Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2014

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

East Asian Languages and Culture: Chinese

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This study examines the reproduction and consumption of popular playsXixiang ji(The Story of the Western Wing) andPipa ji(The Lute) as a related pair in seventeenth-century China. During this period, a thriving economy and rapid urbanization stimulated the expansion of commercial publishing. A book market flourished with a bewildering variety of texts and pictures and inventive regroupings of existing materials. Seventeenth-century China has long been recognized as an age of individual creativity, with the elite literati as primary agents, but this study revises the picture by directing attention to the appropriation and transformation of the cultural ideal of "creativity" through the manufacturing and marketing of cultural objects, books in particular. The pairing and repackaging of old plays discussed in this study point to shifting notions of creativity that were driven by competition among book producers, that took shape in the interactive networks of publishers, commentators, and illustrators, and that imparted a sense of freshness and up-to-date appeal via imitation and ingenious recycling.

Despite the common assumption that new works of drama such asThe Peony Pavilionembodies the creativity of the late Ming, my study shows that the comparative ranking of a pair of old plays,Xixiang jiandPipa ji, was at the core of the literati discourse on creativity and key to their claims to cultural authority. I study book producers' innovations to reframeXixiang jiandPipa jiin "paired editions", a topic rarely touched upon by previous studies. The books discussed in this dissertation include five paired editions ofXixiang jiandPipa jithat create different interrelationships between commentary, play text, and illustration, two correlated Books of Genius, and playful eight-legged essays onXixiang jiandPipa ji. These texts help us rethink creativity in the context of printing in which the boundaries between creation and imitation are deliberately blurred, the idea of "newness" contingent upon reading abilities, the books a hybridized mix that stimulates multiple, conflicting and occasionally far-flung interpretations. The discussion treats the new imprints of old plays as sites where the creative potentials of literati connoisseurs, commercial publishers, commentators and painters from the locally famous to the obscure converged and competed to influence the reading process.

Paired editions ofXixiang jiandPipa jioffer a unique perspective on the impact of woodblock printing on Chinese cultural life. When I point out the editions' links to other genres of printing and to poetry, painting, and calligraphy, I emphasize skills of intertextual, cross-generic, and cross-media imagination that would have been an indispensable part of culture in late imperial China, namely, the sensitivity to permeable boundaries of arts and genres. The recognition of multiple creativities in the historical context of seventeen-century China complicates the division of "elite" and "popular" culture. While the elites constantly redefined their aesthetic norms against aspirants for privileged social and cultural statuses, in the processes their membership already underwent profound change. The influx of creative energies from different social groups practically rewrote the terms of cultural excellence and redrew social boundaries.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Robert E Hegel

Committee Members

Beata Grant, Robert Henke, Emma Kafalenos, Steven Miles, Jamie Newhard


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