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To Count Grains Of Sand On The Ocean Floor: Changing Perceptions Of Books And Learning In The Song Dynasty

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Chapter Summary

The focus of this chapter is on the ways that the increased availability of books in eleventh- and twelfth-century China affected ways of thinking about the written word. The author begins by quoting a few sources that suggest how widespread and quantitatively significant was the increase in books, owing largely (but not entirely) to the spread of printing. Sima Guang clearly relished the idea of taking advantage of that potential, evidently intrigued by the prospect of finding in obscure and previously ignored sources historical facts that could enhance understanding of the past. In the long history of literary inquisitions in China, the Song Dynasty probably marks a turning point, when the court became more apprehensive about the threat it perceived in writings by certain individuals and took unprecedented steps to proscribe and destroy such writings.

Keywords: China; printing; Sima Guang; Song Dynasty

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