China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
In the early years of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Beijing—although important as the primary capital city of the country—has a relatively vague status on the contemporary cultural map. From the mid fifteenth century onward, official scholars, especially southern writers who sojourned in the capital for official posts, started to seek adventure in the mountainous areas of Beijing and write extensively about their touring experiences. In the meantime, with the flourish of printing culture and the expansion of book market, comprehensive collections of travelogues (youji) were published in an unprecedented scale and speed. In what ways did the reading culture of travelogue transform the reputation of Beijing from that of a military-oriented political center to a culturally significant place, representable and appreciable as a literary subject? To answer the question, this project examines the compilation and circulation of two groups of books: (1) four versions of travelogue collections entitled Records of Famous Mountains (Mingshan ji) that were published from 1515 to 1633, and (2) A Sketch of Sites and Objects in the Imperial Capital (Dijing jingwulüe, 1635), the earliest, largest, and most encyclopedic monograph on Beijing in the Ming which introduces hundreds of famous sites. Focusing on the sophisticated textual property of travelogue, it also investigates how the competition among documentary, commercial, and artistic values affected literary practice, and how new poetic styles—the naturalistic and expressive, as opposed to the orthodoxy and antique—fermented from landscape writings in the early seventeenth century.