A Social History of the Chinese Book: Books and Literati by Joseph McDermott

By Joseph McDermott

This publication offers with a variety of concerns at the heritage of the publication in past due imperial China (1000 to 1800), as a rule fascinated with literati guides and readers within the reduce Yangzi delta.

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Fearing, then, that Hu had made no preparations for his burial, Tang ended up buying him a coffin made of fine cypress (shan) wood and composing a brief memorial to honor his skilled work. The response of Hu Mao and other Ming workers with woodblocks to these working conditions, when they were sober, can easily be imagined. Yet, no Ming account records any collective activity by them other than for, perhaps, religious worship and mutual support. 146 This vignette of “a proto-industrial proletarian” suggests a sharp social divide between woodblock carvers and the literati authors of the texts they cut.

129 Yet, their work, often included as illustrations in the flourishing literati genres of drama, fiction, drama, and print albums, won favor in literati circles. Understandably, then, many Huangs adopted a literati persona, taking on at least one style name (zi) and one soubriquet (hao) in the manner of any aspiring literatus. 136 How different was the compensation for the successful literati carvers like the Huangs from that for the ordinary carver? At present, it is impossible to say. 138 At the bottom, more typical, end of the scale, one finds artisans with poor working conditions and low pay.

96 Even though the writing and carving of artisanal characters required their own special skills, the latter claim of Bray’s statement held only for up-market editions of literati imprints and their prefaces, a share of the total imprint market that declined greatly over the course of the Ming. The claim of lower production costs and cheaper books is confirmed by the very limited price data we have on carvers’ wages and book prices from the Song through the Yuan and Ming dynasties. These figures are notoriously hard to interpret accurately, since prices for the same title and amount of work could vary greatly according to the quality and availability of labor and materials, the place of production, and the infernally complex irregularities of metallic currency changes and depreciations over the seven centuries of these three distinct dynasties.

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