The Rules of Prose in Sixteenth-Century China: Tang Shunzhi (1507-1560) as an Anthologist

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Abstract

This paper examines the role of the anthologist in late imperial Chinese print culture. Specifically, it focuses on the sixteenth-century anthologist Tang Shunzhi. Tang’s first place finish in the 1529 metropolitan examinations came at a pivotal moment. As commercial anthology printers responded to an expanding reading public by applying readers’ aids such as punctuation and commentary to increasingly diverse textual corpora, Tang’s distinctive method of annotation was used to ‘reveal’ the rules of Ming examination prose operating universally across a seemingly endless variety of texts. At the same time, Tang’s own belief in universal rules of prose was the product of an educational movement to supplement the narrow and monotonous examination curriculum by providing students with anthologies of ancient literature. These two Tangs—one revealing uniformity within diversity, the other revealing diversity within uniformity—highlight contradictory trends toward both stereotypy and diversification within sixteenth-century print culture more broadly.

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