China and Inner Asia
“Grassroots reading” refers to reading practices that are widespread but considered culturally insignificant. Associated with low social status and limited education, grassroots reading in China has been linked over time to certain genres (fiction, drama), a certain linguistic register ("the vernacular"), or certain motivations (entertainment, profit).
Studying grassroots reading across historical periods and in different locations helps us understand the shifting boundaries between high and low culture. Drama and fiction evolved over time to become canonized and respectable. In the early PRC, attempts were made to elevate folk culture to the highest social echelon. In today’s online culture, the demise of textual in favour of visual expression is challenging the social gateway function of reading altogether.
This roundtable brings together researchers and practitioners whose work focuses on the texts, material, and readership of grassroots work. Cynthia Brokaw will discuss the texts and production sites of commercial woodblock print culture in the late Ming and Qing and the reasons why the “grassroots” publishing of this period is important for the study of modern China. Christopher Rea analyses how the early PRC party-state promoted grass-roots reading of crime fiction and related genres as a method of devolving public security to “the people,” who were called upon to detect and report on spies, imposters, and counterrevolutionaries. Yuyu Yang investigates the research rationale of the ERC funded project “Politics of Reading in the PRC”. Chen will focus on second-hand book selling and reading in the post-Mao PRC. Michel Hockx will look at the association of grassroots material with obscenity and its censorship on the Chinese internet. Together we discuss what grassroots readers read, who the grassroots readers have been throughout different regions and time, and how influential grassroots literature has been.
This roundtable is a preparation for a proposed larger conference ‘Grassroots Reading Across Time and Region in Asia’ to be held in 2020.