China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Corporeal Author and the Emergence of Authorial Property

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

This paper analyzes the function of a piece of cover art, a portrait of the publisher that appeared on a series of commercial imprints in late sixteenth century China. Yu Xiangdou (ca. 1560-1637), one of the most successful commercial publishers of that time, put portraits of himself on the covers of several books that he published. Although scholars agree that adorning the covers of books with portraits promoted sales, the question remains why the cover portraits would depict the publisher’s face, not the author’s. Yu Xiangdou’s portraits were less a realistic rendering of himself as an individual than a formulaic sketch of the cultural persona of an author in general. It testifies that his self-fashioning as an author embodied the increasing convergence between authorship and proprietorship, and between immaterial authorial credit and tangible authorial property. By situating this portrait in the historical juncture in which the rapidly expanding commercial book market required to redefine the notion of authorial property, this paper argues that the publisher’s choice to depict himself signals his assertion of both intellectual and financial ownership of the volumes that he printed. 

Suyoung Son

Cornell University, New York


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2 - Corporeal Author and the Emergence of Authorial Property

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