Daily Life for the Common People of China, 1850 to 1950

Understanding Chaoben Culture


In this exciting book, Ronald Suleski introduces daily life for the common people of China in the century from 1850 to 1950. They were semi-literate, yet they have left us written accounts of their hopes, fears, and values. They have left us the hand-written manuscripts ( chaoben 抄本) now flooding the antiques markets in China. These documents represent a new and heretofore overlooked category of historical sources.
Suleski gives a detailed explanation of the interaction of chaoben with the lives of the people. He offers examples of why they were so important to the poor laboring masses: people wanted horoscopes predicting their future, information about the ghosts causing them headaches, a few written words to help them trade in the rural markets, and many more examples are given. The book contains a special appendix giving the first complete translation into English of a chaoben describing the ghosts and goblins that bedeviled the poor working classes.
Open Access


Open Access

Biographical Note

Ronald Suleski (Ph.D., University of Michigan, 1974) is currently Professor of History at Suffolk University, Boston, and Director of the Rosenberg Institute for East Asian Studies there. Among his books is Civil Government in Warlord China: Tradition, Modernization, and Manchuria (Lang Publishing, 2002).

Table of contents

List of Figures Acknowledgments Introduction 1 Contextualizing Chaoben: On the Popular Manuscript Culture of the Late Qing and Republican Period in China 2 Apologia in Chaoben 3 Written in the Margins: Reading into Texts 4 Teacher Xu: Entering a Classroom in Late Qing China 5 A Qing Dynasty Astrologer’s Predictions for the Future 6 Constructing the Family in Republican China: Shandong 1944 7 Mr. Bai and Mr. Qian Earn Their Living: Considering Two Hand-written Notebooks of Matching Couplets from China in the Late Qing and Early Republic 8 The Troublesome Ghosts: Part 1 9 The Troublesome Ghosts: Part 2 10 Concluding Remarks Appendix A. A List of Chaoben in the Author’s Personal Collection Used in This Study Appendix B. Various Categories of Chaoben Not Discussed in the Text Appendix C. Korean and Japanese Chaoben Appendix D. Full Translation of Fifty Days to Encounter the Five Spirits Bibliography Index


All interested in Chinese popular culture at the end of the pre-modern period up to 1950. The book describes popular religious beliefs, fortunetelling, genealogies, celebratory scrolls at holidays, ideas about the conventional morality of the times. It is written for the educated general reader as well as for scholars.


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