A Market for Manuscripts: Scribal Publishing and Entertainment Literature in 19th century Beijing (LU Zhenzhen)
Abstract: In the 19th century, which lies late in the history of commercial printing in China, a flourishing literature of entertainment circulated through the handwritten medium in the urban center of Beijing. Thousands of manuscripts collected in the area in the early 20th century trace their origins to shops which specialized in the handwritten production of stories and songs, nourished by the vibrant musical and theatrical culture of the capital. In this talk I provide a look at Baiben Zhang (“Mr. Zhang of the hundred volumes”), the most prominent of its milieu, and its operational model from production and branding and to pricing and distribution. With products spanning the range of northern performance genres and titles numbering at least in the hundreds, the success of Baiben Zhang calls to attention important channels of commercial manuscript production and distribution in the late Qing. I conclude with questions on the distinctness of Beijing as a locale, the circulation of popular literature in the urban setting, and factors behind the continuity of scribal operations in an age perceived to be dominated by print.