AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 460

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Session 460: From Literati to Intellectuals: Publishing and the Commodification of Culture in Qing and Republican China

Organizer: Robert J. Culp, Bard College, USA

Discussant: Cynthia J. Brokaw, Brown University, USA

During the Ming and Qing, literati participated actively in woodblock publishing, creating cultural capital by producing books for the civil service examinations. After the abolition of the examinations in 1905, Western academic disciplines replaced Confucian classical learning, and mechanized industrial publishing displaced woodblock printing, creating new conditions for the scholarly activities and self-definition of literate men. Building on recent research, the goal of this panel is to explore the continuities and discontinuities involved in scholars’ publishing activities from the late Qing into the Republican period in order to better understand changing dynamics of cultural production and the roles of literate men in modern China. These papers together analyze longitudinally scholars’ publishing activities as they developed over three centuries. Kai-wing Chow launches the panel, demonstrating that late imperial scholars’ building of literary reputations through publishing remained oriented around the civil service examination until 1905. By comparing two journals of historical geography, Tze-ki Hon assesses how emergent modern intellectuals after 1905 established new fields and professional identities through publication. Michael Hill explores how a new generation of intellectuals with foreign-language training used publication of English-language periodicals as a means of cultural transformation. Robert Culp argues that Commercial Press’ recruitment of foreign-trained academics to compile and edit series focused on modern academic disciplines facilitated legitimization of those disciplines and formation of new professional identities. By relating the themes and arguments of these papers, commentary by Cynthia Brokaw, a leading scholar of Chinese publishing, will help us reconstruct this long-term process.

Commercial publishing, Examination, and Literati Identity in Ming Qing China
Kai Wing Chow, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

The dramatic burgeoning of commercial publishing since the late Ming impacted the literati in many profound ways. Expansion of the market was made possible by enlisting the superfluous examinees in book production, who were able to sustain their quest for further success at the examinations by serving as writers, editors, commentators, and proofreaders. Commercial publishers competed to hire talented examinees to edit and comment on anthologies of examination essays, Classics, historical topics, statecraft learning, and poetry. While the book market continued to be dominated by genres designed to aid examinees, new and expanding markets for fiction, drama, and other popular genres demanded literary skills not directly related to the examinations. The boom in commercial publishing transformed the rules governing the process whereby examinees were selected. Amidst growing competition, examinees found it beneficial and even necessary to publish their own writings in order to build a reputation, hence increasing public visibility. Literary reputation became a form of symbolic capital for examinees. But reputation continued to be associated with the identity of a shi, a literatus with the goal of becoming an official. Literary reputation did not become alienated from the political field. Many of these trends in commercial publishing continued into the Qing with a respite in the eighteenth century. Examinees in the nineteenth century, especially in the last quarter, once again became actively involved in commercial publishing. But before 1905, literati who were engaged in literary production driven by the book market did not create new identities in the literary field, which was still anchored in the imperial system despite new forms of publishing and nascent practices associated with professional journalism.

From Literati to Intellectuals: Print Capitalism and Academic Professionalization in Early 20th Century China
Tze Ki Hon, State University of New York, Geneseo, USA

It is well known that the abolition of the civil service examinations in 1905 marked the end of the literati in China. Instead of memorizing the Confucian classics and passing the examinations, the Chinese educated elite had to reinvent themselves in a new socio-political environment characterized by print capitalism, academic professionalization, and the centralization of power of the nation-state. What is not as clear, however, is how some of the old literati (shidafu) maintained their influence in the new habitat, and by what measures the new intellectuals (zhishi fenzi) dominated the cultural discourse. In this paper, I will examine these momentous changes through an account of the rise of historical geography. To trace the process by which historical geography became a system of knowledge symbolizing Chinese modernity, I will compare two groups of Chinese geographers: the Chinese Geographical Society (Zhongguo dixue hui) in Beijing, and the Historical and Geographical Society of China (Zhongguo shidi xuehui) in Nanjing. The former made its name by publishing the Geographical Journal (Dixue zazhi 1910-1937); the latter became prominent by publishing the Journal of History and Geography (Shixue yu dixue 1926-1928). Focusing on the 1920s when the two groups of geographers were actively promoting historical geography, I will argue that they reflect two different approaches in the transition from literati to intellectuals. More important, when the country was undergoing fundamental changes in education system, print market, and political structure, the two groups of geographers competed to speak for the Chinese nation.

'Self-Cultivation in English': The Commercial Press and Foreign-Language Publishing in the Early Republic
Michael G. Hill, University of South Carolina, USA

This paper examines the cultural positions of intellectuals involved in the production of bilingual and English-language books, magazines, and educational materials at the Commercial Press (Shangwu Yinshuguan) in the first three decades of the twentieth century. I focus in particular on two widely-circulated magazines that until now have managed to escape scholars' notice almost entirely: The English Student (Yingwen zazhi, 1915-1927) and English Weekly (Yingyu zhoukan, 1915-1929). In an era where knowledge of foreign languages became an ever more important part of the work of the intellectual and the successful urban businessperson, these magazines and other publications used the gospel of self-improvement to train readers to create, practice, and consume an internationalized linguistic identity. Beyond their pulpy commercial appeal, these publications also form an important archive of attempts by cultural producers and consumers commonly excluded from literary and cultural history to theorize and negotiate the boundaries between versions of the "Chinese" language that inhabited the period’s print culture and global(izing) English as a de facto auxiliary language. Ultimately, this attempt to work on the borders of the Chinese written language had significant effects for the promotion of another auxiliary language that would later take on much greater import: the National Language, or Guoyu.

A World of Knowledge for the Circle of Common Readers: Commercial Press’ Partnership with China’s Academic Elite
Robert J. Culp, Bard College, USA

In 1921 Wang Yunwu became director of the Editing Department at Commercial Press, China’s largest publishing company, and he commercialized Chinese intellectual life in unprecedented ways. He reorganized the Editing Department according to Western academic disciplines, and he convinced leading foreign-trained academics to work with him as authors and editors. At the same time, he launched massive series publications (congshu) corresponding to each academic field. Through these two measures, Wang mobilized modern academics as cultural workers and categorized academic fields and subjects to generate new sets of print commodities. This paper argues that the intersection of several factors explains Wang’s successful commoditization of academic learning. The legacy of late imperial print culture predisposed scholars to view the publishing sector as a viable site for intellectual activity after the collapse of the imperial order and the decline of Confucian learning. China’s geopolitical and cultural crises created a popular reading market for modern Western thought, literature, and science. Wang Yunwu’s own hardscrabble past and lack of formal education prepared him to view modern Western learning more instrumentally than did most foreign-trained academics and to commit to democratizing knowledge through its wide circulation. Yet academic elites saw in Wang’s project an opportunity to advance their disciplines and raise their own profiles in the public eye by publishing for a mass readership. The result was profits for the press and the emergence of the publishing sector as a viable site for the development of Chinese academic life.