Creative Compilations: Shifting content in popular print culture in late imperial

Conveners: OI and OSGA

Speaker: Dr Nathan Woolley, University of Glasgow


The content of popularly printed books under the Qing dynasty provides a window on common concerns as well as publishing practices. Printed to be sold cheaply and widely, works such as almanacs, divinatory handbooks and primers of basic knowledge were designed to appeal to audiences of varying literacy and needs in competitive social and religious environments. Not valued by the collecting elite and often sold as short-term consumables, such popular works survive only in small numbers, predominately as scattered volumes in collections outside China. Each work represents a snapshot of the possibilities of personal belief and commercial choice. Content was never static, but nor was it wasted, the same material often shifting between works of different genres. The interplay between genres and content demonstrate how the vagaries of compilation could create new meaning for existing material. Comparison across various genres at the same period provides an insight into the divisions of information in popular understandings. Similarly, examining change among works in a single genre—or at least similar genres—over decades and centuries may provide a guide to shifting popular needs and changes in the demarcation of knowledge. This presentation will consider the intertextual nature of popular works and the ramifications for publishing, literacy, and everyday life.


qing dinasty book

Nathan Woolley is a lecturer at the University of Glasgow. His research focuses on religious practice and regional identity in pre-modern Chinese society. He curated the exhibition Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644–1911, held at the National Library of Australia in association with the National Library of China which focussed on print culture under the Qing dynasty.