The Journal of Asian Studies

Research Article

The Printed World: Books, Publishing Culture, and Society in Late Imperial China

Tobie Meyer-Fong


Beginning in the late Ming period, China experienced a surge in the production and consumption of books. Printed pages bound into fascicles and housed in cases moved across space and through the social landscape. Their trajectories illuminate larger social, intellectual, economic, and cultural patterns. They also reveal identities under construction—by readers, writers, publishers, and consumers. This article assesses the expanding field of late imperial Chinese book history in the United States and Japan, with some reference to scholarship in China and Taiwan. It looks at the field's move away from its origins in the history of technology and its increasing engagement with social and cultural questions. In particular, the article highlights the field's focus on the “place” of publishing in late imperial China, construed both in terms of regional orientation and the social position of readers and producers of books.


Tobie Meyer-Fong ( is associate professor in the Department of History at Johns Hopkins University.