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TU Berlin

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Technical Representation in China: Tools and Techniques of the Trade

Peter J. Golas (University of Denver)

This paper is part of a continuing effort to account for the particular historical trajectory of technological illustration in China. It is increasingly recognized that, in contrast to Europe where a major breakthough in technological representation occured in the 15th and 16th centuries, even the best of Chinese technical illustrations from, say, the 17th or even 19th centuries fail to improve upon or often even equal the best products of the 11th or 12th centuries. One can detect no continuing traditions of technological illustration leading to improved representations over time.

Part of the reason for this long stagnation, I shall argue here, can be found in the very tools and techniques used to produce and reproduce technical drawings and paintings. Major topics we shall consider are: What were the tools available to the Chinese artist for representing implements and machines? Did the combination of tracing techniques together with the easy and relatively inexpensive reproduction made possible by woodblock printing encourage duplication of earlier drawings but with a strong tendency for the later drawings to be less accurate than the originals? To what extent did the limits of woodblock printing itself hinder the development of technical illustration? Did the particular perspective and other drawing conventions used by Chinese artists discourage precise and accurate technological representations?

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