Arts and Culture
The late Qing period into the early Republican period saw the circulation of a cheap form of reading material for poorer readers. Known as “bun-booth books”, they were sold in bun shops and sometimes function as wrapping-paper. More pamphlet than book, they were very small – about the size of the palm of the hand, and ran to only 4 to 20 pages in length. Unlike traditional Chinese thread bound books, “bun-booth books” were simply glued along one edge. Despite their rough manufacture, they still made the publishers and sometimes their address prominent on the cover page, and copyright was also frequently mentioned on the back cover. They were also typically printed on poor quality paper and the printing characteristically features unorthodox versions of characters as well as slang expressions – and as a result they were overlooked by book collectors or connoisseurs and are largely absent in nationally important libraries, nor much discussed by scholars from both China and the West.
While the content of bun-booth books ranges over most aspects of commoners’ everyday lives, I am particularly interested in exploring what they convey in regard to the love- and sex-lives of commoner women, which appears to have been a common topic. How did this type of work portray and judge matters such as adultery, incest, illegitimate births, and many other transgressions against the standard morality of the day? The paper will draw upon a preliminary survey of bun-booth books from libraries in Taiwan, Beijing, St Petersburg, and Helsinki.