This article studies the construction of social identity and status among ceramic craftsmen in Shiwan Township of Foshan City, Guangdong Province, China since late Qing. It attempts to explore various social mechanisms, capitals and social forces which the ceramic craftsmen effectively utilized to construct their identity and status.
During the late Qing and the Republican period, the craftsmen who produced pottery figures, animals and toys established their fame and identity through patronage and public exhibitions. After 1949 when the new Government introduced a new status-assessing mechanism, these craftsmen were defined by the state with new hierarchical categories like “Folk Artists” and “Master of Crafts and Arts”. After 1980s when the government allowed private enterprises, some ceramic craftsmen strode away from the state system. Market became an alternative mechanism for these ceramic craftsmen to establish their “Artist” identity. In other words, establishment of social identity and status is closely related to the craftsmen's response to the changing macro-environment. This paper further argues that the artists became “artists” not only because of their talent on art, but the change in Modern Chinese society. The article examines how the craftsmen made full use of the most essential resources for identity and status building in different historical context.