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  • 2022ZhanPhD

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Crafts in the Yangtze River Delta: Their Resurgence and Relationship to Design for Sustainability

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2022
Number of pages421
Awarding Institution
Award date16/03/2022
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Modern manufacturing for global markets tends to homogenize material culture through its centralized production and divisive production processes. In contrast, craft practices usually have a strong local identity through their application of holistic making practices, context-based knowledge, culturally specific responses, and community-centred production. These characteristics are especially relevant to sustainability and its principles and values. For these reasons, there is a renewed interest in craft practices worldwide. Today, the Yangtze River Delta, one of the most developed regions in China with a long-established history of craft production, is witnessing a vibrant resurgence in traditional craft practices within the arenas of Intangible Cultural Heritage initiatives, creative endeavours and consumerism.
In order to understand the multifaceted nature of this resurgence and explore appropriate and effective approaches, including design’s contribution, to ensuring the sustainability of traditional craft practices, this research investigates crafts in the YRD from the perspectives of values and design for sustainability. Due to the exploratory nature of the project, two research approaches are employed to conduct the field inquiry: grounded theory in which semi-structured interviews are used to collect field data, and a case study of a craft community in which a 4-stage participatory action activity is adopted.
The research results in five main findings and one outcome. The main argument of this research is that craft practices should be understood with a holistic notion of their embedded values, which not only supports crafts on a more immediate level but also considers deeper sustainability-related issues of ethical implications, cultural significance and equality. Based on the findings and outcome, this research recommends two approaches to ensuring the sustainability of crafts in the YRD – the moderate commercial revitalization approach and the non-commercial conservation approach. In addition, the research suggests that besides focusing on product, packaging, branding and marketing, design should also pay more attention to less tangible areas, i.e. facilitation of meaningful collaborations in craft practices; development of education and learning courses for younger generations; and design of customized services to enhance maker-consumer relationships and interactions.