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Lecture: "Thinking With Cheap Print: Usable Knowledge and Mass Politics in China’s Long Republic"

May 07, 2019 06:00 pm to 08:00 pm
Organiser: Directorate

Speaker: Prof. Joan Judge, York University, Toronto


Cheap print challenges our understanding of the act of reading, the circulation of knowledge and culture, and the nature and function of print itself. Produced to sell to the broadest possible audience, it nonetheless brings us closer to the common reader. The centerpiece of the broader project this paper comes out of, common readers are defined here as individuals with basic general literacy who did not read texts for a living.

Prof. Joan Judge uses cheap print as a quasi-ethnographic entry point into the knowledge and reading culture of these common readers. She subjects hastily produced, error-ridden, plagarized works to the same kind of care scholars subject fine texts: with attention to publishers, editions, paratexts, conventions, rhetorical appeals to readers, and appropriations across genres. From these micro-glimpses into the epistemological universe of the common reader, a number of macro questions about the interconnections among cheap print, the dissemination of knowledge, and the politics of enlightenment in China’s long Republic can be asked. Given the nature of the material and the elusiveness of the common reader, this will inevitably be a project in fragments.

In her paper, Prof. Judge thinks with two fragments: pieces of the history of one of the most prolific producers of cheap print in the long Republic, the Guangyi shuju 廣益書局 (“Kwang Yih Book Co. Ltd”), and a repeatedly reprinted compilation published by Guangyi, the Mishuhai  秘術海 (An ocean of secret tips) which was in print from 1912 to at least 1993.

About the speaker:

Joan Judge is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and Professor in the Department of History at York University in Toronto. A cultural historian of print and knowledge in modern China, she is the author of Republican Lens: Gender, Visuality, and Experience in the Early Chinese Periodical Press (University of California Press, 2015), The Precious Raft of History: The Past, the West, and the Woman Question in China (Stanford University Press, 2008), Print and Politics: ‘Shibao’ and the Culture of Reform in Late Qing China (Stanford University Press, 1996), and co-editor of Women and the Periodical Press in China’s Global Twentieth Century: A Space of Their Own? (Cambridge University Press, 2018), and Beyond Exemplar Tales: Women’s Biography in Chinese History (University of California Press, 2011). She is currently engaged in a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada with the working title is “In Search of the Chinese Common Reader: Usable Knowledge and Wondrous Ignorance in the Age of Global Science, 1895-1955.”


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