Technology and Culture By Lothar Ledderose. Princeton, N. Lothar Ledderose begins Ten Thousand Things with an observation that has broad implications for the relationship between technology and culture. He attributes the tremendous productivity of Chinese artists to "production systems to assemble objects from standardized parts" in "modules" that could be mass produced and quickly recombined to create a variety of objects from a limited repertoire of components p. He argues that modular production systems were the basis for a wide range of Chinese art, including bronzes, terra-cotta figurines, lacquer, and porcelain, architecture, printing, and painting.
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Technology and Culture By Lothar Ledderose. Princeton, N. Lothar Ledderose begins Ten Thousand Things with an observation that has broad implications for the relationship between technology and culture. He attributes the tremendous productivity of Chinese artists to "production systems to assemble objects from standardized parts" in "modules" that could be mass produced and quickly recombined to create a variety of objects from a limited repertoire of components p.
He argues that modular production systems were the basis for a wide range of Chinese art, including bronzes, terra-cotta figurines, lacquer, and porcelain, architecture, printing, and painting. He also extends the notion of modularity to other "systems" within Chinese culture, such as the hexagrams of the Yijing and the Chinese language itself.
The idea of modularity as a unifying characteristic of Chinese art has fascinating ramifications for several disciplines, [End Page ] including art history, philosophy, intellectual history, and the history of science and technology.
Chapter 1, "The System of Script," argues that even though most modular systems have counterparts in other cultures, Chinese writing is unique. Ledderose describes the Chinese script as a hierarchical system of five levels: brush stroke, "module" the significant component of a Chinese character , unit the individual character , series characters in coherent text , and the mass of all existing characters.
Chapter 2, "Casting Bronze the Complicated Way," shows how Shang ritual bronzes deployed motifs across a range of sizes and shapes of vessel by the use of symmetrical compartments and registers within an overall decorative system. At first, units were produced individually; later techniques permitted the "cloning" of vessels through the use of pattern blocks.
Vessels in turn were produced in sets. These procedures resulted in a sharp division of labor in bronze foundries between managers and artisans. Chapter 3, "A Magic Army for the Emperor," describes modular production in the terra-cotta army of the first emperor of the Qin dynasty. Here, interchangeable parts of uniform measurements made possible uniqueness in each individual figure. Chapter 4, "Factory Art," shows how private and state-run factories in Imperial China employed modular production and division of labor in the production of lacquer, bronze, silk, and porcelain.
Ledderose uses the typology and decoration of a huge trove of porcelain reclaimed from a Dutch trading ship sunk in to reconstruct the stock motifs that could be recombined to produce unique objects in compatible combinations.
The book is beautifully illustrated throughout, but these are particularly helpful. Chapter 5, "Building Blocks, Brackets, and Beams," describes the post-and-beam constructions of Chinese architecture as a five-level modular system of bracketing, bays, buildings, courtyards, and cities.
Chapter 6, "The Word in Print," begins with the observation that "prints are the most numerous things ever made in China" p. Ledderose then traces eighteenth-century movable copper-and-wood type to its origins in technologies that preceded printed books, such as seals and printing on clay and silk, pointing out analogies between Zhou pattern blocks and movable type. Chapter 7, "The Bureaucracy of Hell," demonstrates modular principles in thirteenth-century paintings of the Ten Kings of Hell, including iconography based on "pictorial formulas.
Both genres drew on the modular elements of Chinese writing and brush technique. The "freedom of the brush" so prized in both was grounded in arduous study and discipline, but also in a strict canon of module-based conventions and constraints. Its name is creativity" p. This argument for modularity as the defining cultural specificity of Chinese art raises many questions. Yet modular principles also appear in the natural world and in Western systems of thought.
Perhaps in China the locus of mimesis was not artistic production but in a long history of microcosm-macrocosm analogy. If so, artistic modularity may have reflected broadly mimetic views within Chinese culture. Lisa Raphals Dr. Raphals is professor of Chinese and comparative literature at the University of California, Riverside. Permission to reprint a review published here may be obtained only from the reviewer.
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