Expansion, Integration, and the Limits of Commercial Publishing in North China during the Qing Dynasty: Taking Dongchang Prefecture as an Example


He Zhaohui

East Asian Publishing and Society (12), 2022

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Abstract: Until now most studies on commercial publishing in pre-modern China have focused on two areas in the south, Jiangnan and Fujian, where publishing centers had been clustered since the Song dynasty. Before the Qing dynasty, commercial publications for the whole country had been provided by the publishing centers located in those two areas. However, the landscape changed significantly in the Qing dynasty, as commercial publishing extended to places where there had existed no printing shops before, especially the northern provinces of China. Dongchang prefecture along the Great Canal in Shandong province rose to become an important regional publishing center during the Qing. The publications produced in Dongchang not only satisfied the needs of local readers but were sold throughout Shandong and in other provinces in the north. As an outstanding publishing center in the north, Dongchang prefecture is a useful window from which to observe the development of commercial publishing and the book market in northern China in the Qing dynasty. This article investigates the origin, publications, readership, and distribution networks of printing shops in Dongchang prefecture. The author argues that rather than completely replacing the southern publishers in supplying books for readers in the north, the newly risen northern commercial publishers captured only a part of the market share. Some categories of books, such as new titles and high-end publications, still heavily relied on the southern publishers. In the Qing dynasty there was a notable trend towards stronger relationships between publishing centers and regional book markets. Hopefully this study will provide a more comprehensive landscape of commercial publishing in premodern China, and enhance our understanding of the development of book markets in the north.

About the author: He Zhaohui is a HYI Visiting Scholar from 2021-22.