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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The historical geography of book markets in China : a case study of Liulichang Yee, Francis Lok-Wing


Scholars have long recognized the significance of printing in the dissemination of knowledge, promotion of new ideas and consequently as a force of social and economic change. However, the critical role played by the bookshops in the development and diffusion of printing has rarely been studied. In both Europe and China, bookstores produced and distributed a wide range of publications including popular literature, religious works, practical manuals for the common people as well as literary works, Classics and standard texts for the scholars and students. Bookstores thus, on one hand, promoted popular literacy amongst the masses but also, on the other hand, upheld the orthodox ideology by circulating the government-approved Classics and texts to the literate elites. In their long history of development, bookstores and book markets in China experienced changes not only geographically but also functionally. In the Song and Yuan periods, the concentration of urban population, together with the expansion ©f commercial and cultural activities, encouraged the growth of book production and marketing in regional metropolitan market centres. Kaifeng, Hangzhou and Chengdu clearly emerged as the major regional book markets in this period. In the Ming and Qing periods, a relatively well-integrated national marketing system developed. Inter-regional book trade also expanded in this period with Beijing at the uppermost end of the marketing hierarchy. The expansion of the book marketing system seems to be at least partially linked to the increasing importance attached to the civil service examination system. An overlap between the administrative and commercial functions of the late imperial cities is clear in this case. It is one main thesis of this study that the origins and development of book markets in China not only reflected, but also contributed to the expansion of the traditional regional, inter-regional, and eventually empire-wide urban market economy of imperial China. Moreover, they became a principal medium for the rise and dominance of the scholar-official elites of imperial China, and — in this sense — played a major role in shaping the character of the principal component of the urban social fabric of Confucian China. A study of book printing and marketing in imperial China is, in short, thus also a study in the changing role of the city and its dominant class — the urban gentry. And, whereas this becomes especially evident in urban cores of the late imperial period, it is no where more clear than in the singularly important case of the book markets of the imperial capital itself, Beijing, and in the main book market of old Beijing, Liulichang.

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