China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
As a vital channel for communication across space and time, books were in constant motion. Their compilation, transmission, adaptation, and disappearance directly affected literati scholars’ lives and learning. This panel explores the roles of books as textual and social media in Chinese history from the eleventh to the early-twentieth centuries. It presents three case studies on assorted materials known as collected commentaries (jizhu) on poetry, personal letters (chidu), and travelogues (youji), as well as one quantitative project on book donation to school libraries in the Ming and Qing. We explore how the life cycles of books enabled literary innovation in prose and poetry, promoted the circulation of literary, historical, and geographical knowledge, and contributed to the construction and operation of literati communities on multiple levels. The four papers combine new methods nurtured by digital humanities with bibliographical research and textual analysis. Through the examination of literati’s textual and social strategies, this panel not only extends our inquiries on print culture into the history of reading and learning, but also showcases how in a broader sense, books encapsulate the social challenges to men of letters in the early modern society.