Rare Book School

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H-85. The History of the Book in China

Soren Edgren

This course will offer a comprehensive history of books in China with reference to relevant developments in Korea and Japan and to parallels in the West. It treats the subject in the broadest sense from the advent of actual books in East Asia during the first millennium BCE until the introduction of virtual books at the end of the twentieth century, but emphasis will be placed on the traditional Chinese book printed on paper from the ninth to the nineteenth century. In addition to describing the physical aspects of traditional Chinese books and their evolution over many centuries, their role as bearers of text and transmitters of knowledge will be introduced in the context of China’s long and complex history. Visual images and many actual specimens, including rare books, will be used to reinforce presentations and stimulate discussion.

The conception, production, transmission, and consumption of traditional Chinese books will be discussed in this course, and key topics will include but not be limited to the following events and activities in China: the invention of paper, woodblock printing and the invention of movable type, manuscript culture, book forms and format, commercial and non-commercial publishing, languages and script in publications, texts vs. paratexts, book illustration and color printing, libraries and book collecting, and the wave of western influences on the Chinese book beginning in the nineteenth century.

This course is intended for anyone interested in the cultural history of the book in East Asia and is especially suitable for persons knowledgeable of other book cultures. Required readings are all in English and knowledge of Chinese, Japanese or Korean is not necessary. Advanced readings in languages other than English will be made available to anyone requesting them.

Course Resources

Course History


Soren Edgren teaches this course for the first time.