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Dukes and Nobles Above, Scholars Below: Beijing’s Old Booksellers’ District Liulichang 琉璃廠, 1769-1941—and Its Influence on 20th-Century Shanghai’s Book Trade

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Books and their production were a key part of the late imperial commodity economy and of the gentry lifestyle that eventually extended into the Republican (1912-1949) era. Liulichang, the capital’s bookselling district, was positioned from the mid-eighteenth century onward as the empire’s premier book emporium. It remained well known to intellectuals and book merchants during late Qing and Republican China as well. In the first three sections of the essay, I show how this important commodity marketplace reflected and influenced late imperial Chinese society on cultural, commercial, and manufacturing levels. Liulichang is seen to have been a cultural center whose essential conservatism can be found in its approach to the commerce and publishing at its core. Both book commerce and publishing are shown to have been enhanced, but not transformed, by the technological options at hand. In the article’s fourth section, I suggest not only how Liulichang’s book dealers had a direct and personal influence on the development of Shanghai’s antiquarian book market, but also that Liulichang served as a cultural prototype for Republican Shanghai’s Wenhuajie (Culture-and-Education Streets, or simply Booksellers’ District). Just as each district functioned as a kind of bellwether for literate, educated consumers of the period in which it was prominent, so too, I argue, Beijing’s booksellers, printers, and publishers paved the way for those who emerged at Shanghai at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Affiliations: 1: The Ohio State


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