Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | China Seminar

A Waste of Woodblocks: Publishing Humour in Late Ming China

Wednesday 15 February 2023
LIAS China Seminar
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


From the mid-1500s onwards, Ming China witnessed a boom in printing and publishing which generated an explosion of fresh intellectual currents, increased the accessibility of all kinds of information and fundamentally altered people’s relationship with knowledge and the written word. This talk will place the spotlight on the little-studied corpus of jokebooks and humour publications that rose up amid this flurry of activity. The publishing boom placed the crucial choice of what kind of material to disseminate in the hands of an ascendent class of world-savvy publishing bosses who presided over print enterprises of varying sizes and levels of influence. Through an examination of the public-facing prefatory materials they composed for their humour publications, the talk will explore how, caught between a humour-hungry readership and inherited circumscriptions of humorous material, publishers made use of the paratextual space to perform a careful yet precarious dance, which on the one hand defended their decision to publish, while on the other was cautious to distance themselves from the material itself.  

About the speaker

Dr. Elizabeth Smithrosser is currently a lecturer at the Leiden Institute for Area Studies. She was awarded her doctorate in 2021 from the University of Oxford for a thesis on the Ming humour publishing scene, and subsequently held positions at the International Institute for Asian Studies and KU Leuven. Her first book, The Misadventures of Master Mugwort: A Joke Book Trilogy from Imperial China will be published later this year, and she writes a column on Tang-Song China for Medievalists.net. 

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