Phonology and orthography in Ming China

« previous post | next post »

New book from Columbia University Press:

The Culture of Language in Ming China:  Sound, Script, and the Redefinition of Boundaries of Knowledge

by Nathan Vedal

Pub Date: March 2022 ISBN: 9780231200752 320 Pages

$35.00  £28.00

Publisher's description:

The scholarly culture of Ming dynasty China (1368–1644) is often seen as prioritizing philosophy over concrete textual study. Nathan Vedal uncovers the preoccupation among Ming thinkers with specialized linguistic learning, a field typically associated with the intellectual revolution of the eighteenth century. He explores the collaboration of Confucian classicists and Buddhist monks, opera librettists and cosmological theorists, who joined forces in the pursuit of a universal theory of language.

Drawing on a wide range of overlooked scholarly texts, literary commentaries, and pedagogical materials, Vedal examines how Ming scholars positioned the study of language within an interconnected nexus of learning. He argues that for sixteenth- and seventeenth-century thinkers, the boundaries among the worlds of classicism, literature, music, cosmology, and religion were far more fluid and porous than they became later. In the eighteenth century, Qing thinkers pared away these other fields from linguistic learning, creating a discipline focused on corroborating the linguistic features of ancient texts.

Documenting a major transformation in knowledge production, this book provides a framework for rethinking global early modern intellectual developments. It offers a powerful alternative to the conventional understanding of late imperial Chinese intellectual history by focusing on the methods of scholarly practice and the boundaries by which contemporary thinkers defined their field of study.

While a student of double bass at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Nathan Vedal began the study of Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese and Philology / Sinology at the University of Pennsylvania.  He received his PhD from Harvard University in 2017, then was Assistant Professor at Washington University in St. Louis for three years and now, since July 2021, has been Assistant Professor of premodern Chinese and East Asian studies at the University of Toronto.


Selected readings


  1. Philip Taylor said,

    December 3, 2021 @ 10:22 am

    "creating a discipline focused on corroborating the linguistic features of ancient texts" — what exactly do the publishers mean by "corroborating" in this context ? None of the definitions offered by the OED appear to be a good match.

  2. Rodger C said,

    December 3, 2021 @ 10:57 am

    Philip, I believe the writer is reaching for "investigating."

  3. Lydia W said,

    December 3, 2021 @ 11:37 am

    It's a bit of a stretch, but could they possibly be trying for "collating", considering that it sounds vaguely similar?

  4. Jonathan Smith said,

    December 3, 2021 @ 3:48 pm

    ^ 'Corroborate' may be an effect of Chin. kǎo​zhèng 考證, often meaning something like 'verify via research' but also naming the Qing-era program of research and criticism of the early textual tradition; see, e.g.,

  5. Philip Anderson said,

    December 3, 2021 @ 3:58 pm

    Or correlating.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    December 3, 2021 @ 4:01 pm

    Following Jonathan Smith, "evidential learning / scholarship".

RSS feed for comments on this post