Suyoung Son - November 15, 2021

Publisher at Work: Yu Xiangdou’s Images and Visualizing Intellectual Labor

How could intangible, tacit intellectual labor be legible, acknowledged, and compensated? The relationship between authorship and authorial property was hotly debated in late imperial China when a flurry of fakes, forgeries, and counterfeits abounded in the commercial book market. My talk will use examples from Yu Xiangdou (ca. 1560-1637), one of the most successful commercial publishers in Jianyang, to discuss how he claimed the hitherto invisible and therefore uncredited intellectual endeavor of making the books. Away from the prevailing conception that the images inserted in his printed books are portraits of Yu Xiangdou himself, I will approach his images in terms of the highly conventionalized image-signs and argue that his images serve as a liminal link between incorporeal authorship and material proprietorship.

Suyoung Son is a literary and cultural historian of early modern China (1500-1900). Her research focuses on the narrative tradition and social practice of writing and reading in the historical conditions of print culture, commercialization, and urbanization. Her first book, Writing for Print, explores the ways in which the material conditions of print reshaped the production, circulation, and reception of literary texts in the seventeenth century and their ramifications in eighteenth-century censorships. She is currently working on two projects: the first one examines authorship and the emergence of intellectual property in early modern China; and the second project investigates the transmission of book, knowledge, and object between Qing China and Chosŏn Korea, with a focus on the Sŏ family of Talsŏng. Before coming to Cornell, she taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago.