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  • Home and the World: Editing the “Glorious Ming” in Woodblock-Printed Books of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries by Yuming He
  • Wei Shang
Home and the World: Editing the “Glorious Ming” in Woodblock-Printed Books of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries by Yuming He. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2013. Pp. xiii + 343. $39.95.

Home and the World is a must read for specialists in late Ming culture; it will also appeal to students of literary studies, book history, print culture, the history of reading, and other related scholarly disciplines. Combining these approaches in a productive manner, this book significantly advances our knowledge of the production, transmission, and consumption of various literary and nonliterary texts and genres in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century China. Throughout, Yuming He offers a number of original and solid case studies on selected joke books, poetry and prose anthologies, drama miscellanies, reference books, and guidebooks for actual or imagined practices of the day. Perhaps more to the point, she makes these texts a springboard from which to dive into the unfathomable ocean of commercial print culture, in which readers can explore beneath the tips of the few visible icebergs. Written in a lively style, this book raises many issues for further exploration and discussion and brings to light the amusing peculiarities of texts that were all the rage in the late Ming but have long since faded into obscurity.

Home and the World is so rich in content and so swift in pace, as it moves rapidly from one genre to another and from one topic to another, that a short review can hardly do it full justice. The study [End Page 201] mainly focuses on books produced by Fujian publishers during the Wanli reign (1573–1620), including popular encyclopedias and literary miscellanies, the latter of which Wang Zhongmin 王重民 and Zheng Zhenduo 鄭振鐸 have characterized as near equivalents to modern magazines or journals in both content and format (aside from the fact that they were not truly periodicals).1 With a few notable exceptions, the majority of these books fall into the category of pulp publications, with few of the qualities needed to attract the attention of Chinese book connoisseurs and collectors of the time or later eras. Perhaps it is no coincidence that a large number of them did not resurface until the twentieth century—in the case of Luochong lu 臝蟲錄 (Record of naked creatures), just a little over a decade ago—and, more often than not, in Japan or even European countries. Despite the renewed academic interest during recent decades in the book culture of the Ming dynasty, few scholars have gone as far as Yuming He in combining close reading with cultural and historical analysis in one monograph. This approach permits her to track the textual and visual traffic among the texts and to address common issues at stake in them.

The author begins with a review of how bibliographical scholars during the Qing dynasty dismissed these late Ming books as the products of baifan zhi xue 稗販之學 (“huckster scholarship,” or “bastardized peddler learning”). These critics denounced the books for their outrageous lack of standards in compilation and editing, prevalent vulgarity, and unabashed commercialism. Such a misguided and misplaced view, Yuming He argues, reflects the inability of Qing scholars to comprehend commercial publishing of the bygone era. Instead of rejecting baifan as no more than dismissive invective, however, she treats it as “a point of departure for examining a historical moment in Chinese book culture that is worthy of exploration and appreciation on its own terms.” As she explains:

Where Qing scholars saw slipshod, irresponsible, or even heretical treatment of the textual legacy of the past, others might enjoy irreverent wit, exuberant imagination, clever parody, and textual hybridity. What critics condemned as crass commercialism, others might appreciate as [End Page 202] these books’ ability to vividly evoke their particular cultural moment—as exemplified by the phrases shishang 時尚 (the fashion of these days) or xinxing 新興 (newly in vogue) that so frequently adorn the often lengthy and exuberantly boastful titles of Ming publications.

(pp. 4–5)

Indeed, commercial publishers’ interest in newness, fashion, and contemporary preferences became a driving force behind the production...


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