Manufacturing a Bestseller: Necessary Knowledge for Young Students and Commercial Publishing in China, 17th to early 20th Centuries

Dec 8, 2021, 7:30 pm7:30 pm
Virtual Lecture
East Asian Studies Program
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Youxue gushi qionglin 幼學故事瓊林 (Treasury of Allusions for Young Students) was the most popular textbook for children in China during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Lu Xun, Hu Shi and Mao Zedong all studied with it when they were young. Publishers attribute this book to a school teacher in the late Ming, but, except for this, our knowledge to this book is very limited. For a long period of time, this kind of publication was overlooked by bibliographers and book collectors, because of its shallow content and low-quality of production; however, this book was a major source for readers of several generations to acquire basic literary knowledge and develop a general view of China’s cultural tradition.

Based on the layouts and paratexts of its numerous extant editions and reprints, this talk traces the transformation of this book in 300 years, and the efforts by annotators, illustrators, editors, block carvers, printers and lithographers to turn a textbook compiled by an unknown author into a desirable product for readers in different eras. Although it is difficult to study the low-end book market in traditional China, this talk tries to explore the possibility to trace the evolution of a single title, and how it may contribute to our understanding of Chinese book history in general.

Li Ren-Yuan is an assistant research fellow in the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan. He is interested in Chinese book history, local documents, and social history of late imperial China.

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