Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Book Worlds of East Asia and Europe, 1450-1850Connections and Comparisons$

Joseph P. McDermott and Peter Burke

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9789888208081

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888208081.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM HONG KONG SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.hongkong.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Hong Kong University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in HKSO for personal use (for details see www.hongkong.universitypressscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 17 January 2019

(p.327) East Asian and European Book History

(p.327) East Asian and European Book History

The Book Worlds of East Asia and Europe, 1450-1850
Hong Kong University Press

A Short Bibliographical Essay1

For important secondary scholarship on specific topics the footnotes in each chapter provide expert guidance. But, as readers of these chapters may wish to pursue broader book history interests, a list of some of the seminal studies that have over the past half-century made book history so vital a field of scholarship in the West and East Asia may prove of interest. Among the pioneering studies on Europe we can note Henri-Jean Martin’s Print, Power and People in 17th-Century France (Geneva: Droz, 1969: English translation, London: Scarecrow Press, 1993) and La naissance du livre moderne (xive-xviie siècles) (Paris: Editions du Cercle de la librairie, 2000); Rolf Engelsing, Der Bürger als Leser (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1974), which launched the idea of an eighteenth-century “reading revolution.” Also essential reading are Don MacKenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (London: British Library, 1986); Roger Chartier, The Cultural Uses of Print in Early Modern France (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987); and Robert Darnton, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (New York: Norton, 1995), which provoked the responses in H. T. Mason, ed., The Darnton Debate (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1998). Thomas R. Adams and Nicolas Barker then offered “A New Model for the History of the Book,” in Nicolas Barker, ed., Potencie of Life: Books in Society (London: British Library, 1993): 5–43. David McKitterick, Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order, 1450–1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) offers a judicious summing-up of these scholarly disputes as well as his own research on a variety of other important book history topics.

For East Asia the most significant studies so far have had a national basis. For China major works of book history have until recently tended to focus on printing technology and cover a long stretch of time, most notably in the cases of Zhang Xiumin, A History of Chinese Printing, revised by Han Qi (Paramus, NJ: Homa and Sekey Books, 2009) and Tsien Tsuen-hsuin, Science and Civilisation in China, Volume 5: (p.328) Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Part 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). Those wishing to understand new approaches to long-term changes in the history of the Chinese book can consult two excellent conference volumes. Lucille Chia and Hilde De Weerdt, eds., Knowledge and Text Production in an Age of Print: China, 900–1400 (Leiden: Brill, 2011) covers the early centuries, and Cynthia J. Brokaw and Kai-Wing Chow, eds., Printing and Book Culture in Late Imperial Culture (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005) the later. Read together, they show the evolution of not just China’s book world over the past millennium but also Western study of that Chinese book world ever since its first important contribution nearly a century ago, Thomas Carter’s richly researched The Invention of Printing and Its Spread Westward (New York: Columbia University Press, 1925, second revised edition, 1955). Endymion Wilkinson, Chinese History: A New Manual (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2012) likewise summarizes a great deal of previous Chinese, Japanese, and Western research to present a superb cornucopia of information on Chinese books and book history. Essential reading for all bibliophiles, this scholarly treasure trove can be profitably read section by section or just by serendipitous “dipping.” It is that rare manual, a book to start with and yet to return to frequently and happily for wise instruction.

Peter Kornicki’s authoritative The Book in Japan: A Cultural History from the Beginning to the Nineteenth Century (Leiden: Brill, 1998).

A number of European national histories of the book have been published or are under way, among them Henri-Jean Martin and Roger Chartier, eds., Histoire de l’édition française, 4 volumes (Paris: Promodis, 1982–86) and The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, 6 volumes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999–2011). Brian Richardson, Print Culture in Renaissance Italy: The Editor and the Vernacular Text, 1470–1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), presents an exemplary national case study for Italy.

