From Folk Opera to the Printed Book in Early Twentieth-Century China

By Anne E. McLaren.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: February 10, 2017 $US5.00

This study examines a genre of printed song booklets on romantic themes that were extremely popular in urban coastal China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In China, vernacular texts were traditionally printed using wood blocks (xylography). However, by the early twentieth century, publishers increasingly adopted Western forms of lithographic technology. Modern ideas were imported as well. The focus of this study will be on dramatic texts based on a form of folk opera that circulated in Shanghai and the hinterland. A common theme of folk opera texts were scandals and topical events of the era. These stories were often based on those in popular circulation in folk performances across the Yangzi delta. This study investigates how texts on traditional themes were rewritten to meet the needs of a new consumer market in townships of the delta. Publishers often added the term “improved” in story titles to signal distinctiveness from past practices. This study offers insight into the role of Chinese publishers in recycling and reshaping “traditional” literary material to meet the needs of the market at a time of great social change.

Keywords: Publishing Practices, Readerships, China, History of the Book, Popularization

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2017, pp.29-38. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: February 10, 2017 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 665.520KB)).

Anne E. McLaren

Professor, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia


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