Article analysis: The Water Mill and Northern Song Imperial Patronage of Art, Commerce, and Science

The rise of the state of China is fascinating in the present economic powers, close to the US economy regarding growth and diversification. The region’s history of economic analysis is traced back to the Song dynasty (960-1126) when development in art, commerce and science were championed by the state government led by Emperor Su Song (Liu 567). A closer analysis of Emperor Su Song shows a personality conversant with issues from a wider perspective of intelligence including pharmacology, medicine, zoology, horology, cartography, astronomy, botany, mineralogy, architectural and mechanical engineering, etc. Amazingly, Emperor Song put all these knowledge into use to spur the economic, technological and scientific development of the Chinese state at the time. Recounted a great deal in the Heping Liu’s landmark art description of China, The Water Mill and Northern Song Imperial Patronage of Art, Commerce, and Science, Heping illustrates how the foundations of the Chinese art, commerce and science was laid by Emperor Su Song. This paper provides a critical and in-depth reading and analysis of Liu’s work The Water Mill and Northern Song Imperial Patronage of Art, Commerce, and Science in the context of its thematic concerns from the historical perspective to the modern reflections evident in today’s China.

The water mill is a remarkable feature in Liu’s work, a professor of art and a specialist in the Asian history and a closer interest in the Chinese paintings of the Song Dynasty, Professor Liu, through his experience in interacting and analyzing art and architecture believes that these artistic works speak for themselves. The connection between historical art with the social, cultural and political processes is brought out in Liu’s many writings, The Water Mill and Northern Song Imperial Patronage of Art, Commerce, and Science, inclusive. The descriptions of the Song dynasty shows the tremendous inspiration that the emperor launched into the art industry with an aim to stimulate growth and development in the region. From the surface value, Liu can be seen as merely analyzing the details of the Chinese paintings associated with the architectural subjects famous as ‘jiehua.’ A closer look at the artifacts described on water mill, the single phenomenon on which the article dwells entirely, shows a detailed description of the Chinese state of commerce symbolized by the advances in hydraulic engineering techniques depicted in ‘The Water Mill.’

As Liu believes, art is inspired by what is happenings around and must be spearheaded by the famous events of the time. The descriptions of the Song dynasty, in this article is very instrumental in informing the succeeding developments. Liu’s description of the mill shows the hierarchical division of the present labour market (division of labour) on which the present labour market and industrial growth is dependent. Liu describes two kinds of labourers eminent today: the common labourers undertaking routine tasks in the manufacturing and processing activities, the skilled labourers providing the necessary skills required to drive the workforce by developing techniques and principles out of which the manufacturing and processing tasks are performed. At the top of this rank are the management, responsible for providing the necessary soft skills and in charge of all operations taking place in the modern companies (Liu 567). In essence, Liu describes essentially, the inspirations behind the development of the Chinese industrial revolution processes through architectural paintings of the Song Dynasty.

China has grown to become the central economic and industrial hub of the Asian continent specifically driven by the state-of-the-art technological advancements in different aspects of the Chinese society. The commercial excellence it has exhibited throughout its growth phases stems from the local and foreign manufactured goods and services inspired by the ruling governments of the preceding empires. Liu’s description of the Water Mill provides an insightful connection between the micro-scaled production of wheat transported by land and water to distant markets, symbolized by the disappearing carts, fully loaded with wheat products and the ferries serving the markets connected by water. These scenarios depict the Chinese present trade prospects aided through the seas and on land. Massive production of large volumes of goods, aided by excellent engineering developments and inspired by the hydraulic engineering of the water mill, has made China one of the production giants for manufactured goods.

Liu is very systematic in the way he develops his narrations to help his readers understand his points exactly. The intentions behind this systematic development, supposedly, is the desire to help every reader understand the connection between art, history, and development. That art speaks for itself is depicted in the chronological organization of the work, starting with the introduction about the jiehua paintings, its origins and how the painting of the water mill fits into the context of the jiehua. By reading this introductory part, one can understand the context in which the piece is developed, tracing the origins of these artifacts and the factors which inspired their developments as well as their central foci. That the images engraved in these artistic works were inspired primarily by the increasing commercialization of the state is strongly demonstrated in the article by associating the water mills with the Song patronage. This, Liu does after explaining to the readers the people behind them and how they made these paintings. This is followed by a detailed illustration of the significance of these images regarding commercial and scientific representations. Through this systematic narration, Liu helps his readers to understand the contexts bit by bit and allow art to speak to them. According to Liu, a single piece of art may carry hundreds of explanations giving an assertion that art is the best way through which events can be narrated, and history conserved and preserved for the future generations.

Of particular importance in Liu’s narration is the fact that Emperor Song is at the centre of development of the water mills after that. The Emperor is actively and grossly involved in championing the acquisition and development of the water mills during his tenure as the emperor of the northern dynasty (Liu 574). The main motivation behind this involvement, as Liu observes is to increase the volumes of production and hence sales through exports to accumulate adequate wealth to feed his subjects and his vast army. This is typical of any state commercialization processes of the present age steered through the state parastatals, companies, etc. By drawing the absolute state involvement in industrial production, Liu takes us to the onset of industrial revolution in China and the emergence of international trade through government interventions evident today.

To conclude, Heping Liu’s article The Water Mill and Northern Song Imperial Patronage of Art, Commerce, and Science provides a deeper understanding of the historical developments of the Chinese scientific and commercial spheres. Through the lens developed in this article, we can deduce the events in the development of China’s industrial and commercial powers aided by politics and scientific engineering. The chronological arrangement of the events helps every reader to note the unfolding events and draw a connection to appreciate the role of art in documenting and telling histories.

Works Cited

Heping Liu. “The Water Mill and Northern Song Imperial Patronage of Art, Commerce, and         Science.”  The Art Bulletin, 84(4): 566-595.