Awards

Senior Scholar Grant, CCK Foundation

In  June, I was awarded a one-year fellowship from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange to write my next book called The Many Lives of the First Emperor of China. The book, currently undef contract from University of Washington Press, will be a cultural history of the First Emperor of Qin, including modern literature, film, and video games, among its diverse sources.

Mellon New Directions Fellowship, 2013-2016
For the study of Egyptology

In the spring of 2013, I was awarded the prestigious Mellon New Directions Fellowship ($238,700) for the next three years (2013-2016) to begin formal training in Egyptology, including the language, art history, and archaeology of Ancient Egypt, to enhance my ability to conduct comparative research on ancient civilizations. I will be appointed as a visiting scholar at UCLA, completing both Elementary and Intermediate Ancient Egyptian, along with coursework and seminars in Egyptian archaeology and culture.  I also plan multiple research trips to Egypt and/or Europe to familiarize myself with key sites and collections.

Getty Residential Scholar, Getty Research Institute, Spring 2011

In the spring of 2011, I was awarded a Getty Fellowship to study public monumental statuary in Ancient China. I also learned how to use video-game software to create a virtual museum of ancient artifacts.

Joseph Levenson Prize, Association for Asian Studies, 2009
For the book, Artisans in Early Imperial China.

On Friday, March 27th, 2009, I was awarded the Levenson Prize, the highest book award for Chinese studies, from the Association for Asian Studies. There are two awards given, one for works whose main focus is on China before 1900 and the other for works on post-1900 China. The prizes are awarded to the English-language books that make the greatest contribution to increasing understanding of the history, culture, society, politics, or economy of China. Works in all disciplines and in all periods of Chinese history are eligible. In keeping with the broad scholarly interests of Joseph Levenson, special consideration will be given to books that, through comparative insights or groundbreaking research, promote the relevance of scholarship on China to the wider world of intellectual discourse.

“Barbieri-Low pulls off a major achievement: reconstructing the life and work of the craftsmen who created early China’s most impressive works of art. Combining artistic, archaeological, and textual evidence, he gives us a finely drawn portrait of how they created objects, how they suffered, and how other strata viewed them. Artisan skills, regarded as “clever” but morally unrefined by literati, nevertheless gave them a sense of social solidarity and put them in close contact with the court, the market, and consumers. From an artisan’s perspective, Han China looks surprisingly modern: the most successful men and women used modular designs in an almost industrial production line, they branded their pieces with their own names, and they sought out opportunities for profit whenever possible. Others, however, were not so lucky. They suffered under the oppression of bonded labor and were poisoned by toxic chemicals used in lacquer production. The author’s rich description of these little-known historical subjects stands out as an exemplary work of social, artistic, and archaeological history.” — Levenson Committee (Peter Perdue, Stephan West, Shang Wei)

Charles Rufus Morey Book Award, College Art Association, 2009
For the book, Artisans in Early Imperial China.CAAawardcer

On Wednesday, February 25, 2009 I was presented with the Morey Book Award by the College Art Association, at the awards convocation during the annual convention in Los Angeles. This is the highest book honor in the field of Art History. This was only the second time the award had ever been given to a book on Chinese Art History. The Charles Rufus Morey Book Award, named in honor of one of the founding members of CAA and first teachers of art history in the United States, was established in 1953. This award honors an especially distinguished book in the history of art, published in the English language.

 

 

“This book is a magisterial study of the myriad and mostly anonymous artisans of early imperial China, from the men and women who worked for the royal court to the indentured workers in prison and slave camps. Barbieri-Low examines the lives of those who crafted objects as diverse as lacquer bowls, stone funerary monuments, bronze lamps, ceramic sculpture, and wall paintings. In a beautifully flowing style, he writes about the role of artisans in society and at work, from the technical processes they used to the clear evidence for mass production and modular design, and from quality control to advertising in the marketplace. He combines an interdisciplinary approach and contextualization of the artisans with a careful discussion of specific works of art and their production. Yet the author goes far beyond materialist analysis, adding an often overlooked human dimension to an already brilliant synthesis of social history, archaeology, anthropology, and aesthetics. He considers who these artisans were, how they lived, how they worked, how they marketed and sold their works and to whom, and how their contemporaries regarded them.

