> literacy, writing and education

Literacy, writing and education in Chinese culture: bibliography by Barend ter Haar

Practical information:


0. General (includes conference volumes, Festschrifte, general surveys) (especially relevant articles have been separately listed below)

a. General

b. Acquiring literacy

c. education of children

d. The classical period (Han and pre-Han)

Origins of writing

Here the bibliography by W. Behr is much more elaborate.

Bronze and stone inscriptions:

Source books

Regular secondary literature

Early writing as practice/ritual (Han and pre-Han)

Manuscript finds (Han and pre-Han)

The earliest books/the classics

The Qin and writing/the written

Manuscript culture (Han onwards)
Also:  Manuscript finds (Han and pre-Han) .
Inscriptions in general after the classical period
Also see Bronze and stone inscriptions on inscriptions in the classical period (on oracle bone, bronze and stone) (FUTURE SECTION) ORALITY AND COMMENTARIES e. Education, examination system, schools and academies Also:  c. Children's Education on the education of children and their early schooling

f. Printing and reading

early stages

Song onwards (the rise of a book culture)

vernacular literature

copyright, censorship, book inquisition
(see also: The Qin and writing/the written , for literature on the so-called burning of the books)

On reading as practice in the imperial period

Clearly other sections in this bibliography contain additional materials. g. Organizing knowledge

Dictionaries and encyclopedias
Libraries & book collecting

h. Contracts and letters

Contracts (oral and written)

Epistolary culture

i. Women

Female literacy, reading and writing

women's script

On a now largely lost form of writing by women for women in southern Hunan, uncovered in the 1980s.

j. Writing and Chinese religious culture



This section lists only the most important works, with a focus on writing and religious practice. More literature is found in my bibliography on Chinese shamanism,  3. Spirit writing (fieldwork and history) . The crucial reference on divine writing is Seidel  (1983) and the literature given therein. Buddhism:

Precious Scrolls and their precursors

k. Vernacular language

l. Calligraphy

m.  numeracy

n.  Non-Han manuscript and print culture

o.  Illustrations and pictures


Even more than in the first part ection of this bibliography, the following part concentrates on direct discussions of literacy, education etc. When I come across a good discussion of relevant themes in non-related works, these will be included, but no attempt is made at any form of completeness in this respect. Book length descriptions of local life in nineteenth and twentieth century China often contain relevant discussions, however.

a. General (includes conference volumes, Festschrifte, general surveys, bibliographies)

b. education
(with the assistance of Andrea Janku)


Much relevant information on education on a high school and university level can be found in studies on the Red Huards during the Cultural Revolution, since these were mainly of that particular age and since their activities were to a substantial extent inspired by their educational expectations and frustrations. There is a huge literature on education in the PRC and the following survey only scratches the surface. Useful are the bibiographical essays by Suzanne Pepper, in: Roderick MacFarquhar and John K. Fairbank eds. The Cambridge History of China, Vol. 14, pp.599-561 and Vol. 15,  pp. 916-922.
  • Bastid, Marianne. "Chinese Educational Policies in the 1980s and Economic Development." China Quarterly 98 (June 1984), 189-219.
  • Broaded, C. Montgomery. "The Lost and Found Generation: Cohort Succession in Chinese Higher Education." Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs 23 (Jan 1990), 77-95.

