Inscriptions have mainly been discussed as an important source to aid the analysis of the nature and extent of state control over production and manufacture in Chinese history. This essay takes a different approach and discusses the conceptual development of inscriptions with a view toward their potential as an instrument to inspire trust. The aim is new insight into how Chinese culture historically implemented, expressed, and received rights within material production. This reveals some of the factors that affected practical knowledge transmission in Chinese culture. Starting with inscribed bricks, the article dissects textual sources and the complex world of inscribed artifacts and their purposes. The Ming state originally established the practice of inscribing names and dates to regulate responsibilities and rights within material production. Toward the end of the Ming period, the private sector increasingly focused on inscriptions as a means to propagate the origin and ownership of goods. Inscriptions thus were utilized to regulate both production and use. How did the Ming state conceptualize inscriptions? On which basis could the shift from production marker to ownership claim take place, and how was it received? The answers to these and similar questions are highly relevant, as methods of control and their implementation indicate actual practices of appropriation, in contrast to the ideals pursued in official or private documentation. Situating utilitarian usages within the larger landscape of inscription practices and regulatory mechanisms indicates the broader landscape within which technological development took place in Chinese culture.

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