- Print Culture and Media in Late Imperial and Early Republican China
Rising interests in the printing, publishing, and book culture have profoundly changed our ways of understanding Chinese society, particularly from the perspective of material culture. Scholarship in recent decades has illuminated the developing technology from woodblock and lithography to modern printing services, the process how text and knowledge were made and transmitted, and ultimately, the role of printed texts and images played in shaping the modern nation-state.1 In 2018 we are very fortunate to see two more monographs coming out concerning creation, publication, and circulation of texts and images, opening new paths to deepen our comprehension of print culture and media in late imperial and early modern China. In her crystal clear and compelling language in Writing for Print: Publishing and the Making of Textual Authority in Late Imperial China, Suyoung Son examines the interrelated practices of writing and publishing by two early Qing literati, Zhang Chao (1650–ca. 1707) and Wang Zhuo (1636–ca. 1707), when print culture was gradually taking shape with an expanding readership and profitable book market in late imperial China. Her research encourages us to reconsider the relationship between text, author, and reader within the context of (transnational) book production and book trade. Megan M. Ferry's Chinese Women Writers and Modern Print Culture is a meticulous achievement of nearly twenty-year research and six revisions, (re)exploring issues of modern women's intellectual authorship, identity, and labor as reflected in twentieth-century print media. Print culture is conventionally considered to represent and facilitate women's liberation in the modern age. However, in her analysis of media codes and conventions, Ferry alerts us that women writers were still treated merely as [End Page 1] an objectified cultural phenomenon, and they still experienced difficulties to be acknowledged as cultural producers like their male peers.
Both Son and Ferry begin their research questions by challenging conventional assumptions and narratives of print culture. Despite a general description of the thriving publishing industry in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century China, Son goes in depth to (re)examine and (re)access the varied motives, technologies, as well as expectations and responses from readers in the cases of Zhang Chao and Wang Zhuo. She further demonstrates how the process of textual making and publishing helped to shape and mediate the two writers' intellectual identities and social statuses. Her investigation on the two popular literati writers shows two common directions in textual distribution: by selectively inviting collaborators and intentionally limiting the circulation of his works, Zhang Chao attempted to claim his prestige within the elite community. In contrast, Wang Zhuo generated his scholarly reputation by providing broad access for sharing his texts and ideas. Despite the seemingly opposite approaches, they both took advantage of the booming book market to build literary fame and enhance the commercial values of their works. Ferry's book moves to the modern era, analyzing print media under the influences of radical revolution, capitalism, commercialization, and commodification. In this important work, she criticizes the role of media through the lens of gender. Different from Son's examination of how print culture helped to create power among late imperial literati, Ferry has convincingly depicted how print media in twentieth-century China constructed both gender and identity, which, to a certain extent, tempered and regulated a woman writer's physical body as well as her intellectual authority. She further reveals the bitter truth that among writers of the modern period, the "interiority of the feminine space … largely remain the same as that of the past" (p. 89). Her book offers a complicated picture of modern women writers, both resisting and collaborating with the patriarchal print market, with mixed feelings of self-doubt, pity, and struggle.
The shared methodologies adopted by Son and...