Introducing The Late Imperial Primer Literacy Sieve, A Digital Tool, with examples from Ming Steles for Shrines to Living Officials

Talk by Sarah Schneewind, UC San Diego

Friday, May 16, 2014
12:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Bunche Hall 10383

Many late Ming people had memorized a standard primer or two (such as the Three Character Classic) and could read – some.  Vernacular literature blossomed, and daily-use encyclopedias, legal documents, scriptures, announcements, shop signs, stone inscriptions, etc., made reading an integral part of life.  I will introduce a new digital tool, the Late Imperial Primer Literacy Sieve, intended to reveal roughly what a primer-literate reader could read of a given text.  To demonstrate, I will apply the Sieve to steles commemorating shrines to living officials. These inscriptions typically record or invent conversations among commoners, praising some officials and criticizing others.  These apparent legitimations of popular participation in politics stood, carved in stone, in public places.  Was their potentially dangerous rhetoric safely isolated in the domain of gentry cultural hegemony? Only the classically literate could appreciate a stele in all its allusive complexity, but could ordinary folk read parts of it?  If so, what messages might they have gleaned?  The Sieve offers a way to begin to address the knotty problem of audience.    

Sarah Schneewind, a graduate of Columbia University, is presently Associate Professor of History at UC, San Diego.  After writing Community Schools and the State in Ming China, which challenged the centrality of the Ming founder, and the more readable A Tale of Two Melons: Emperor and Subject in Ming China, and after editing Long Live the Emperor! Uses of the Ming Founder across Six Centuries of East Asian History, she has finally turned her back on Ming Taizu to research the ubiquitous but under-studied phenomenon of shrines honoring living officials in Great Ming, with a comparison to  Chos┼Ćn Korea.  She has been President of the Society for Ming Studies and manages the on-line Ming History English Translation Project.   

Sponsor(s): Center for Buddhist Studies, Center for Chinese Studies, Center for Digital Humanities, Center for the Study of Religion