  • Broaded, C. Montgomery; Liu, Chongshun. "Family Background, Gender and Educational Attainment in Urban China." China Quarterly 145 (Mar 1996), 53-86. Based on fieldwork in five junior high schools in Wuhan, 1992.
  • Chan, Betty Po-King. "People's Republic of China and its early childhood education and teacher training." In: Chan, Betty Po-King, ed. Early childhood toward the 21st century: a worldwide perspective ( Hong Kong; Gaithersburg, Md.: Yew Chung Education Pub. Co., 1990) 441-455.
  • John Cleverley, The Schooling of China: Tradition and  Modernity in Chinese Education (London: Allen and Unwin, 1985, 1991). Mainly based on PRC Chinese sources, ignores much Western secondary literature.
  • Davin, Delia. "The Early Childhood Education of the Only Child Generation in Urban Areas of Mainland China." Issues and Studies (Taipei) 26, no.4 (Apr 1990), 83-104.
  • Edward Friedman, Paul G. Pickowicz, and Mark Selden, with Kay Ann Johnson, Chinese Village, Socialist State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991). This book contains a wealth of good anecdotal information on education and literacy, but only part of this can be found by relying on the rather incomplete index.
  • Hayhoe, Ruth. China's Universities and the Open Door ( Armonk: Sharpe, 1989).
  • Hayhoe, Ruth. "China's Universities Since Tiananmen: A Critical Assessment." China Quarterly 134 (Jun 1993), 291-309.
  • Hayhoe, Ruth; Pan, Julia, eds. East-West Dialogue in Knowledge and Higher Education ( Armonk: Sharpe, 1996). Hayhoe is one of the most productive writers and editors of collective volumes on Chinese (higher) education, these more recent publications should allow  the diligent bibliographer to find his or her way to her other writings.
  • Henze, Jürgen. "Statistical Documentation in Chinese Education. Where Reality Ends and Myth Begins." Canadian and International Education 16.1 (1987), 198-210.
  • Lin, Bih-Jaw; Fan, Li-min, eds. Education in mainland China: review and evaluation .(Taipei: Institute of International Relations, National Chengchi University 1990)  (English monograph series / Institute of International Relations, no.37.) not yet seen
  • Pepper, Suzanne. "Education for the New Order." In: MacFarquhar, Roderick; Fairbank, John K., eds. The Cambridge History of China: volume 14: The People's Republic, part 1: The Emergence of Revolutionary China 1949-1965 . Cambridge, Eng.; New York: Cambridge UP, 1987, 185-217.
  • Pepper, Suzanne. "New Directions in Education." In: MacFarquhar, Roderick; Fairbank, John K., eds. The Cambridge History of China: volume 14: The People's Republic, part 1: The Emergence of Revolutionary China 1949-1965 ( Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987), pp. 398-431 (bibliographical essay, pp.599-561).
  • Pepper, Suzanne. "Education." In: MacFarquhar, Roderick; Fairbank, John K., eds. The Cambridge History of China: volume 15: The People's Republic, part 2: Revolutions within the Chinese revolution 1966-1982 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991) pp. 540-593 (bibliographical essay, pp. 916-922).
  • Pepper, Suzanne. "Post-Mao Reforms in Chinese Education: Can the Ghosts of the Past be Laid to Rest." In: Epstein, Irving, ed. Chinese Education: Problems, Policies, and Prospects. (New York: Garland, 1991) pp. 1-41.
  • Pepper, Suzanne. "Educational Reform in the 1980s: A Retrospective on the Maoist Era." In: Kau, Michael Ying-Mao; Marsh, Susan H., eds. China in the Era of Deng Xiaoping: A Decade of Reform . (Armonk: Sharpe, 1993) pp. 224-284.
  • Pepper, Suzanne,  China's Education Reform in the 1980s: Policies, Issues, and Historical Perspectives. (China Research Monograph; 36) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).
  • Suzanne Pepper, Radicalism and Education Reform in 20th-century China: The Search for an Ideal Development Model (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1996). Detailed study, based on fieldwork and written sources. Also good for general introduction to various aspects of education, although the thrust of the book is the post-1949 situation. The author has been publishing on this topic since the late 1970s.
  • R.F. Price, Education in Communist China (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970).  General survey by someone without command of Chinese, but with two years in China from 1965-1967 as an English language teacher.
  • Schoenhals, Martin. The Paradox of Power in a People's Republic of China Middle School ( Armonk: Sharpe, 1993) (Studies on contemporary China).
  • Shirk, Susan L. Competitive Comrades. Career Incentives and Student Strategies in China ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982) [LA1133.7.S553 1982] review in China Quarterly 97 (1984), 135-7.
  • Stig ThØgersen, "China's Senior Middle Schools in A Social Perspective: a Survey of Yantai District, Shandong Province,"  China Quarterly 109 (1987) 72-100.  Interesting article based on fieldwork in a fairly well-to-do and "open" region.
  • Stig Thøgersen, Secondary Education in China after Mao: Reform and Social Conflict (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 1990)
  • Stig Thøgersen, "Through the Sheeps Intestines - Selection and Elitism in Chinese Schools." The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs 21 (Jan. 1989), 29-56.
  • Thøgersen, Stig, County of Culture: Twentieth-Century China Seen from the Village Schools of Zouping, Shandong. Details above.
  • Tsui, Kai-yuen. "Economic Reform and Attainment in Basic Education in China." China Quarterly 149 (Mar 1997), 104-127.
