across time and different cultures? Where did networks of knowledge and pictorialization situate the roles of government, authority, labor, and gender? What roles did representations play in the creation, transgression, and contestation of meaning in the history of labor and technology in East Asia?

The Implementation of the perfect society: Reforming government through the representations of labor and tools in Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) China
Roslyn Lee Hammers, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Around 1145 Lou Shu (1090-1162) inaugurated a new genre of representation in the Pictures of Tilling and Weaving. This was a pair of handscrolls that represented the stages of the cultivation of grain in one painting and production of silk in the other in a yearly cycle of discrete activities. For each of the stages of labor, Lou Shu composed a poem to accompany the scene. This paper briefly outlines the circumstances in which the scrolls were created in order to establish how they functioned as an endorsement of the policies of the great reformer Wang Anshi (1021–1086). With this background of the politically charged nature of agrarian representations in place, the paper then considers the great agriculture treatise, the Book of Agriculture, a text composed in the early fourteenth century by Wang Zhen (act. 1300s). This treatise, as it survives in a Ming-dynasty edition, contains an unprecedented array of woodblock prints that incorporates scenes from the Pictures of Tilling and Weaving as well as depictions of humble tools. This paper explores the way in which the Book of Agriculture likewise upheld Wang Anshi’s reforms through its text and image. Wang Zhen designed the treatise to cultivate the reformer’s vision of a perfect society during the Mongol dominated Yuan dynasty.

Representing Farming in Late Muromachi: Visual Appropriation and Political Messages
Shalmit Bejarano, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Linked to the seasonal cycle and Confucian ideology, depictions of agrarian labor in Japan are conventionally interpreted as naïve documentation of local tradition. Re-contextualizing, however, the Japanese pictures of laboring farmers vis-à-vis Chinese currents of Pictures of Tilling and Weaving emphasizes the political nuances of the representations of agrarian society and raises questions of artistic agency. My talk will focus on one of the earliest paintings of rice agriculture in Japan: the sliding-door paintings at the sixteenth-century Zen temple, Daisen’in. The entrance hall to the abbot’s quarters welcomes visitors with an array of plowing, irrigating, harvesting, and storing vignettes – easily recognizable as from the Southern-Song (1127-1279) painterly tradition. The paintings depict a balanced society and create an ideal space, thus denying that the images were commissioned at times of peasant uprisings and political unrest. Moreover, careful visual comparison with Ming-dynasty (1368-1644) images suggests that the Japanese adaptation cautiously eliminated figures of authority from the original works. In fact, these artistic alterations were more selective and systematic in their treatment of politically charged symbols than has been hitherto suggested. This point will lead me to argue that already in the mid-sixteenth century the appropriation of Chinese models of laboring farmers in Japan exceeded uninformed visual emulation. In light of both Chinese and Japanese political discourses regarding agrarian labor, I will demonstrate that paintings of laboring farmers in Japan can be read as political messages.

Visualizing textile workers in Ming-Qing China
Angela Sheng, McMaster University, Canada

During the Ming into the Qing dynasty (1368-1644-1911 C.E.), the growing popularity of genre paintings and woodblock prints depicted different occupations first for imperial and then for wider audiences. Among different types of work, the creation of textiles ranked high as a subject worthy for representation. After all, who did not need to be clothed, fed, housed and transported (yi, shi, zhu, xing)? However, not all aspects of textile work were painted with similar criteria. Stylistic features correspond to the perceived borders of gender, class, and ethnicity. This paper will examine men’s work in textile-making in contrast to their labor with other kinds of occupations in the Han-ethnic Chinese society. It will then compare the representations of men and women engaged in textile work. Finally, this paper will analyze the majority Han artistic treatment of Han Chinese workers versus depictions of China’s non-Han ethnic minorities working.

Agricultural Illustrations of Eighteenth- to Nineteenth-Century Korea: Changes in Perception of Text and Visual Representation
Hyung-Min Chung, , South Korea

The generative relationship between text and image is long established. Its structure evolved historically as a result of varying understandings of the functions of art and technology. Agricultural illustration, which emerged in China during the Song dynasty, is a prime example of this creative dialogue and which aspects of both disciplines were combined. Political, technological, and aesthetic concerns informed the reformulations of this new genre. This presentation will address agricultural illustrations of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Korea, when notable changes occurred in the iconography of technological imagery. It will explore changes in the understanding of the roles of agriculture, technology, and labor through an analysis of shifts in modes of illustration and subject matter selected. The relationship between technology and visual representations will be contextualized during the late Joseon Korea through an exploration of the evolution of technical drawing in East Asia. This paper will suggest that the recognition of imagery’s ability to convey textual and technology information provided an important alternative paradigm for the consumption of knowledge that fostered an intellectual environment conducive to modernity in Korea.

Labor, Politics, and Embodying the Masses in Twentieth-Century Chinese Art
Sandy Ng, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong

In opposition to the scholarly and philosophical traditions of Chinese art, Mao Zedong’s speech at the Yan’an Forum in 1942 redefined the focus of art: artists must express thoughts and feelings of the proletarian masses to serve the people. Traditional ink paintings were deemed backward and insufficient for social reforms while abstract art was regarded as bourgeois and inimical to modern communist China. Mao regarded art as a vehicle for working-class struggle and nationalistic regeneration. This paper examines art that championed Mao’s ideology, the works that depicted proletarian labor intrinsic to the visual culture of the time. At the Lu Xun Academy, young art students were trained to produce wood cuts that describe contemporary life with topics including farmers laboring in the fields and social ills that stemmed from poverty, injustice, and political unrest. Artists who had previously trained in traditional Chinese art or in Europe were sent into the countryside for re-education in order to produce art that was socially constructive to address the concerns of the laboring populace. This paper will investigate the types of representations of labor that were selected and analyze the stylistic strategies deployed in these representations. It will explore these visual representations that articulated relations between the people and the governing body. How did these images change the nature of art and the role of the artist? What roles did artistic media, iconography, and ideology play in the visualization of Mao’s modern China?