China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
The pursuit of “useful knowledge” was not only the focus of Western societies from the mid-eighteenth century onwards, but also common practice in Ming, Qing, and Republican China, as evidenced by numerous miscellaneous popular manuals that were circulated during this period. The commercial success of these manuals lies largely in the fact that they met the growing pragmatic needs of Chinese society and were pertinent to the everyday life of the masses at that time. Some titles remained in great demand and were republished decades or centuries after their first publication. The changes manifested in subsequent editions of the same title reflect distinct transformation in various fields of Chinese life. This evolution of “useful knowledge” of a particular subject enables one to construct a “social history of knowledge” in China. To facilitate an inquiry into the genealogy of “useful knowledge,” this panel presents one general review of “how-to” manuals based on collections held at local school libraries, as well as three case studies respectively based on different editions of legal, literary, and epistolary manuals. By highlighting these manuals and revisiting certain key texts, this panel aims to show in detail the ways in which these manuals were composed to envisage and meet the readers’ needs, tastes, and queries through the use of language, layout, and illustrations; and to illuminate broader sociocultural implications embedded in these popular manuals.