  • Unger, Jonathan. Education Under Mao. Class and Competition in Canton Schools, 1960-1980 . (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982).
  • The World Bank, ed. China: Long-Term Issues and Options. Annex A: Issues and Prospects in Education. A World Bank Country Study. (Washington D.C. The World Bank, 1985).
  • The World Bank, ed. China. Higher Education Reform. A World Bank Country Study (Washington D.C. The World Bank, 1997)
  • Zarrow, Peter Gue, Educating China: knowledge, society and textbooks in a modernizing world, 1902-1937 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2015). Excellent study of teaching and textbooks in the Republican period, covering a variety of topics including the introduction of vernacular Chinese.
  • Zhao, Simon X.B.; Tong, Christopher S.P. "Spatial Disparity in China's Educational Development: An Assessment from the Perspective of Economic Growth." China Information (Leiden) 11, no.4 (Spr 1997), 14-40.
c. Reading and writing (technical aspects)
Here the bibliography by W. Behr is very strong.
  • Alleton, Viviane,  "L'écriture chinoise se lit-elle différement des écritures alphabétiques?", Revue Bibliographique de Sinologie XIII(1995)
  • Hsuan-Chih Chen and Ovid J.L. Tzeng eds., Language Processing in Chinese (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1992).  Articles by Flores d'Arcais, Chao-min Cheng, Rumjahn Hoosain, Hsuan-chih Chen a.o. based on extensive experimental research suggests that phonological mediation generally takes place before reading. Reading on the basis of visual cues alone apparently does not take place under normal circumstances.
  • John DeFrancis, Nationalism and Language Reform in China ( )   On the post 1949 writing reforms in the PRC.
  • John DeFrancis, The Chinese language: fact and fantasy (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984)
  • John DeFrancis, Visible Speech: The Diverse Oness of Writing Systems (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Pres, 1989).  On the nature of Chinese and other writing systems, one of the few authors who is really critical about Rawski's conclusions and who mentions the crucial fact that people forget characters when they do not use them.( reviews : B. King, Lg. 67 [1991]: 377-379; K. Krippes, General Linguistics 30 [1990]: 126-129; O. Tzeng, Contemporary Psychology, 36 [1992]: 982; T.G. Palaima, Minos 25-26 [1990-91]: 441-46; O. Varný, ArOr 61: 210-; A. Kaye, Word 44 [1993] 2: 318-323)
  • Wm. C. Hannas, Asia's Orthographic Dilemma (Honolulu:  University of Hawaii Press, 1997). Deals with a whole range of issues deriving from the sinitic script in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam: their histories, the nature of representation (what do the symbols stand for), the issue of learning the script(s) and literacy, reading, and recent changes involving this script/these scripts. Very readable, summarizes much relevant research, detailed bibliography, polemical, essentially continues the line of work of John DeFrancis.
  • Chen-Chin Hsu, Yeng-Kwang Yang, Tzung-Lieh Yeh, Shin-Jaw Chen, Jung-Ming Luo, "Reading Success and Failure in Logographic Writing Systems: Children Learning to Read Chinese Do Evidence Reading Disabilities", in: Tsung-yi Lin, Wen-shing Tseng and Eng-kung Yeh eds., Chinese Societies and Mental Health (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1995) 93-105.  Further analysis of the part on Taiwan from an international study led by H.W. Stevenson and others,   on reading disabilities in America, Taiwan and Japan. Relevant for understanding the ultimately verbal (non-visual) nature of the Chinese writing system.
  • Chad Hansen "Chinese ideographs and Western ideas", Journal of Asian Studies 52: 2 (1993) 373-399 . He is in favour of the theory of reading Chinese characters without pronouncing. This article was followed by some fierce and even vituperous debate. The issue is dealt with well in the book by Hannas (1997)
  • Taylor, Insup & Martin J. Taylor eds.,  Writing and literacy in Chinese, Korean and Japanese ( Studies in Written Language and Literacy ; 3) (Amsterdam: J. Benjamins, 1995)  (not seen)
  • Tzeng, Ovid & Daisy Hung,  "Reading in a nonalphabetical writing system", in J.F. Kavanagh et al. Eds., Orthography, reading, and dyslexia (Baltimore: University Park Press, 1980), pp. 211-226. Tzeng is one of the main students of reading processes from a physical point of view.
  • Tzeng, O.D., D. Hung, B. Cotton & W. Yang,  "Visual lateralisation effects in reading Chinese characters", Nature 202 (1979)  499-501.
  • Wang Jian, Albrecht Inhoff & Hsuan-Chih Chen,  Reading Chinese Script : A Cognitive Analysis (New York: L. Erlbaum Assoc., 1999) (not yet seen)
d. Communication
  • Zhu Chuanyu, Xianqin tang song ming qing chuanbo shiye lunji (Taibei: Taiwanshangwu yishuguan, 1988). State communication (such things as Capital Gazettes, memorials etc.)
  • Deng, Gang Development versus stagnation: technological continuity and agricultural progress in pre-modern China (Westport, Conn. [etc.] : Greenwood Press, 1993). Despite its title first and foremost a detailed study of the agircultural handbook (nongshu) in traditional CHina. As such it deals with an important and welld-documented instance of traditional propaganda by literati and managers.
