Art by the Book
Painting Manuals and the Leisure Life in Late Ming China
Sometime before 1579, Zhou Lujing, a professional writer living in abustling commercial town in southeastern China, published a series oflavishly illustrated books, which constituted the first multigenrepainting manuals in Chinese history. Their popularity was immediate andtheir contents and format were widely reprinted and disseminated in anumber of contemporary publications. Focusing on Zhou's work,Art by the Book describes how such publications accommodatedthe cultural taste and demands of the general public, and shows howpainting manuals functioned as a form in which everything from icons ofpopular culture to graphic or literary cliche was presented to bothgratify and shape the sensibilities of a growing reading public. As aspecial commodity of early modern China, when cultural standing wasmeasured by a person's command of literati taste and lore, paintingmanuals provided nonelite readers with a device for enhancing socialcapital.
J. P. Park builds on important recent research on social status,economic development, and print publishing in late imperial China toshow how a world of social meaning is evident in the literary subgenreof painting manuals, and provides insight into the links between arthistory, print culture, and social history.
The printed manuals are situated within the wider horizons of late Ming thought, literature, tastes, fashions, values, and lifestyles. Thus, in addition to students of late imperial Chinese art history, this book should appeal to those interested in later Chinese literary, social, and cultural history, to readers interested in the history of the book, and to students of early modern cultural and social theory in comparative context.
Art by the Book is a significant contribution to our understanding of the way taste, status, and a growing urban sphere changed the content of elite self-understanding in 16th- and 17th-century China. By constantly cross-cutting between social history and the content and style of the painting manuals, Park demonstrates how even those outside the literati orbit could begin to take on the aura of the highest elites.
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