A work of great erudition and exemplary scholarship, Artisans in Early Imperial China reflects the author’s depth of knowledge in Chinese history, literature, art, and epigraphy, as well as his breadth of research in economics, anthropology, aesthetics, archaeology, and art history. An elegant and skillful writer, Barbieri-Low presents his arguments in a well-structured, readable, and engaging manner. There is a beautiful flow and connective quality to the prose, enhanced by the high quality of the book’s production. Although it is clearly aimed at scholars in early Chinese history, art, and archaeology, Artisans in Early Imperial China has a great deal to offer to art historians in many other fields, particularly in its methodology and organization. A thoroughly welcomed addition to the social history of art, the book will appeal to scholars as well as to lay readers interested in comparative cultural and labor history, art, and archaeology.”. — Morey Jury

ICAS Book Prize (Humanities), International Institute for Asian Studies, 2009.
For the book, Artisans in Early Imperial China.

On August 6, 2009, in Daejeon, South Korea, I was awarded the ICAS book prize for 2009. The prize is the result of a global competition for the best English-language books in Asian Studies, one book in the Humanities and one in the Social Sciences. Eighty-nine books were entered in the Humanities competition. The prize comes with an award of 2,500 Euros.

Artisans in Early Imperial China is an outstanding work of original and pioneering scholarship which draws on a tremendous depth of archaeological, epigraphical and textual sources to highlight the character, role and history of the artisans who actually created the splendid material artifacts of early China. Ranging over a variety of material objects, from grave-stones to the well known figures of the Terracotta Army, the author identifies their creators, explores their training and technical processes, and situates them in their social roles and status. He does so in a manner which is clear and concise, as well as engaging and informative. While opening the field to further studies developing this enquiry he has produced a work that will inform and be enjoyed by any scholar or interested person in a wide-range of related fields. This is also an extremely well produced work, a credit to its publishers. It is beautifully illustrated and laid-out with all of the
necessary academic apparatus provided; a model of its kind. — ICAS Jury

James Henry Breasted Prize, American Historical Association, 2008
For the book, Artisans in Early Imperial China.

This prize, named in honor of James Henry Breasted, a pioneer in ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern history and President of the Association in 1928, is awarded for the best book in English on any field of history prior to the year 1000 A.D. The prize was endowed by Joseph O. Losos, a longtime member of the Association. The prize was first awarded in 1985. Until 1999, it rotated annually among the following geographical areas: Near East and Egypt; Far East and South Asia; Africa, North America, and Latin America; and Europe. Artisans in Early Imperial China is only the second book in Chinese history to win the Breasted Prize. The other was Benjamin Schwartz’ The World of Though in Ancient China (1986).

Artisans in Early Imperial China explores the social, economic, and material worlds of free and enslaved, female and male artisans from the Qin through the Han dynasties (c. 221 B.C.E.-220 C.E). There are a number of intriguing topics: literacy levels, the dangerous process of producing lacquer, and the harsh living conditions of enslaved laborers. Artisans demonstrates the surprisingly “modern” ventures of the ancient Chinese economy into the areas of marketing and mass production of goods.” — Breasted Jury

Sammy Yu-Kuan Lee Memorial Lecture, November 1st, 2008
“Burning the Books and Killing the Scholars”

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On November 1st, 2008, I was invited to give the 21st annual Sammy Yukuan Lee Lecture on Chinese Archaeology and Art at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History at UCLA. Since the founding of the series in 1982, the Sammy Yukuan Lee Lectures in Chinese Archaeology and Art have brought to UCLA some of the world’s leading scholars of archaeology and premodern Chinese art. These lectures are designed to reveal the glories of China’s artistic heritage for appreciative viewers in Southern California and far beyond.

The subject of my lecture was a piece of research from my upcoming book project on interpretations of the Qin Dynasty of China. For centuries, the brutal and tyrannical reign of Qin Shihuangdi, First Emperor of China, was summed up by a four-character phrase, fenshu kengru, “He burned the books and buried the Confucian scholars alive.” This refers to two separate, largely unrelated, incidents that the historian Sima Qian tells us took place late in the reign of the First Emperor. He wove them into the historical narrative as evidence of the emperor’s increasing paranoia and as omens of his imminent loss of Heaven’s favor. In the first incident, the First Emperor decreed that private copies of the Book of Documents, Book of Songs, and the histories of the defeated rival states be banned and turned over to the authorities for destruction. This literary inquisition resulted in an enormous loss of historical knowledge and cultural heritage and earned the First Emperor the enmity of book-revering Confucian scholars for two millennia.

While there is abundant historical proof for the so-called “burning of the books,” the second atrocity, the alleged killing of 460 Confucian scholars, by burying them alive in a pit, has been greatly misinterpreted, and may have never occurred. Nevertheless, for over two millennia, authors and artists have linked these two incidents and used them in representations to vilify the First Emperor, and, on occasion, to praise him. My talk examined how these atrocities have been portrayed in literature, monuments, and pictorial art from the Han Dynasty to the Cultural Revolution, with special focus on the political motivations behind these representations.