Business and Fame: Operating as a Garden Builder in the Seventeenth Century

Project: Research

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This proposed research aims to answer questions regarding seventeenth-century garden builders in China, including:1. How did garden builders, such as Ji Cheng 計成 (b.1582) and Zhang Nanyuan 張南垣 (1587-c.1671), manage their business operations?2. How did these garden builders interact with garden owners?3. There were different titles used to address garden builders, such as Huayuan zi 花園子 (the person who deals with flowers), Shi jiang 石匠 (stone craftsman), or Shan shi 山師 (mountain master). How did the craftsmen, or artisans, rank themselves compared with others? How did one garden builder differentiate himself from others?4. How did garden builders convince their clients that they were “masters” of their craft?Current studies on seventeenth-century Chinese gardens and garden builders can be divided into discussions of design concepts, theories, and philosophies; the lives of a few prominent garden builders; or the changes in garden builders' social statuses from craftsmen to literati. None of those research directions touch upon the business operations employed by these men.In her recent studies of literati writings about craftsmen, Dorothy Ko also found it difficult to decipher how inkstone craftsmen operated their businesses. However, although garden builders were craftsmen, there is a book, Yuan ye, that was written by garden builders. This research will use records written by garden owners as well as garden builders to reconstruct the business operations involved in making a garden: How did a garden owner chose a garden builder? How did a garden builder sell and promote his skill? How did a garden owner negotiate with a builder? How did garden builders compete amongst themselves? How did garden builders differentiate themselves from other builders? How did a garden builder establish his tradename? This project's significance includes adding information about the commercial side of Chinese garden history and shedding further light on previous studies of craftsmen in the seventeenth century. 


Project number9043092
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/2130/08/21