The shift from manuscript to imprint books has attracted a great deal of research, much of it stressing changes not just in book production but also in the world of learning and culture. Two classics advocating the imprint’s revolutionary impact in Europe are Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, L’apparition du livre (Paris: Michel, 1958; trans. The Coming of the Book [London: N. L. B., 1976]) and Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979). More recent and noteworthy proponents of this view are Michael Giesecke, Der Buchdruck in den frühen Neuzeit: Eine historische Fallstudie über die Durchsetzung (p.329) neuer Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologien (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1991) and Frédéric Barbier, L’Europe de Gutenberg: le livre et l’invention de la modernité occidentale (XIIIe–XVIe siècles) (Paris: Belin, 2006); both authors make comparisons between the digital and print revolutions.

A critique of the notion of “a print revolution” from an East European perspective is Gary Marker, “Russia and the Printing Revolution: Notes and Observations,” Slavic Review 41 (1982): 266–83. A more general critique, from the perspective of a historian of science, is Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998). Johns’s rejection of the idea that print led to the fixity of texts provoked a debate: Eisenstein, “An Unacknowledged Revolution Revisited,” American Historical Review 107 (2002): 87–105; Johns, “How to Acknowledge a Revolution,” ibid.: 106–25; and Eisenstein, “Reply,” ibid.: 126–28. David McKitterick, Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order, 1450–1830, reviews the issues and the evidence to offer a thoughtful account of book history up to the nineteenth century.

In East Asia similar, if more muted, debates have taken place about the introduction of printing and its impact. For discussions of the earliest years, see the stimulating studies of Timothy H. Barrett, especially The Woman Who Invented Printing (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007) and D. C. Twitchett’s brief but wide-ranging Printing and Publishing in Medieval China (London: The Wynkyn de Worde Society, 1983). The impact of printing technology in China has long been considered far less revolutionary than in Europe (at least according to Eisenstein and Martin). Some recent studies have strengthened this understanding by delaying the imprint’s replacement of traditional scribal culture to the sixteenth century within at least the core area of late imperial Chinese culture (for example, Joseph P. McDermott’s A Social History of the Chinese Book: Books and Literati Culture in Late Imperial China [Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2006]). Skepticism of such views can be found in some chapters in Chia and De Weerdt.

Interest in the survival and transformation of a manuscript culture has thus become common in European and East Asian studies. Major contributions to this research on the West include Harold Love, Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993); François Moureau, ed., De bonne main: la communication manuscrite au 18e siècle (Paris: Universitas; Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1993); Fernando Bouza, Corre manuscrito: una historia cultural del Siglo de Oro (Madrid: Marcial Pons, 2001); and Brian Richardson, Manuscript Culture in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). For East Asia, see the discussions on China by Tian Xiaofei, Tao Yuanming and the Manuscript Tradition (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2005), and McDermott, A Social History of the Chinese Book.

One change that some Sinologists attribute to the transition from manuscript to imprint production is the growth of notions of authorship and textual fixity. The most (p.330) searching discussions of this issue include Christopher M. B. Nugent, Manifest in Words, Written on Paper: Producing and Circulating Poetry in Tang Dynasty China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2011); Susan Cherniack, “Book Culture and Textual Transmission in Sung China,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 54.1 (1994): 5–125; and David McMullen’s critique in “Boats Moored and Unmoored: Reflections on the Dunhuang Manuscripts of Gao Shi’s Verse,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 71.1 (2013): 83–145. The actual process of making and compiling a book clearly differed not just between manuscripts and imprints but also between East Asia and Europe. For instructive studies on technical and social difference we can turn, respectively, to Tsien’s Paper and Printing volume in the well-known Needham series, Science and Civilisation in China, and to Kai-wing Chow’s Publishing, Culture, and Power in Early Modern China (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004). Chow’s account of the late Ming editorial and publishing process casts a clear light onto previously obscure activities. Likewise, He Yuming’s insightful Home and the World: Editing the “Glorious Ming” in Woodblock-Printed Books of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013) delves into the more popular varieties of late Ming publications to reveal readers’ notions of both a fashionable lifestyle and a social and political modernity.

