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2005-2006 Visiting Fellows

Peng Xu
University of Chicago

Dear Members of Fellowship Committee,
I am writing to report my research findings during my one-month stay (June 6 - July 8, 2009) in Princeton University supported by the Friends of the Princeton University Library Research Grant. These discoveries, strongly supporting the major hypotheses I will test in my dissertation, entitled "Music, Literature, and Print Culture: The Literati Singing of Kunqu in Late Ming China," will substantially strengthen 1) the chapter which illustrates the social stratification of the Kunqu opera singers in the last one hundred years of the Ming dynasty (ie. 1540s to 1640s), and 2) the chapter about drama publication.

I leafed through twenty-five individual collected works of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Chinese literati in the Gest Library's Hishi Copies of Traditional Chinese Works (photo-reprint of the Naikaku Bunko editions in Japan.) Most useful genres include letters, poetry and travel memoirs. To my surprise, the great majority of the fresh evidence I have found in the Hishi collection do not exist in any of the Chinese scholarship on Kunqu opera or the music life of Ming literati, which is famous for data collecting from literati's writings. One ignored example would be a note Zou Diguang (1550-1626), an elite Kunqu singer and patron, wrote to a less known figure Lu Shuxian, asking him to bring a professional singing teacher for his private troupe consisting of boy Kunqu singers. This short letter clearly suggests the commercialization and singing skills and the professionalization of teaching such skills in the early seventeenth century. Details like this altogether contribute to my goal of drawing a larger picture of the music life of the literati.

The second type of evidence I have explored concerns book history, to be more specific, drama publishing sponsored by literati authors. Epistolary evidence I found has suggested three-step dissemination after a play's completion. First, the author would have ordered his page boys - perhaps also multifunctional boy singers - to handcopy his freshly finished play. A poet sings high praise for his friend's page boy whose calligraphy improved over the years. Such copies were delivered to the author's close friends, friends geographically nearby, or patrons. The second round of friends received woodblock prints self-sponsored by the author. At the same time, these gift scripts were test mounted in the literati friends' private theaters, an important venue through which the new plays gained reputation. Finally, commercial publishers joined in after the first two steps. Conceivably, not every new script obtained commercial copies. Literati authors could have been quite proud of being selected by commercial publishers, as shown in Mei Dingzuo's (1549-1615) case.

I weaved some of the new materials into my talk on July 2. The insightful questions and suggestions I received from the Princeton community - Professor Dietrich Tschanz, Tailoi Ma, Minlei Ye, etc. - will definitely make my project stronger. Special thanks go to Mr. Martin Heijdra, a very knowledgeable librarian at the East Asian Library who not only has been taking care of every request of mine for books during my stay, but also expressed his enthusiastic support for my project in his generous introduction before my presentation.

In addition to the Hishi collection located in the East Asian Library, another happy discovery of mine is the microfilm collection of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Chinese plays in the Firestone Library (original copies preserved in the National Library of China.) Although my home institute owns the same microfilm collection, the Firestone Library uses highly effective computer software which enables me to make selected pages into .pdf files. In my "spare time" (the East Asian Library closes earlier than the Firestone Library), I managed to browse through four editions of the play Pipa ji (The Lute) and two editions of the play Huansha ji (Washing Silk Clothes), the subject of two case studies of my dissertation respectively, and to make all of the six editions into .pdf files for future use.

Overall, my Princeton research trip was satisfyingly fruitful. It is an important step forward in the journey to the completion of my dissertation. I am grateful to the fellowship committee for granting me this wonderful opportunity to use the library.

July 2009


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