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Professionalism, Excellence, and Religion: Understanding Craftsmanship Spirit Through Cultural Lens

Author:许纪霖 Source:深圳创新发展研究院 Date:2016-06-20
On March 18, Professor Jilin Xu from East China Normal University joined the Public Lecture Series of the Shenzhen Innovation Development Institute, and delivered a speech titled “Professionalism, Excellence, and Values: Understanding Craftsmanship Spirit Through Cultural Lens”. Premier Li has put down “craftsmanship spirit” in the Report on the Work of the Government 2016, which “encourage[s] enterprises to use flexible and custom-tailored production processes and foster[s] a craftsmanship spirit of striving for the best, so that more types of products, products of a higher quality, and brand products will be made.” Dr. Xu believed that “craftsmanship spirit” existed among ancient Chinese craftsmen. The 5000-year-old Chinese civilization has been awe-inspiring and has offered the world a tremendous level of material civilization. “Craftsmanship spirit” embodies one’s artistic values, instead of market values. It has been lost to history and inhibited these days, and it should be revived.

Dr. Xu believed that “craftsmanship spirit” should not be interpreted as craftsmanship and economic development. As we talk about “spirit”, it transcends technical terms and lives as a form of culture – a spirit must be a form of culture. During his speech, Dr. Xu attempted to understand “craftsmanship spirit” through cultural lens, how craftsmanship spirit can be fostered, what “craftsmanship spirit” means, and why China needs “craftsmanship spirit”.

Dr. Xu pointed out that, beyond anything, “craftsmanship spirit” is a form of professional spirit, or aspiration. Aspiration represents a career that fulfils one’s inner desire, and the drive of “craftsmanship spirit” comes precisely from such aspirations: an in-depth understanding of the discipline, the willingness to study it, experience it, and seek for it. Career is seen one’s dream that fulfills one’s inner desire, rather than a way to earn money. People with professional spirit are perfectionists who have no considerations for fame and wealth.

Second, craftsmanship spirit is a religion. Dr. Xu referred to the words of Shen Congwen, a great author of the 20th century, “Literature to me is not just an interest, but a religion.” He spoke to the audience that having an interest is not enough to sustain one’s endeavor to work and study in a field for the rest of his/her life, since your interests can change. But it would stay around once it becomes a religion, and therefore craftsmanship spirit is a religion to craftsmen.

Third, people with craftsmanship spirit strive for excellence. Taste stems from subtle details, which determines the success or failure of an art piece. People with craftsmanship spirit constantly look for way to improve themselves, delegating efforts to the most trivial details. The insistence on details represents their push for excellence. Great products do not necessarily have the highest market values, especially in a barbaric market of instant gratification, where fake products are chosen over the real one, where mediocrity trumps excellence. Therefore, the craftsmanship spirit that promotes striving for excellence is in fact a character of nobility. Even as nobles value wealth, they do not see it as the ultimate value. It is reserved for their quest for excellence and taste.

For final remarks, Dr. Xu concluded that changes in values should start with changes in the system, especially in the education system. We should respect the craftsmen, respect the artisans, and respect the working class. Changes should begin with offering craftsmen a reasonable and decent salary that represents our respect for their unique contribution to the society. This is not just the responsibility of the government, but the whole society. In China, some encouraging changes are now turning into trends, the emphasis on professional spirit and craftsmanship spirit that embodies inner strengths have been receiving attention in the market. China can only transform from a country of counterfeiting products to a country of craftsmanship and innovation with the revival of craftsmanship spirit. We must be patient as this would indeed be an immensely slow process, and more importantly we should begin with ourselves. As system begins to reform, the respect for crafts and craftsmanship and taste for professionalism can be fostered.