The Chinese Common Reader: Joan Judge 15 Feb 2018 6pm

In Search of the Chinese Common Reader: Usuable Knowledge & Wondrous Ignorance in the Age of Global Science

How did late Qing and Republican Chinese common readers understand science, illness, and the natural world? To what extent did new concepts introduced into China from the mid-to late-19th century become integrated into the everyday lives of poorer urbanites and lower-level local elites? What can an investigation of these questions tell us about the ways knowledge was transmitted, and the degree of epistemological, social, and cultural integration in this period?

Join us to hear from Professor Joan Judge of York University, Canada in this lecture entitled In Search of the Chinese Common Reader: Usable Knowledge and Wondrous Ignorance in the Age of Global Science. In her presentation she will consider one of the great paradoxes of twentieth century Chinese history: the rhetorical prominence of “the people” in dynastic, reformist, Republican and communist discourse, and the relative invisibility of non-elite ways of knowing in the historical record.

It searches for the Chinese common reader in three distinct places: in the materiality of cheaply produced texts-books as objects; in the usable-and wondrous-information packaged in their crowded pages—texts as meaning; and in the spaces where this knowledge was consumed—reading as cultural practice. The texts include cheap, string-bound, lithographed books such as wanbao quanshu 萬寶全書 (comprehensive compendia of myriad treasures), together with daily-use, letter-writing, household, and health manuals. Their contents include age-old cosmologies and fanciful representations of foreigners, together with treatments for opium addiction, methods for preventing cholera, and ways to graft a plant. The apprentices, workers, housewives, and lower-level bureaucrats who consumed this knowledge often did so on the fly, in the streets. Sitting, standing or leaning at street-side bookstalls, they avidly sought both the useful information and the marvelous diversion necessary to negotiate the epistemological uncertainty—and promise—of China’s revolutionary twentieth century.


Joan Judge is Professor in the Department of History at York University in Toronto, Canada. She is the author of Republican Lens: Gender, Visuality, and Experience in the Early Chinese Periodical Press (2015), The Precious Raft of History: The Past, the West, and the Woman Question in China (2008), Print and Politics: ‘Shibao’ and the Culture of Reform in Late Qing China (1996), and co-editor of Women and the Periodical Press in China’s Global Twentieth Century: A Space of Their Own? (forthcoming), and Beyond Exemplar Tales: Women’s Biography in Chinese History (2011). She is currently engaged in a project with the working title “In Search of the Chinese Common Reader: Usable Knowledge and Wondrous Ignorance in the Age of Global Science, 1870-1955″.

The venue for this lecture will be Seminar Room LG.09, lower ground floor, David Hume Tower

Please book your seat via this Eventbrite link.