H-145. The History of the Book in China since 1368

Soren Edgren

This course will offer a comprehensive history of books in China since 1368, the first year of the Ming dynasty, with reference to relevant developments in Korea and Japan and to parallels in the West. It treats the subject in the broadest sense from the fourteenth century to full maturity in the Ming and the Qing, and through the tumultuous introduction of Western books in the late nineteenth century, until the introduction of virtual books at the end of the twentieth century. In addition to describing the physical aspects of traditional Chinese books and their evolution over many centuries, their role as bearers of text and transmitters of knowledge will be introduced in the context of China’s rich and complex history. Visual images and many actual specimens, including rare books, will be used to reinforce presentations and stimulate discussion.

The conception, production, transmission, and consumption of traditional Chinese books will be discussed in this course, and key topics will include but not be limited to the following events and activities in China: economic factors underlying xylographic printing, commercial and non-commercial publishing, native typography in East Asia, questions of authentication and cataloguing, texts and paratexts, book illustration and color printing, libraries and book collecting, and the wave of western influences on the Chinese book beginning in the nineteenth century.

This course is intended for anyone interested in the cultural history of the book in East Asia and is especially suitable for persons knowledgeable of other book cultures. H-85: The History of the Book in China to 1368, is intended to complement this course. Required readings are all in English and knowledge of Chinese, Japanese or Korean is not necessary. Advanced readings in languages other than English will be made available to anyone requesting them.

Course History

Soren Edgren teaches this course, along with the companion course H-85 (covering the period to 1368).
Soren Edgren teaches a precursor course, "The History of the Book in China." Beginning in 2019 the course is split between H-85 (to 1368) and H-145 (since 1368).
This course is not currently being offered. Please do not list on any RBS fellowship or scholarship applications.

Course Resources

  • Advance Reading List
  • Evaluations for this course:

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Soren Edgren

Soren Edgren

James Soren Edgren was Editorial Director of the Chinese Rare Books Project, an online international union catalogue of Chinese rare books based at Princeton University from 1991 to 2011. The project currently is being transferred to the National Library of China in Beijing, where the new International Union Catalogue of Chinese Rare Books database has been established. Edgren received his Ph.D. in Sinology from the University of Stockholm and has worked as East Asian cataloguer and bibliographer in the Royal Library (National Library of Sweden) in Stockholm, as well as having been active in the antiquarian book trade. In addition to dozens of scholarly articles, he has written the Catalogue of the Nordenskiöld Collection of Japanese Books in the Royal Library (Stockholm, 1980) and Chinese Rare Books in American Collections (New York, 1984). He delivered the inaugural Delisle lectures on the history of the book at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in 1997, and served as Associate Editor for The Oxford Companion to the Book (Oxford, 2010). In the fall semester of 2012, he began teaching a graduate seminar on The History of the Book in China at Princeton University.

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