I bought this book as a present to myself for getting my new job. It was a lovely scholarly look at publishing in China in the 16th and 17th century. When I started reading it, it was a refreshing breath of fresh air. After reading so many library school books where Chinese publishing was dismissed as unimpressive, unimportant or irrelevant it was so great to see a book which confronted this opinion head on and did a brilliant job doing it.
The book looked at lots of different aspects of printing in China, and made some comparisons with printing in Europe during this time. The book also looked at the cultural impact of printing, challenging the traditional idea that printing made the culture more homogenous, showing that printing in the 17th century bread discussion and challenged the ideas of the mainstream Neo-Confucian interpretation of classics and culture.
After the introduction combating the Eurocentric approach to many studies in the field, the next chapter looked at the cost of production and book prices. It was interesting to see how cheap books were, there were also great lists of commodities in general (to contrast the price of books to) as well as wages. While not addressing the issue of literacy this showed how easy it was for people of the middle classes to be able to afford books, even to the point of having a reasonable collection of their own. One thing that was interesting was the changing price in antique books. At one point books that were 100s of years old were actually cheaper than books that were new.
The next part looked at the production of books. Because China printed on woodblocks, rather than the expensive printing press, it meant that there was no vast initial setup costs to becoming a printer. You simply needed to be able to afford a carver, so there were many more people entering the printing trade. It was also interesting to see how, unlike Europe, printers did not have to register with the government and were not censored in the material they produced (with the exception of almanacs).
The next chapter looked on the commodification of writing, examinations and publishing. This examined the culture of the Imperial examinations and how this was impacted by printing, the reproducing of exam essays and commentaries on those essays. It also addressed the importance of prefaces and introductions within books, the importance of the para-text. It gave examples of specific publishers and authors from the period.
The following chapter looked at the increased authority of critics and the formation of literary societies, who would publish their own collections of essays and critiques, which would often challenge the mainstream Neo-Confucian ideals. This was particularly interesting to me, and was different to past histories I've read on the subject.
This was a very well written and well argued book, with a lot of interesting and insightful information. This summer I'm going to be starting to write my dissertation on the history of printing in China and its impact on Chinese culture and this book will be an invaluable resource for me. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this topic....Continua