New Book: The Social Life of Inkstones by Dorothy Ku

We felt it was time to bring you a review of a new book, and found this interesting publication from one of the best social history publishers, the University Of Washington Press: 

The Social Life of Inkstones: Artisans and Scholars in Early Qing China

An inkstone, a piece of polished stone no bigger than an outstretched hand, is an instrument for grinding ink, an object of art, a token of exchange between friends or sovereign states, and a surface on which texts and images are carved. As such, the inkstone has been entangled with elite masculinity and the values of wen (culture, literature, civility) in China, Korea, and Japan for more than a millennium. However, for such a ubiquitous object in East Asia, it is virtually unknown in the Western world.

Examining imperial workshops in the Forbidden City, the Duan quarries in Guangdong, the commercial workshops in Suzhou, and collectors’ homes in Fujian, The Social Life of Inkstones traces inkstones between court and society and shows how collaboration between craftsmen and scholars created a new social order in which the traditional hierarchy of “head over hand” no longer predominated. Dorothy Ko also highlights the craftswoman Gu Erniang, through whose work the artistry of inkstone-making achieved unprecedented refinement between the 1680s and 1730s.

The Social Life of Inkstones explores the hidden history and cultural significance of the inkstone and puts the stonecutters and artisans on center stage. DOROTHY KO is Professor of History at Barnard College. She is the author of Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding.

“A magical text. I have little doubt that The Social Life of Inkstones will become not only a point of reference, but also a book that readers simply love.”—JONATHAN HAY, author of Sensuous Surfaces: The Decorative Object in Early Modern China

320 pp., 105 illus., 78 in color, 3 maps, 7 x 10 in. US$45.00 HC / ISBN 9780295999180 / EB ISBN 9780295999197