Unbound Books: Voice, Image, and Cultures of Reading Drama in Seventeenth-Century China

Yinghui Wu
Asian Languages and Cultures
UC Los Angeles

Crossing the disciplinary lines of print culture, sound studies, and visual studies, this monograph is an innovative study of the cultures of reading drama and their pivotal roles in mediating and embodying social change in seventeen-century China. Examining a broad range of woodblock-printed plays, book catalogues, treatises, handbooks, illustrations, and paintings, this monograph explores how reading drama inspired and negotiated multiple processes of change in knowledge reconfiguration, intellectual thinking, pictorial imagination, and in the cultures of singing and “game-playing.” Situating printed drama at the intersection of texts, images, and voices, this study expands into hitherto unexplored areas of reading, visuality, and music, and illuminates their connections in shaping the larger debate over authenticity, agency, and individual and communal identities in late imperial China. By juxtaposing well-known texts with rarely discussed historical and visual materials, this study brings together important threads of inquiry in literary history, social history, woodblock publication, art history, and popular culture into a new approach to Chinese drama. It offers a new lens on the cultural and social formation of seventeenth-century China, and contributes a Chinese perspective to the scholarship on print culture, knowledge production, and reading in the early modern world.