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Burning with Reverence: The Economics and Aesthetics of Words in Qing (1644–1911) China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Abstract

Educated individuals in Qing-dynasty China frequently organized “word-cherishing” societies to collect and dispose of paper with writing on it respectfully. This practice, which was found in Jiangnan-area centers of culture as well as in Chinese communities in diaspora as far removed as San Francisco, reveals a preoccupation among the literati with questions of commensurability between potentially incompatible registers of social meaning. In its emphasis on individual written words (zi) rather than a more general concept of writing (wen), this practice is also indicative of the challenges that literati faced in attempting to compose civil service examination essays in parallel form. It further suggests that the concept of the book and the concept of the fragment of text develop in mutually reinforcing fashion, and it hints at the new significance accorded concrete questions of technique in Chinese literary criticism of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. (AD)

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2006

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