This book addresses a variety of social and economic issues too seldom associated with the history of the Chinese book. Firstly, how was a book most commonly printed and why did this method of woodblock printing remain the predominant technology for book printing for so long in China? Secondly, when and how did the imprint—that is, the printed book—replace the manuscript as the principal form of book in China? Thirdly, what changes did this adoption of the imprint bring about for the distribution, consumption, and use of books in late imperial times? Fourthly, when and how were Chinese scholars able to overcome problems of access to books and thereby constitute what we today might call a sizeable “community of learning”? And, finally, what were the understandings of the uses of literacy and books that the literate and illiterate held in late imperial China and how did they cut across social divisions? It specifically concentrates on one region in China, the lower Yangzi delta, and on the one type of reader that the most is known about, the literati. It is hoped that this book will play an important role in the understanding of Chinese culture and society from the eleventh to the eighteenth centuries.
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