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Letters and Epistolary Culture in Early Medieval China

by Antje Richter

Publication Year: 2013

This first book-length study in Chinese or any Western language of personal letters and letter-writing in premodern China focuses on the earliest period (ca. 3rd-6th cent. CE) with a sizeable body of surviving correspondence. Along with the translation and analysis of many representative letters, Antje Richter explores the material culture of letter writing (writing supports and utensils, envelopes and seals, the transportation of finished letters) and letter-writing conventions (vocabulary, textual patterns, topicality, creativity).

Published by: University of Washington Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book has been in the making for more than a decade, but the debts I have accumulated while reading and writing about personal letters from early medieval China go back even further. My awareness of the genre and its literary and intellectual riches was raised during my studies in Munich (1989–98), where letters first turned up in Wolfgang Bauer’s seminars on Chinese autobiographical ...

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pp. 3-13

Having grown up in the 1960s and 1970s, in a country where telephones were rare, I learned to consider mail as something that may hold great importance for my life. I vividly recall letters I received— longed for or arriving out of the blue—as well as letters I wrote myself, whether effortlessly or taking great pains. Unlike the e-mails and text messages that have come to replace this form of written ...

Part One. Materials and Concepts of Letter Writing

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Chapter One. Materiality and Terminology

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pp. 17-43

The materiality of letters is more pronounced than that of many other genres. Not only do letters depend on a specific, highly conventional, and immediately recognizable tangible form—usually a piece of writing in a sealed envelope; they also need to undergo the often cumbersome procedure of transmission from writer to addressee. All these material facets of ...

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Chapter Two. Letters and Literary Thought

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pp. 44-71

The origins of Chinese letter writing are unknown, and one may only speculate whether letters in China are the first type of text put into writing, as has been claimed for other parts of the world.1 There are Chinese scholars who maintain that the earliest known Chinese writings, Shang dynasty oracle bone inscriptions, since they are messages to deified ancestors ...

Part Two. Epistolary Conventions and Literary Individuality

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Chapter Three. Structures and Phrases

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pp. 75-116

The particular tripartite composition that emerges in letters all over the world has often been compared to the similar structure of a conversation or an oration, which both also start with a salutation and an introductory part, then turn to the relevant core information and finally to closing words.1 Further subdividing the opening and closing, European medieval ...

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Chapter Four. Topoi

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pp. 117-138

It is long since I received a letter from you. You will allege, perhaps, you have nothing to write: but let me have the satisfaction at least of seeing it under your hand, or tell me merely in the good old style of exordium, “If you are well, I am so.” I shall be contented even with that; as indeed that single circumstance from a friend includes ...

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Chapter Five. Normativity and Authenticity

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pp. 139-149

The easily recognizable homogeneity of personal letters written in a certain culture and during a certain period suggests that letter writing has been a highly regulated form of communication since the earliest periods of its history. In Western literature, this assumption is supported by early model letters and letter-writing guides that, in the case of ancient Egypt, appear as early as 1800 bce.1 Since these types ...

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pp. 151-154

It is an enlightening experience to read letters from early medieval China at a time when the modes of personal communication are going through changes whose magnitude and ramifications are not yet foreseeable. Paper and ink are largely abandoned, as is the rest of the material culture of letter writing, to be replaced by the completely different material culture that enables digital communication; the time ...


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pp. 155-195


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pp. 197-218

Glossary- Index

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pp. 219-235

E-ISBN-13: 9780295804668
E-ISBN-10: 0295804661
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295992785
Print-ISBN-10: 0295992786

Page Count: 245
Publication Year: 2013