How to Make a Genealogy in Late Imperial China: Rethinking Book Culture in Rural Society


While compiling a genealogy was typically regarded as an individualized hobby, creating a genealogy in late imperial China was usually a collaborative endeavor that often involved the participation of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of individuals. In this presentation, Xin Yu analyzed the complex processes of producing genealogies and investigates how these processes shed light on our comprehension of book culture in rural society. Xin Yu traced the various processes involved in the creation of genealogies, such as organizing genealogy committees, collecting information, editing the content, pooling funds, procuring wood, recruiting artisans, conducting ritual commemorations, and distributing copies. It was through such inclusive collaborative projects, he argued, that individual villagers in rural China were drawn together under large-scale patri-lineages; it was also through such book-making projects that book culture became relevant and meaningful to the majority of Chinese peasants.


Xin Yu is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the History Department at UW-Milwaukee. His research primarily centers on the history of late imperial China, specifically at the intersection of book history and the history of the family. His first book project, titled “Books for Villagers: Print Culture and Rural Society in Early Modern China,” examines the history of Chinese genealogies from 1450 to 1644. He is also involved in various other projects, such as studying Korean genealogies, movable-type printing technology in China and Korea, the cultural significance of adoption in late imperial China, and the experiences of individuals who were outcasts of the family system. Throughout these projects, he explores the relationship between knowledge practices and social practices in premodern East Asia.