Writing, Publishing, and Reading Local Gazetteers in Imperial China, 1100-1700.

Author:Bussotti, Michela
Position:Book review

Writing, Publishing, and Reading Local Gazetteers In Imperial China, 1100-1700. By JOSEPH R. DENNIS. Harvard East Asian Monographs, vol. 379. Cambridge, Mass.: HARVARD UNIVERSITY ASIA CENTER, HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2015. Pp. xvi + 390. $49.95.

Joseph Dennis's book on Chinese gazetteers (difangzhi [phrase omitted], local gazetteers or local histories) is the synthesis of many years of research on this subject. This research began with his doctoral studies, when he set out to fill the information gap in Western academic work about the production, circulation, and "use" of this category of historical literature. Dennis avoids using gazetteers as source material for research on specific topics, but rather uses them as objects of study in themselves to analyse certain key questions that he mentions in the introduction: the dissemination of knowledge in late Imperial China; the relationship between local societies and the central state or between the central state and peripheral regions; and the Chinese publishing industry (p. 3). Despite the title, Dennis essentially deals with gazetteers from the end of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), and his presentation does not cover the entirety of the subject, but focuses on certain points. This is probably an unavoidable choice, considering the breadth of the subject and the characteristic contents of gazetteers, which, although they may at first sight seem similar and repetitive, often present specific elements in each edition. He organizes this presentation into seven chapters brought together into three parts: "Impetus to Compile," "Production Process," and "Reading and Using Gazetteers." The volume also provides numerous maps, figures, and tables, and concludes with an extensive bibliography.

The first chapter summarizes governmental initiatives, starting with operations undertaken by Imperial order, and includes gazetteers dealing with the entire Empire, for example, the comprehensive gazetteers of the Yuan and Ming dynasties, Huang Yuan da yitongzhi [phrase omitted] (1279) and Da Ming yitongzhi [phrase omitted] (1461), as well as the guidelines for the compilation of local gazetteers promulgated in the years 1412 and 1418. The second part of this chapter focuses on local compiladons ordered by officials of superior rank in the territorial regions. In some cases, officials who wanted to take over peripheral areas and assimilate the non-Chinese population found a way...

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