H-145. The Book in Ming China: History & Analysis

Martin Heijdra He Bian Soren Edgren

Course Length: 30 hours
Course Week: 21–26 July 2024
Format: in person, Princeton University in Princeton, NJ
Fee: This seminar is supported by a generous grant from the James P. Geiss and Margaret Y. Hsu Foundation. All admitted students will receive a scholarship to cover the full cost of tuition.

This course is intended for scholars in History, Literature, Art, Religion, or other fields, already familiar with Ming studies, who are looking to get ideas for their current or future research projects. The course will introduce the collection of some 2,000 Ming editions held at the East Asian Library and elsewhere in the Princeton University Library system. Princeton’s collection of books published during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 CE) is unique in the world in its breadth and depth of coverage, with special strengths in Buddhism, literary compilations, and medical and other scientific texts. Participants will have the chance to investigate opportunities for research in Princeton’s East Asian Rare Books Collection and generate ideas for current and future research projects in Ming Studies.

The morning sessions will offer an abbreviated history of books in China from the beginning of book production in East Asia during the first millennium BCE until the end of the twentieth century. In addition to describing the physical aspects of traditional Chinese books and their evolution over many centuries, the class will also explore their social and cultural roles as bearers of text and transmitters of knowledge within the context of China’s long and complex history. Subjects treated will include the invention of paper, manuscript culture, woodblock printing and the forms of movable type, book forms and format, commercial and non-commercial publishing, languages and script in publications, texts vs. paratexts, and the wave of Western influences on the Chinese book beginning in the nineteenth century.

Afternoons will be focused on the actual holdings of Ming editions in Princeton, in particular its Gest Collection. The class will begin by introducing the basic characteristics of Ming books, including regional and genre-specific patterns of book production between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. Participants will then be presented with a wide representative variety of both known major works and more ordinary items of the wider field of Ming editions.

The course is open to all applicants from advanced Ph.D. students to established scholars who can make a case that they would benefit from the class. Knowledge of the Chinese language and the Ming Studies field in general are required. Toward the end of the class, participants will give a preliminary report of their findings and plans for future research.

Course History

Martin Heijdra, He Bian & Soren Edgren co-teach this course for the first time.


  • Martin Heijdra
  • He Bian
  • Soren Edgren

Martin Heijdra

Martin Heijdra studied Sinology and Japanology at Leiden, Beijing, and Kyōto before receiving a Ph.D. in Ming History at Princeton, partly published in the Cambridge History of China. From 1988, he was the Chinese Bibliographer at the East Asian Library at Princeton; he became its Director in 2015. In those capacities, he published on various aspects of the history of the East Asian book and non-Western typography, such as “Technology, Culture, and Economics: Movable Type Versus Woodblock Printing in East Asia” (in: Isobe Akira, ed., Higashi Ajia Shuppan Bunka Kenkyū: Niwatazumi, Tōkyō, 2004, pp. 223–40), and “The Development of Modern Typography in East Asia, 1850–2000,” East Asian Library Journal XI:2 (2004), pp. 100–68. More recently, he oversaw the publication of the updated catalog of pre-1796 Chinese rare books at Princeton, Pulinsidun daxue tushuguan cang Zhongwen shanben shumu, Beijing, 2017, 2 volumes. He is the Book Review Editor for the journal East Asian Publishing and Society, Treasurer of the Society for Ming Studies, and Advisory Board Member for the Bibliography of Asian Studies. For 20 years, he was a Board Member of the Geiss Hsu Foundation, which has become a major sponsor for activities in the field of Late Imperial China.

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He Bian

He BIAN (Ch. 邊和) is Associate Professor in History and East Asian Studies at Princeton University. She received her Ph.D. in History of Science from Harvard University in 2014. Her first book, Know Your Remedies: Pharmacy and Culture in Early Modern China, was published by Princeton University Press in spring 2020 and won Honorable Mention for the Joseph Levenson Prize in Chinese studies (Pre-1900). Book history is central to her research, and she is currently at work on two more projects related to the changing knowledge landscape in China’s early modern era, on natural history and medical recipes, respectively. She has also published articles related to various aspects of book history in Late Imperial China, Early Science and Medicine, and the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies.

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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 and has 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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