For More Information, Keep Reading: How to Use a Late Imperial Chinese Encyclopedia

Feb 24, 2021, 4:30 pm4:30 pm
Virtual Lecture



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Late imperial China witnessed an explosion of textual production, from manuscripts to woodblock and movable type prints. Increased availability of books posed new challenges to compilers and readers who sought comprehensiveness in a sea of information. One of the primary arenas for managing and circulating information was the production of a variety of encyclopedic genres and reference works. Innovations in finding devices within such genres have often been associated with the rise of “consultation reading.” But was piecemeal consultation the only way to use encyclopedic reference works? Or could an encyclopedia be read cover to cover like a novel? This talk considers the reading strategies suggested in Fang Yizhi’s 方以智(1611–1671) Tongya (通雅 Comprehensive Elegances), a major encyclopedic text of the seventeenth century. Despite the potential of this text to be consulted for specific information, its entries may also have been designed to be read sequentially. Numerous other contemporary “reference works,” such as dictionaries, invited sequential reading, as well. By highlighting the multiple modes of reading proposed in late imperial encyclopedic compilations, I reposition the place of such texts in the period’s literary and intellectual life.

Program in East Asian Studies
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