Deconstructing a ‘late-Ming adult magazine’: questions of date, design, content, and influence in “Springtime inspirations from the bedchamber as transmitted secretly by the Capital publisher” (京院秘傳洞房春意冊)

Nov 6, 2014 | 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Wu Cuncun (Associate Professor of Traditional Chinese Literature and Cultural History, School of Chinese, The University of Hong Kong; HYI Visiting Scholar)
Chair and discussant: Ellen Widmer (Mayling Soong Professor of Chinese Studies; Professor of East Asian Studies, Wellesley College)

In early 2008, part of the collection of the famous Japanese collector of pornography Kiyoshi Shibui (1899-1993) resurfaced and was acquired by the Muban Foundation (London). Among the most valuable items from the Shibui collection are the late-Ming pornographic publications, including several previously unseen and even unknown late-Ming colored woodblock print albums and a volume of around sixty pages, An alternative biography of Yang Taizhen: Capital edition (京刻楊太真外傳) or more properly Springtime inspirations from the bedchamber as transmitted secretly by the Capital publisher (京院秘傳洞房春意冊). This last item is interesting as it contains an assortment of texts of various genres, including two short erotic tales, an album of thirty erotic woodblock prints, and a set of aphrodisiac recipes running four pages. Unnoted in any catalogues, this veritable late-Ming “adult magazine” appears to have been hidden from view for nearly the entire Qing dynasty as well as the twentieth century.

Beginning with a consideration of a number of textual issues surrounding the publication and format of this “adult magazine,” including dating, content, printing specifications and its peculiarity, Wu Cuncun will draw some preliminary conclusions regarding its readership, arguing that this volume shows traces of the change in audience from literati with libertine sensibilities to audiences associated with urban mass consumption. She will also discuss how these observations relate to her larger project of drawing attention to the wider participation of urban commoners as a market for pornography and the changes pornographic genres underwent as a result of popularization, consolidating our picture of city commoners’ public exchanges on “private life” in the late-Ming period.