A number of seminal studies focus on the book business. Besides numerous monographs on individual printers, major works on Western book business include Giles Barber and Bernhard Fabian, eds., The Book and the Book Trade in 18th-Century Europe (Hamburg: Hauswedell, 1981); Robert Darnton, The Business of Enlightenment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), on the publishing history of the famous Encyclopédie; and on Britain, James Raven, The Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade 1450–1850 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007). For China, see Lucille Chia, Printing for Profit: The Commercial Publishers of Jianyang, Fujian (11th–17th Centuries) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2002) and Cynthia Brokaw, Commerce and Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2007). The first combines bibliographical expertise with historical analysis to produce a model study of regional commercial printing, while the second probes the history of “popular” imprints to recover an exceptionally rich record of one rural region’s commercial book history. Financial records survive in far greater numbers for late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Shanghai. Christopher Reed’s Gutenberg in Shanghai (Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, 2007) presents a convincing account of the impact of Western technological innovations in the printing industry on Shanghai’s modernization and domination of Chinese book production in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Wang Feixian’s forthcoming book on copyright practices in premodern and modern China promises to make a similarly important contribution to the business dimensions of book history. The Japanese record for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is even richer, and we (p.331) can look forward to important studies making stimulating comparisons with Chinese and European commercial publishers.

Popular literature has been another common focus of interest in the book history of East and West. For Europe there are, to name but a few, Robert Mandrou, De la culture populaire aux 17e et 18e siècles (Paris: Imago, 1964); Julio Caro Baroja, Ensayo sobre la literature de cordel (Madrid: Ediciones de la Revista de Occidente, 1969); and Joad Raymond, ed., Cheap Print in Britain and Ireland to 1660 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). An exemplary study of pamphlets, focused on mid-seventeenth-century France, is Christian Jouhaud, Mazarinades: la Fronde des mots (Paris: Aubier, 1985). Cynthia Brokaw’s Commerce and Culture as well as Robert Hegel’s Reading Illustrated Fiction in Late Imperial China (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998) provide useful bases for a comparison with popular medical, morality book, and novel publication in Qing China. Nuanced accounts of how reading practices have changed in the West can be found in Guglielmo Cavallo and Roger Chartier, eds., A History of Reading in the West (English translation, Cambridge: Polity, 1999) and Elisabeth Décultot, Lire, copier, écrire: les bibliothèques manuscrits et leurs usages au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: CNRS, 2003). Half a century after its appearance, Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy (Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 1962) remains provocative but needs to be used with care. Scholarly work on Chinese reading practices has begun, and so far the most stimulating book-length analysis of changes in late imperial times remains Ann McLaren, Chinese Popular Culture and Ming Chantefables (Leiden: Brill, 2001).

For the early modern West, newspapers, newsbooks or gazettes have been an object of considerable attention, including Folke Dahl, “Amsterdam—Earliest Newspaper Centre of Western Europe,” Het Boek 25 (1939); Jeremy Popkin, Revolutionary News: The Press in France, 1789–1799 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990); Joad Raymond, The Invention of the Newspaper: English Newsbooks 1641–9 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996); Brendan Dooley and Sabrina Baron, eds., The Politics of Information in Early Modern Europe (London: Routledge, 2001); and Stéphane Haffemayer, L’information dans la France du 17e siècle: la gazette de Renaudot de 1647 à 1663 (Paris: H. Champion, 2002). Private newspapers were introduced to China only in the late nineteenth-century treaty ports (see Barbara Mittler, A Newspaper for China? Power, Identity and Change in Shanghai’s News Media (1872–1912) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 1999), but for earlier government efforts there is Hilde De Weerdt, “‘Court Gazettes’ and ‘Short Reports’: Official Views and Unofficial Readings of Court News,” Biblio 27.2 (2009): 167–200.

General studies of encyclopedias include Robert Collison, Encyclopaedias: Their History throughout the Ages (New York: Hafner Pub. Co, 1966); Frank A. Kafker, ed., Notable Encyclopaedias of the 17th and 18th Centuries (Oxford: Voltaire (p.332) Foundation, 1981) and Notable Encyclopaedias of the Late 18th Century (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1994); Franz Eybl et al., eds., Enzyklopädien der frühen Neuzeit (Tübingen: M. Niemeyer, 1995); and Theo Stammen and Wolfgang Weber, eds., Wissenssicherung, Wissensordnung und Wissensverarbeitung: Das europäische Modell der Enzyklopädien (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2004). Useful Western studies of Chinese encyclopedias are conveniently collected in the special issue of Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident 1 (2007) under the title, “What Did It Mean to Write an Encyclopaedia in China?”

