Letters had been established as one of the distinct literary genres as early as the second century in China, but they became a publishing phenomenon in the seventeenth century. The unprecedented popularity of the publishing of letter collections raises the need to reexamine the nature of the letter medium: why were the writers not satisfied with simply exchanging private letters, but sought to publish them? What kinds of cultural and social expectations distinguished letter publishing from letter writing? By focusing on a letter of a Yangzhou publisher, Zhang Chao (ca. 1650-1707), to a fellow publisher, Zhang Yongde (a. 1703), in the dispute over book proprietorship, this talk demonstrates the ways in which the medium of the letter initially premised on privacy and intimacy between two correspondents was transformed into a social means to protect book proprietorship in seventeenth-century China.
Suyoung Son is Assistant Professor of Chinese Literature at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Her research focuses on materiality and the social practice of writing in the historical condition of print culture, commercialization, and urbanization from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. She is currently working on a book manuscript, titled Publish or Perish: Publishing and the Making of Literature in Late Imperial China.
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