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The Promise and Peril of Things: Literature and Material Culture in Late Imperial China (Hardcover)

The Promise and Peril of Things: Literature and Material Culture in Late Imperial China By Wai-Yee Li Cover Image
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Winner, 2023 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Our relationship with things abounds with paradoxes. People assign value to objects in ways that are often deeply personal or idiosyncratic yet at the same time rooted in specific cultural and historical contexts. How do things become meaningful? How do our connections with the world of things define us? In Ming and Qing China, inquiry into things and their contradictions flourished, and its depth and complexity belie the notion that material culture simply reflects status anxiety or class conflict.

Wai-yee Li traces notions of the pleasures and dangers of things in the literature and thought of late imperial China. She explores how aesthetic claims and political power intersect, probes the objective and subjective dimensions of value, and questions what determines authenticity and aesthetic appeal. Li considers core oppositions--people and things, elegance and vulgarity, real and fake, lost and found--to tease out the ambiguities of material culture. With examples spanning the late sixteenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries, she shows how relations with things can both encode and resist social change, political crisis, and personal loss.

The Promise and Peril of Things reconsiders major works such as The Plum in the Golden Vase, The Story of the Stone, Li Yu's writings, and Wu Weiye's poetry and drama, as well as a host of less familiar texts. It offers new insights into Ming and Qing literary and aesthetic sensibilities, as well as the intersections of material culture with literature, intellectual history, and art history.

About the Author

Wai-yee Li is the 1879 Professor of Chinese Literature at Harvard University. Her recent books include Plum Shadows and Plank Bridge (Columbia, 2020), Keywords in Chinese Culture (2020), and Women and National Trauma in Late Imperial Chinese Literature (2014).

Product Details
ISBN: 9780231201025
ISBN-10: 0231201028
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication Date: May 17th, 2022
Pages: 376
Language: English