Open Access

Tradition and innovation in the traditional arts of Shandong Province, China


The paper outlines the social forces influencing continuity or innovation in the traditional arts of Shandong Province, China. These are addressed under five headings:

The relative flexibility of material media

The gender based transmission of skills

Male: Chayanov and craft production for the market during the slack agricultural season: Woodblock printing, toy-making, funeral models, ancestral and household shrine painting. Innovations take the form of new subjects, introduced to attract new buyers

Female: cotton weaving, embroidery, paper cutting. Most of the villages we’ve worked in still practice village exogamy (despite the law of 1950 banning compulsory exogamy), so that women take skills with them when they marry, whereas men’s skills remain in their village of birth.

Combined with the purpose of production:

Male arts primarily produced for market, with 100s of years of market tradition

Female arts primarily for domestic consumption (although surplus cotton cloth has long been traded to increase family income), among which the daughter’s trousseau is an important component.

Disruption caused by the mid-20th century ‘social movements’ caused an enforced break in almost all crafts.

The acceptability of the arts to the intended audience (new but traditional themes in toys and woodblocks), and the movement toward fine art.