Understandably seen as encyclopedias writ large, libraries have sometimes been studied together with encyclopedias, as in Roland Schaer, ed., Tous les savoirs du monde: encyclopédies et bibliothèques, de Sumer aux XXIe siècle (Paris, 1996). Besides the many monographs on particular European libraries, there are a few general studies, including Werner Arnold and Peter Vodosek, eds., Bibliotheken und Aufklärung (Wiesbaden: In Kommission bei Harrassowitz, 1988); Claude Jolly, ed., Les bibliothèques sous l’ancien régime (Paris: Promodis, 1988); Frédéric Barbier, “Les pouvoirs politiques et les bibliothèques centrales en Europe, XVe–XIXe siècles,” Francia 26 (2) (1999): 1–22; and Elisabeth Leedham-Green and Teresa Webber, eds., The Cambridge History of Libraries in Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). And, on the demise of many important libraries, James Raven, ed., Lost Libraries: The Destruction of Great Book Collections since Antiquity (Basingstoke, 2008) shows how the study of libraries lost to war, pillage, and censorship can revive previously forgotten worlds of learning and thereby reveal kinds of knowledge crucial to our understanding of many historical problems.

For China, the library long played a central role in the preservation and transmission of court culture. But war, dynastic changes, and restricted access to important government and private collections plagued efforts to assure the transmission of cultural knowledge over time. For an informed discussion of this problem at the imperial level, see Glen Dudbridge’s Lost Books of Medieval China (London: British Library, 2000). For studies of the problem for private libraries in late imperial times, see Benjamin E. Elman, From Philosophy to Philology: Intellectual and Social Aspects of Change in Late Imperial China (Cambridge, MA: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1984; second revised edition, Los Angeles: UCLA Asian Pacific Monograph Series, 2001) and Chapters 4 to 6 in McDermott, A Social History of the Chinese Book. For a discerning account of the formation of the celebrated imperial library of the Qianlong emperor (r. 1736–95), see R. Kent Guy, The Emperor’s Four Treasuries: Scholars and the State in the Ch’ien-lung Era (Cambridge, MA: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1987).

John W. P. Campbell’s Libraries: A World History (London: Thames and Hudson, 2013) brings within its covers images of some of the most beautiful man-made spaces in the world. These glorious photographs, graced by a knowledgeable text, almost persuade one that the wisdom of the past is in safe keeping. One hopes that future studies of book history adopt a similarly global approach to the study of the problems (p.333) of book preservation and to their diverse solutions. In China, where librarians have in recent years increased the restrictions on access to rare and valuable books, readers are regularly provided with microfilms and reprints rather than old editions and original copies. For the time being, those unable to view these editions in the libraries of other countries can find solace in examining the photographs of these treasures in selective Western and East Asian collections, as reproduced in exhibition catalogs like Philip K. Hu, comp. and ed., Visible Traces, Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China (New York: The Queens Borough Public Library; and Beijing: The National Library of China, 2000) and Monique Cohen and Natalie Monnet, eds., Impressions de Chine (Paris: Bibliliothèque nationale, 1992). Just as the Western scholars in this volume have made a contribution to the study of East Asian book cultures, so we hope that in the future East Asian scholars, aware of their own countries’ traditions in book culture, will more actively participate in studies of Western book culture. A major aim of this book, the growth of a Eurasian dialogue in book history, will then be one step closer to realization. (p.334)


(1.) This set of recommended readings is written with the Western reader in mind and so omits all relevant studies in an East Asian language, largely on East Asian book history. For such information, please see the bibliographies found in the volumes mentioned above by Tsien Tsuen-hsuin, Cynthia J. Brokaw and Kai-Wing Chow, and Joseph P. McDermott.