A Social History of the Chinese Book: Books and Literati by Joseph McDermott

By Joseph McDermott

This booklet bargains with a variety of matters at the background of the booklet in overdue imperial China (1000 to 1800), customarily all in favour of literati guides and readers within the decrease Yangzi delta.

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Nonetheless, he paid close attention to the actual work practices of Chinese woodblock carvers and came away impressed: The block, after having been smoothly planed, is spread over with a glutinous paste; when the paper is applied and frequently rubbed, till it becomes dry. The paper is then removed, as much of it as can be got away, and the writing is found adhering to the board, in an inverted form. The whole is now covered with oil, to make the letters appear more vivid and striking; and the engraver proceeds to his business.

Within the overall process of imprint production from Song times onward, the carvers as a group accounted for most of the wages paid to the four types of artisans involved in imprint production. Yet, even if their share might total nine or ten times more than, say, the payment for scribes, the average scribe nonetheless could do the work far more quickly than a carver (transcribing, by one estimate, 2,500 characters a day)121 and on an annual basis would probably have earned considerably more than the ordinary carver.

93 Since the first detailed Chinese account of the process of book production dates from 1947, the lack of any Ming or Qing source confirming such a division of carving labor need not rule out its practice then. 95 In sum, we should allow for a variety of carving practices associated with the increasing use of the artisanal characters from the mid-Ming, as determined by availability of carvers, their varying levels of expertise, their work schedules, the production budget, and other local factors.

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