1876–1937. By CHRISTOPHER A. REED. [Vancouver, Toronto: University of British Columbia Press, 2004. xvii, 391 pp. ISBN 1206-9523.]
Shanghai is a book about the industrial revolution in China's print culture and the ensuing rise of print capitalism ‘with Chinese characteristics.’ It offers a coherent and unique account of the introduction, adaptation and eventual imitation of modern, i.e. Western, print technology in China, with the aim of establishing the material basis on which to study the transition of China's ancient literary culture into the industrial age. It reconstructs the history of print technology from the first cast type matrices to the adaptation of the electrotype process, from photo-lithography to the colour-offset press, from the platen press to the rotary printing press, and tells the stories of three of the most dominant lithograph and letterpress publishers of the late Qing and the early Republican period respectively. This is a worthwhile undertaking, exploring an aspect of modern publishing in China, which hitherto has not received the attention it deserves. The study is based on missionary writings, personal reminiscences, collections of source materials, documents on the early book printers' trade organizations from the Shanghai Municipal Archives, and oral history materials (interviews conducted during the 1950s with former printing workshops apprentices). The bibliography also lists a couple of interviews, but unfortunately it is not clear how relevant they are to the story told in the book.
The introduction of lithography into Shanghai by Jesuit missionaries in 1876 plays a pivotal role in this account. Lithography, especially photolithography coming a few years later, was a technology particularly suited to Chinese needs and cheaper than traditional wood-block printing.