Scattered throughout the realm in a great number of provincial courts, Ming imperial clansmen did not wield political or military power. Some among them therefore used their energies to publish books; indeed, the publishing activities of the Ming princes constitute one of many elements of what can be termed “princely culture.” Even though princely imprints formed an insignificant proportion of Ming publications, a large number of them have survived to our day. Based on the examination of approximately 240 such editions, this essay explores the relationships between the princes and the literati who assisted them. It raises questions central to princely publishing: How learned were the princes? What books did they publish? For which audiences and with what objectives? What are the main characteristics of princely publications? Did princes have well-defined publishing strategies? The last section of the essay addresses the heritage of Ming princely publications in the Qing dynasty.
This essay will be published in several installments in East Asian Publishing and Society.