By Xin Yu
Historians of the Chinese book have attributed to the boom in publishing in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century China to the advancements in printing technology. But the improved capacity on the production end fails to explain why people wanted more books; after all, more books on the market did not guarantee their consumption. By focusing on a growing interest in a particular genre—the family genealogy—this article shows that genealogies became popular not because of technological changes, but due to the structural changes to the genre that made genealogies more useful to a larger number of people. This case reminds us that the relationship between printing technology and cultural/social/political changes might be more complicated that we think.
Xin Yu is a PhD candidate in History at Washington University in St. Louis. His research interests include book history, history of the family, and knowledge production at the grassroots. His dissertation examines the roles of printing and writing in transforming early modern rural China, by focusing on the rise of a village-based textual genre—the family genealogy. He contends that the cultures of writing and printing had already started to penetrate rural China since the late fifteenth century, making a larger impact on the rural populace—both the literate and the illiterate—than on the urban elite. You can find his latest research on his website https://sites.wustl.edu/genealogies/.
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By Xin Yu