This book is amazing. I read it as background reading for my dissertation and marked up nearly every page with a useful note. I borrowed this copy from SOAS library, and though it costs nearly £30 I'm thinking I may end up buying my own copy and it has so much useful and interesting information.
The book focuses on the commercial publishers in one small area of China. A group of publishers who had the reputation of producing cheap, shoddy and inaccurate books. However, this was not the case. It was interesting to see the way in which the books they produced deviated from the norm. For instance in the Song it is widely accepted that most printing was done for the classics and religious texts of Taoism and Buddhism. However, these commercial publishers produced virtually no religious texts and the books they produced the most of were medical texts. (In this instance medical texts also includes works on divination).
Chia outlines the physical nature of the books produced, the topics of the books produced, and a bit about those who produced them for each period covered in her book. It is interesting to see how she combines the physical description with the social history as usually these two matters are discussed separately. The book also contains many many plates of illustrations of the original books, outlining the different physical points that the author discusses.
The book gave me many ideas for my dissertation. Including the idea that I should include a chapter entitled "The history of cheating" as it seems that many of the books produced in this area were designed to help would-be-officials taking the exams to cheat. Small books were produced that could fit inside sleeves. (Many of which were discarded on the way out of the exams so few survive).
This book is an absolutely fascinating study, normally books that focus on printing in Imperial China ignore the works of commercial publishers, so much of the information in this book was new to me. I can't say enough about how excellent this book is....Continua