Well over one hundred classical essay anthologies were published during the printing boom in sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Ming dynasty China. These anthologies testify to a voracious appetite for "ancient-style prose" (guwen) among the expanding reading public, and their contents represent avaluable resource for studying the formation of taste during this crucial moment in literary history. But how are we to compare the contents of such a large group of anthologies, when each individual anthology contains at least a few hundred individual selections? How might such a method clarify or revise our understanding of Ming literary culture? This article describes how Gephi was used to compare the contents of thirty-four anthologies and visualize clusters of anthologies corresponding to distinct editorial strategies. The author argues that the synchronic and diachronic relationships among these clusters suggest a new way of narrating Ming literary history in terms of successive waves of alternative canon building, each wave representing a new critique of the civil service examination curriculum's overriding focus on model examination essays. He also shows that, whereas the Qin-Han and transdynastic canons were first promulgated in a mix of government and commercial anthologies, the xiaopin 小品 (informal essay) canon was purely the invention of early seventeenth-century commercial printers.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 375-410
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.