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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Printing culture in rural North China Flath, James A.


This manuscript examines the cultural history of rural North China, as seen through the production, circulation, content and interpretation of graphic wood-block prints, known as nianhua. The spatial focus is on a fixed set of print producing villages on the North China plain. The temporal focus encompasses the late 1800s through the early 1960s. In examining how nianhua were produced and distributed in late 19th and early 20th century North China, I show that the village print industry was prescriptive in organization. This organization was a basic factor in delimiting form and iconography in print, since it imposed limits on the free appropriation of texts, and directed the way in which they were read. Having accounted for these factors, I consider how perceptions of the social, physical and ethical world were put into print, and how print in turn configured perceptions of the world. Since print is thus socially derived, print and its interpretation are considered in terms of responses to social change, and the capacity of print to effect change. The environment in which village print is structured is variously considered to be formed by the following: the physical space of the home; late-imperial narrative structures (and their residual perpetuation beyond the decline of the political regime); narrative structures produced through technological change and expanded translocal experience; and state-centred reform beginning in the Republican era, and reaching its conclusion under communism. I conclude that narratives which began as superscriptive and authoritative structures, were appropriated and re-structured by the specific conditions of the production, distribution, and display of print in the village.

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