MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Yue Du’s review of The Power of Print in Modern China: Intellectuals and Industrial Publishing from the End of Empire to Maoist State Socialism (Columbia UP, 2019), by Robert Culp. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/yue-du/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.
Kirk A. Denton, editor
By Robert Culp
Reviewed by Yue Du
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright January, 2020)
For Robert Culp, prominent leaders in twentieth-century cultural and political revolutions, such as Hu Shi and Mao Zedong, were not the only major players to implement the cultural transformation of modern China. A group of people Culp calls “petty intellectuals” (小知識分子), who engaged in the production of textbooks, reference books, reprinted classics, and book series at China’s leading commercial publishers, also fundamentally shaped the cultural landscape of China during the late Qing and Republican periods and into the early years of the People’s Republic. Focusing on the Commercial Press (商務印書館), Zhonghua Book Company (中華書局), and other institutions in China’s industrialized publishing sector, The Power of Print in Modern China successfully reconstructs the work lives and cultural activities of editors who were tremendously influential but who have heretofore received inadequate scholarly attention. This reconstruction in turn enables the author to engage with core academic debates on print and media, negotiated power, and modernity in China.
While observing the importance of the introduction of mechanized print technology, Culp distinguishes his work from earlier scholarship (by Christopher Reed and others) by laying out how print industrialism affected the ways in which books were produced and the relationship editors had with their products. To generate a wide range of texts in great numbers and in short periods of time, the most influential publishers in twentieth century China maintained large standing editorial departments, something that made China’s publishing sector globally distinctive. These departments adopted an organizational structure that over time came to resemble the factory assembly line. Staff editors with hybrid classical Chinese and Western educations collaboratively generated new content that they then incorporated into different titles to quickly meet market demand. Culp notes that, on the one hand, this process led to the vast majority of these editors losing control over the dynamics of their labor in this factory-style book production; on the other hand, print industrialism gave these petty intellectuals a direct say in the materials that went into standard products such as textbooks and reference books. Because of these books’ authoritative status, staff editors were able to play a key role in introducing new terms, shaping the modern Chinese lexicon, modeling vernacular writing, and “reorganizing the national heritage” (整理國故). Continue reading