Recasting the Chinese Novel: Ernest Major’s Shenbao Publishing House (1872–1890)

  • Catherine Yeh (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


Recent studies have convincingly mapped the literary beginnings of the modern Chinese novel since the 1890s. However, the pivotal role of the Shenbaoguan publishing house and its British owner and manager Ernest Major during the previous two decades in creating the material, market, and cultural conditions for this rise of the modern novel has been neglected, mostly because the label “cultural imperialism” is widely attached to this foreign-owned company. This essay maps the dominant role of Shenbaoguan in publishing Chinese-language novels between 1872 and 1890 (after first opting for translations of Western novels) and the strategies it devised to elevate the cultural standing of the novel from its previous low ranking as a literary genre. These strategies included a prestigious, imperial publishing format with high-quality modern printing technology; careful manuscript selection in often close interaction with an evolving Shenbaoguan community; fixed pricing; a national distribution network, and a rich body of paratexts such as titles written by famous calligraphers, prefaces by prominent men-of-letters, tables of contents, commentaries, lists of dramatis personae, and, last but not least, an aesthetic appreciation in Shenbao announcements and special catalogs that reinforced the novel’s new standing.


Academic discipline and sub-disciplines
Chinese history, history, transcultural studies
Chinese history, chinese literature, China, novel
How to Cite
Yeh, C. (2015). Recasting the Chinese Novel: Ernest Major’s Shenbao Publishing House (1872–1890). The Journal of Transcultural Studies, 6(1), 171–289.