China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - The Maker’s Mark: Brand-Names, Loom-Marks, and Commercial Intellectual Property in the Late Qing Silk Industry

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Washington Room 6, Exhibit Level

Previous scholarship on silk loom-marks (jitou) has demonstrated how, during the early modern period, this concept of product notation evolved from earlier traditions of imperial handicraft quality control to be used by private producers “to invoke trust in their markings” (Schäfer, 2011, 2013). In a period of expanded brand-name advertising, this work suggests the need to examine silk loom-marks within a wider visual spectrum of brand-name packaging and informational texts.


 


As historians like Qiu Pengsheng (2002) and Fan Jinmin (2007) have shown, in a consumer world characterized by intense commercial competition, both silk and cotton producers used branded advertising to stimulate consumption. Interventions by guilds and local officials evidence that these producers well understood the necessity of protecting their brand-name from imitation, something that problematizes intellectual property history’s conventional attribution of Chinese trademark protection to the treaty port introduction of Western brand-named objects and their Chinese appropriation.


 


This paper uses a corpus of late Qing and early Republic silk loom-marks to explore what changing forms of this maker’s mark tell us about the methods silk producers took to grow and protect their brand-names. Combining material analysis with case-studies of silk brand counterfeiting, I investigate how loom-marks evolved as a site for commercial branding, and how their design development illuminates on issues relating to branding and intellectual property during this period, particularly the shifting emphasis upon visual versus textual communication, and the need for individual producers to both distinguish themselves from and align themselves with a producer community.

Rachel Silberstein

University of Washington, Washington

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3 - The Maker’s Mark: Brand-Names, Loom-Marks, and Commercial Intellectual Property in the Late Qing Silk Industry



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