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Title: Books, reading, and knowledge in Ming China
Author: Dai, Lianbin
ISNI:       0000 0003 8034 0373
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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The art of reading and its application to knowledge acquisition and innovation by elites have been largely neglected by historians of print culture and reading in late imperial China (1368-1911). Unlike most studies, which are concerned more with the implied reader and individual reading experience, the present study assumes that the actual reader and the social, cultural and epistemic dimensions of reading practices are the central issues of a history of reading in China. That is, while the art of reading was internalized by the individual, his learning and application of it had social, cultural and epistemic features. At a time when secular reading practices in Renaissance England were informed by Erasmian principles, Ming literati, regardless of their different philosophical stances, were being trained in an art of reading proposed by Zhu Xi (1130-1200), whose Neo-Confucian philosophy had been esteemed as orthodox since the fourteenth century. Transformations and challenges in interpreting and applying his art did not hinder its general reception among elite readers. Its common employment determined the practitioner’s epistemic frame and manner of knowledge innovation. My dissertation consists of five chapters bracketed with an introduction and conclusion. Chapter One discusses Zhu’s theory of reading and the implied pattern of acquiring and innovating knowledge, based on a careful reading of his writings and conversations. Chapter Two describes the transmission of Zhu’s theory from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. During its transmission, Zhu’s art was reedited, rephrased, and even readapted by both government agencies and individual authors with different intentions and agendas. Chapter Three focuses on the reception of Zhu’s theory of reading by 1500 and argues that the moral end of reading eventually triumphed over the intellectual one in early Ming Confucian philosophy. Chapter Four explores the affinity of Ming philosophers of mind with Zhu’s theory in their reading concepts and practices from 1500 to the mid-seventeenth century. Despite their attempts to separate themselves intellectually from the Song tradition, Ming philosophers of mind followed Zhu’s rules for reading in their intellectual practices. Chapter Five outlines the reading habits and knowledge landscape based on a statistical survey of extant Ming imprints. Despite some deviations, the Ming reading habits and knowledge framework largely accorded with Zhu’s theory and its Ming adaptations. The continuity of reading habits from Zhu’s time to the seventeenth century, I conclude, inspires us to rethink the Ming apostasy from the Song tradition. The particularity of scholarly knowledge acquisition and innovation in Ming-Qing China by the eighteenth century was not invented by Ming-Qing scholars but anticipated by Zhu through his theory of reading. With respect to late imperial China, the history of reading, together with the history of knowledge, is yet to be fruitfully explored. With this dissertation, I hope to be able to make a contribution to the understanding of the East Asian orthodox habit of reading as represented by Zhu’s admirers. By placing my investigation in the context of the history of knowledge, I also hope to contribute to the understanding of the relationship of reading to the way that knowledge evolved in traditional China. Intellectual historians tended to consider the Ming Confucian tradition as having broken off from the Cheng-Zhu tradition, but at least in reading habits and practices Ming elite readers perpetuated Zhu’s theory of reading and the knowledge framework it implied.
Supervisor: Brook, Timothy ; De Weerdt, Hilde Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History of Asia & Far East ; Intellectual History ; Chinese ; history of reading ; history of the book ; history of knowledge ; reading style ; art of reading ; Zhu Xi (1130-1200) ; Neo-Confucianism ; intellectual life ; Ming China (1368-1644)