The merging of shi and shang in travel: the production of knowledge for travel in late Ming book

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Spaces and their boundaries—geographical and otherwise—are socially constructed. Travel is a major means for the engendering of geographical spaces. Humans travel for a great variety of reasons, producing different types of spaces, and corresponding knowledge. Particular spatial organizations embody the specific reasons for and the manner in which sojourners undertake travel. This paper examines the role of long distance travel in the production of specific knowledge of the Chinese empire for two different groups during the late Ming period—the shi(literati-officials) and the shang (merchants). As reflected in the merging of publications for merchants and literati, the act of travel and the very need for it brought these two groups closer together socially. The shi in late Ming China traveled great distances for three major reasons: to take civil service exams, to assume official duties, and to take up teaching or writing jobs. Merchants traveled for business reasons: to acquire materials and products, to sell goods, to negotiate contracts, and to operate shops. But increasingly, these two groups crossed paths with greater intensity and frequency. The travel they undertook brought them into closer social interaction. The knowledge they needed converged so much that commercial publishers found it logical to publish travel guides for both constituencies under one cover. This new genre of publications also provided ethical prescriptions and practical information that both merchants and literati needed. The different levels of literacy among literati and merchant communities prompted publishers to adopt a writing style that mixed the classical style of the literati and a simple plain style easily comprehensible to the merchants. The increase in the use of the term shishang in book titles that included travel guides and other types of knowledge attested to the subtle shift in the production of geographical knowledge, which was no longer organized primarily by imperial interests.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-182
Number of pages20
JournalFrontiers of History in China
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2011


  • China -- History -- By Period -- Antiquity to Ming
  • China -- Communication & Media -- Publishing & Book Trade
  • China -- Geography
  • China -- Anthropology & Sociology -- Social Structure
  • geographical knowledge
  • publishing
  • book history
  • merchant
  • commerce
  • knowledge production
  • literary style
  • social stratification
  • niche markets
  • travel guidebooks
  • dissemination of knowledge
  • maxims
  • moral advice


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