Dukes and Nobles Above, Scholars Below: Beijing’s Old Booksellers’ District Liulichang 琉璃廠, 1769-1941—and Its Influence on 20th-Century Shanghai’s Book Trade

in East Asian Publishing and Society
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Books and their production were a key part of the late imperial commodity economy and of the gentry lifestyle that eventually extended into the Republican (1912-1949) era. Liulichang, the capital’s bookselling district, was positioned from the mid-eighteenth century onward as the empire’s premier book emporium. It remained well known to intellectuals and book merchants during late Qing and Republican China as well. In the first three sections of the essay, I show how this important commodity marketplace reflected and influenced late imperial Chinese society on cultural, commercial, and manufacturing levels. Liulichang is seen to have been a cultural center whose essential conservatism can be found in its approach to the commerce and publishing at its core. Both book commerce and publishing are shown to have been enhanced, but not transformed, by the technological options at hand. In the article’s fourth section, I suggest not only how Liulichang’s book dealers had a direct and personal influence on the development of Shanghai’s antiquarian book market, but also that Liulichang served as a cultural prototype for Republican Shanghai’s Wenhuajie (Culture-and-Education Streets, or simply Booksellers’ District). Just as each district functioned as a kind of bellwether for literate, educated consumers of the period in which it was prominent, so too, I argue, Beijing’s booksellers, printers, and publishers paved the way for those who emerged at Shanghai at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Dukes and Nobles Above, Scholars Below: Beijing’s Old Booksellers’ District Liulichang 琉璃廠, 1769-1941—and Its Influence on 20th-Century Shanghai’s Book Trade

in East Asian Publishing and Society



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SunHaiwangcun renwu34.




On Wenhuajie see ReedGutenberg in Shanghai16-20 280-88.


Li Demao in Ichinose‘Shindai Rurishō’30.




Alcock‘The Peking Gazette’245-256 341-357.




Ibid. 131.


Ibid. 123.


Ibid. 131.


ElmanFrom philosophy to philology8 12.


Quite possibly Zhang writing in the 1950swas putting a post-1949 politically correct spin on those long-ago events.


RawskiEducation and popular literacy116-17. A similar point is made in Brokaw ‘Commercial woodblock publishing’ 39-58.


RawskiEducation and popular literacy121. Esherick Reform and revolution in China 125 describes Ye Dehui as ‘a leading bibliophile and publisher of obscure works’ who became notorious as Hunan’s leading rice hoarder on the eve of the 1911 Revolution. Esherick continues ‘[u]ltimately Ye reaped his just reward: in 1927 he was executed during the Communist-led peasant movement in Hunan.’


Alcock‘The Peking Gazette’252-53.


Ibid. 170.


Ibid. 159.


Ibid.157163 168.


Ibid.178. On Liu Shipei see Boorman Biographical dictionary of Republican China [hereafter bdrc] 2:411-13.


Ibid.162. Another publisher (165) brought out an illustrated 繡像 version in the same Guangxu period.


Ibid.165. According to Widmer citing Sun Kaidi’s Zhongguo tongsu xiaoshuo shumu Annals of heroic sons and daughters was first published in 1878 by Juzhentang (personal communication 13 November 2014). See also Widmer’s ‘Honglou meng ying and its publisher’ 35 39-41.




Ibid.166187. For a study of the Taishang ganying pian see Brokaw Ledgers of merit.




Ibid.163. Overall the small number of bilingual editions listed in the district’s nineteenth-century publishing output appears to testify to the Sinification of the Manchus.










JiZhongguo chuban jianshi306. Less prominent sites of Chinese antiquarian bookselling included Liaocheng 聊城 southwest of Jinan where the book market had opened in the Ming and by the late Qing was known for publishing and selling works used to prepare for the civil service exams; and Chengdu where the book market’s fifty firms including many booksellers from Jiangxi sprawled over three city blocks. As early as 1884 a native of Yibin 宜賓 Sichuan opened a lead-type and lithographic shop here but a major part of his business was sending Sichuan books to Shanghai where lithographic firms like Dianshizhai 點石齋 Tongwen 同文 and Feiyingguan 蜚英館 turned them into litho-editions which were then sent back to Sichuan for sale. At the time this manner of business was referred to as ‘zouguang shang’ 走廣商 or ‘wide-marching/ranging business’. In about 1900 Shanghai’s Commercial Press sent a representative to open a branch in Chengdu. To make contact with the local book merchants he joined the Wenchanghui 文昌會 (Wenchang Association) and sold at a twenty percent discount to its members with the result that the old-fashioned local booksellers’ association helped the Westernized Commercial Press prosper in Sichuan. See Ji Zhongguo chuban jianshi 310-16.


This summary derives from JiZhongguo chuban jianshi308. A photo-reprinted Laixunge book catalogue with the Weihaiwei Road address dating from the early 1940s can be seen in Dou ed. Beijing Liulichang jiushudian gushu jiage mulu vol. 1.


JiZhongguo chuban jianshi308. Ji notes that in those days antiquarian bookstores did not put a price on books themselves but used instead a code. The price code used by Laixunge was a line of ten characters from a poem by the Tang painter/poet Wang Wei 王維 and this poem had been chosen by Zheng Zhenduo. Born in present-day Wenzhou 溫州 (Boorman bdrc 1:267 erroneously reports that he was born in Fuzhou; see Chen Zheng Zhenduo lun 13-14 for a recent more accurate account) Zheng Minister of Culture under the prc from 1954-58 spent the Anti-Japanese War (1937-45) years in Shanghai with a false identity and assumed name. Trying to save national cultural treasures he ‘haunted the bookshops of Shanghai during this period of uncertainty when many private owners were forced to sell their libraries.’ His greatest discovery came during the first summer of the war when he located and convinced the Nationalist government to buy a collection of Yuan and Ming operas that originated from the library of the eighteenth-century Suzhou bibliophile Huang Peilie 黃丕烈 (1763-1825). Zheng later penned an account of this period called Zheju sanji 蟄居散記 (Random reminiscences on life in hibernation 1951). Chen Fukang comments that both Japanese and American imperialists sought Chinese libraries at this time and quotes the (unnamed) head of the Library of Congress’ Oriental Division to the effect that ‘the most priceless Chinese old books . . . are now coming in batches into America . . . we anticipate that future researchers in Chinese history and philosophy will not go to Beiping but to Washington’ (69). Chen also notes that the opera collection was bought partly due to the Zheng-organized appeals of Zhang Yuanji 張元濟 (1867-1959) of the Commercial Press and others to Chongqing.


JiZhongguo chuban jianshi310. Li’s shop the Zhonghou shuzhuang in Jiujiang Road’s Minfeng Lane first appears in official records in 1917. Registered solely in Li’s name no mention is made of the Wenyoutang. See Shanghai Municipal Archives 313.1.23 ‘Shanghai shuye tongye yilanbiao’ 上海書業同業一覽表.


JiZhongguo chuban jianshi310. In 1932 Chen Naiqian edited a four-juan catalogue of the Yangzhou collection called Cehailou jiuben shumu 測海樓舊本書目.


JiZhongguo chuban jianshi311.


Ibid. 311.

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