Accepted Paper:

Private enterprise and the ethos of the collective era in China: the case of a Chinese craft industry  


Geoffrey Gowlland (Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

This paper addresses the tensions between the ethos of the collective era and private enterprise in a Chinese craft industry, to shed light on the role of morality and community values in post-collectivist China.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I consider the themes of morality and community in the context of the renewed legitimacy of private enterprise and of the family as economic unit in post-collectivist China.

My case study is the production of "zisha" craft pottery in a township of the Jiangsu Province. In the 1950s, production was centralised in a single cooperative factory. This marked a break in the perceived closure of knowledge that characterised the pre-socialist system known as 'one household, one pot': the factory established a community seemingly out of a void, and created ties that cut across class, background and gender. In that context, an ethos of sharing was established, whereby the knowledge of masters was made available to all.

The reintroduction of private enterprise, following the late 1970s economic reforms of the country, is perceived by artisans as a return to the past. Households and individuals are once again in competition, and learning craft secrets once more takes place in the privacy of homes. Yet artisans also strive to uphold the ethos of sharing of the era of the collective factory, even though this might go against family interests. I argue that not only is there a tension between this ethos and new forms of competition within the community of practice, but also that it is precisely the ideals and morality of the cooperative factory that are invoked in discourses on legitimacy and tradition aimed at creating divisions between artisans.

Panel W002
Markets, kinship and morality