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Student Spotlight: Yawen Xu

Yawen Xu is a Ph.D. student from the Heritage Studies and Asian Studies at the University of Western Australia. Her doctoral thesis, which is entitled 'Rethinking the future of the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) of Chinese craft production', looks at the conservation of intangible heritage craft production in the context of economic development.

Traditional forms of craftsmanship and craft production are types of highly valuable Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), the survival (e.g., inheritance, transmission, and development) of which has been significantly challenged by urbanization, industrialization, modernization, and globalization. My doctoral research focuses on China and considers the history of Chinese craft production, how craft items were produced in the past, and how the specialist skills (intangible heritage) needed to produce them were transmitted between generations. I then compare this to the present to identify how Chinese craft production is changing and whether this poses a threat to any aspect of Chinese ICH. My aim is to explore how best to balance the sustainable development of profit-driven modern craft industries with the long-term conservation of the ancient and significant Chinese ICH linked to craft production.

To figure out how knowledge and techniques about craft production were handed down in the past, my research adopts the Archival Research method to collect scattered clues from various ancient records and contemporary literature. This historical research aims to reveal generational changes in ancient craft production regarding the means of production (e.g., raw materials, tools, techniques), organization of production (e.g., production patterns, laborer management and training), relations of production (e.g., control of means of production, distribution of craft commodities, apprenticeship relations), as well as the socio-economic, political and ideological factors that have affected these generational changes.

To analyze craft manufactures and markets in contemporary China, I conducted fieldwork investigations at three sites: Jingdezhen where has been the world-renowned Capital of Porcelain since the 13th century, Ganzhou where distributes a rather large proportion of Hakka (客家) populations, and Xidi where is well-known for exquisite carving workmanship and has been a UNESCO-listed World Cultural Heritage Site since 2000. Three cases all have typical craftsmanship that has been well inherited from the ancestors, and present three distinctive contexts in relation to craft manufacturing: industrial context (Jingdezhen), cultural community context (Ganzhou), and tourism context (Xidi).

Prestigious porcelain painting artist Yuantang Xiong at his private exhibition hall during fieldwork at Jingdezhen in October 2018

Affected by my research, personally I am fond of stuff with Chinese ancient elements, such as ancient costumes and decorative accessories. In this case, I am a consumer of some ICH-related crafts, which helps consider how the young generation in contemporary China consumes these crafts and what their preferences are.

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