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A transitioning China demands high craftsmanship

Author  :  ZOU QICHANG     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2018-11-26

The “craftsman” is a concept with broad connotations, which in a large sense refers to one of the creators who led the world towards civilization. Real practitioners of the tenet that “labor creates people,” they established our material, ethical, cultural and institutional civilization. 

Impetus for the progress of society

Abundant archaeological data shows that craftsmen led people from a culture of hunting and gathering to the primitive farming age. In a narrow sense, the craftsman denotes a type of occupational division of labor arising from the development of agriculture in a certain stage of human society—they were specialized personnel separated from agriculture and entering into skilled labor industry. Therefore, by the most fundamental definition, they were artisans as distinguished from the other three social groups in the traditional societal structure—scholars, farmers and merchants. They represented the occupational community who mainly engaged in invention, design, creation, manufacturing, labor and communication.

According to the division of labor in modern society, the craftsman is not only a scientific inventor, but also an engineer and an expert in technological innovation, an artist and beautifier. A craftsman is the unity of multiple identities or professions. 

‘Chinese quality’ requires craftsmen

“Chinese craftsmen” is a term that refers in particular to a group of laborers in the background of globalization who possess both great skills and conscientiousness. They have high professional competence, job qualification, working capability and learning ability. They strive for perfection, great dedication to one’s job, high moral integrity and responsibility.

In different historical periods of China’s social development, the country’s craftsmen created impressive products, built a cultural legacy and made a tremendous contribution to human society at large. Their contemporary image is the crystallization of thousands of years of a culture that has always striven for the best. 

They are also important forces that help forge a country’s national quality and foster national strength. Germany and Japan are prominent representatives in this respect. The biggest challenge that a country faces in its transformation and upgrading is talent transformation.

The Chinese economy is currently transitioning from pursuing speed to pursuing quality, which thus sets a higher standard and poses a higher demand for “Chinese quality.” The realization of it thus hinges upon craftsmen.

Craftsmanship embodies innovation

Often understood as artisans, craftsmen are misunderstood to be repeating their work day after day and year after year, without creativity. Such narrow understanding obscures their innovative character, as their activities are actually related to innovation, though it is often manifested in an incremental process. For example, the invention of mortise-and-tenon joinery (a type of joint that connects two pieces of wood or other material) employed in ancient Chinese architecture was a process of continual innovation.

Chinese craftsmen are workers engaged in all walks of life. Familiarity with their own jobs in their particular sector endows them with a strong basis and opportunity for innovation. All invention throughout human history is based on seeking for solutions at a progressive pace. Some inspiration even stems from one’s familiarity with a particular field.

The development of Chinese culture has been continuing for thousands of years without cease. The underpinning of the nation’s culture thriving for so long is not just inheritance but innovation. As the mainstay creators of Chinese culture, craftsmen play a crucial role in maintaining the culture’s distinctiveness, especially in context of ever-advancing globalization.


Zou Qichang is chief expert of the Major Projects of the National Social Science Fund and a professor from the School of Design and Innovation at Tongji University.



(edited by BAI LE)

Editor: Yu Hui

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