China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - Surfaces for Rent: The Literary Advertisement of Things in Late Ming China

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Washington Room 6, Exhibit Level

During the late Ming, manufacturers of popular commodities – from tea products to writing stationery – started to solicit literary endorsements from contemporary poets. This paper explores how classical literary forms like the encomium (zan) and inscription (ming) were consequently repurposed to serve as jingles and promotional supplements for commercial trademarks. Focusing on a network of entrepreneurial salesmen from sixteenth century Huizhou, I examine how literary advertisements were publicized in a range of new material formats from handbills (fangdan) and package stickers (guotie), to the inscribed surfaces of artifacts themselves. The paper shows how hired poets contributed to the development of sophisticated forms of branding, while exploring the far-reaching impact of these innovative trademarking practices on the field of literary activity in early modern China. This collaboration between poets and merchant-artisans ultimately raised new questions over who properly owned the “brand” as an instrument for the assertion of commercial proprietorship and a device for the regulation of serially produced consumer goods. 

Thomas Kelly

University of Michigan, Michigan

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