  • David Holm, Art and Ideology in revolutionary China (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991).  The book version of Holm's dissertation only deals with Yangge theatre and its change from a form of local ritual theatre into a propaganda form for communicating political and moral messages. The  dissertation version "Art and Ideology of the Yenan Period, 1937-1945," (PhD dissertation, University of Oxford, 1979) is still relevant, because it deals extensively with New Year Prints, its traditions and its manipulation for political purposes in the Yan'an period. Full of hard to find information on people's perceptions of New Year Prints and their propaganda versions. Shows the need to be sceptical about the spread and importance of literacy. Also testifies to the richness of pre-1949 investigations on popular perceptions of (attempts at) party propaganda.
  • Stefan Landsberger, Chinese Propaganda Posters: From  Revolution to Modernization (Amsterdam and Singpaore: The Pepin Pres, 1995). On the propaganda poster from the Four Modernizations era. With index, but no bibliography, but extremely richly illustrated. The doctoral dissertation "Visualizing the Future" (Leiden, 1994) is analytically more detailed, richly annotated, with extensive bibliography. Also check out the author's rich website on the Chinese propaganda poster, http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger
  • E. Perry Link, The Uses of Literature: Life in the Socialist Chinese Literary System (Princeton UP: Princeton, 2000). To be read in conjunction with Kraus .
  • Maghiel van Crevel, "Butsen en scheuren in de officiële werkelijkheid", Armada 7:25 (February 2002) 37-49. Dutch article on censorship in the PRC.
  • Hillenbrand, Margaret (2020). Negative exposures. Knowing what not to know in contemporary China. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Hockx, Michel. "In Defense of the Censor: Literary Autonomy and State Authority in Shanghai, 1930-1936." Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese 2, 1 (July 1998): 1-30.
  • Various studies touching on the result of censorship in pre-modern and (mostly) modern China in: Bernhard Führer ed., Zensur - Text und Autorität in China in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Wiesbaden : Otto Harrassowitz, 2003).
  • Anne Sytske Keijser, "Onzichtbare films: Gedogen en verbieden in de Volksrepubliek China" ("Invisible films: Tolerating and prohibiting in the People's Republic of China"), in: Sjef Houppermans, Remke Kruk & Henk Maier (eds), Rapsoden en rebellen: Literatuur en politiek in verschillende culturen, Amsterdam: Rozenberg, 2003: 167-181. Excellent article on censuring and censorship of Chinese films, as well as more generally on political interference with films in the PRC.
  • Perry Link, "The Anaconda in the Chandelier", China Rights Forum, 2002-1: pp 26-31, previously published (?April 2002) in The New York Review of Books (not seen, on censorship and self-censorship)
  • Bonnie McDougall, "Censorship & Self-Censorship in Contemporary Chinese Literature," in: Susan Whitfield ed., After the Event: Human Rights and their Future in China (London: Wellsweep, 1993) (not yet seen).
  • Margaret Roberts, Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China's Great Firewall (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018)
  • Schneider, F. (2023). Communication and Censorship (C. Shei, & Q. Cao, Eds.). Routledge
  • Michael Schoenhals, "Media Censorship in the People's Republic of China", in: Susan Whitfield ed. After the Event: Human Rights and their Future in China (London: Wellsweep, 1993) (not yet seen).
  • Vivian Wagner, Erinneringsverwaltung in China: Staatsarchive und Politik in der Volksrepublik (Böhlau: Köln, 2006). In a detailed investigation of archives until and especially after 1949, the author also frequently touches upon issues of censorship and secrecy/secretiveness. A huge and fascinating work of scholarship.
  • Michael Zimmer, "Zensierte 'Kleinigkeiten': Eine Bewertung der Erfolge und Misserfolge staatlicher Verbote gegenüber der Erzäliteratur der xiaoshuo in den Dynastien Ming und Qing", in: Bernhard Führer ed., Zensur - Text und Autorität in China in Geschichte und Gegenwart : (Wiesbaden : Otto Harrassowitz, 2003), pp. 46-57
  • Timothy Brook, The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China (University of California Press: Berkeley, 1998). Also on late Ming "newspapers".
  • Harris, Lane J., The Peking gazette : a reader in nineteenth-century Chinese history (Brill: Leiden, 2018). Uses the translations from the gazette to illustrates aspects of Qing history.
  • Joan Judge, Print and Politics: 'Shibao' and the Culture of Reform in Late Qing China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996).  On late Qing journalism and its place in the changing political culture of the late Qing, such as its contribution to a new kind of public citizinship beyond and besides the state. Includes a list of late Qing journalists
  • Barbara Mittler, A Newspaper for China? Power, Identity and China in China's News Media (accepted by Harvard University Press). Based on an analysis of  the Shenbao, it attempts to show how the foreign medium newspaper was transformed to fit the taste of its Chinese readerships, by incorporating the Chinese court gazette on its pages, by using authoritative quotations from the Chinese Classics, or by adapting Chinese literary forms, such as that of the early classical short story or the examination essay.  Analyzes the role of women and of the inhabitants of Shanghai. Finally, it asks whether or not this particular Shanghai newspaper, and many of the newspapers that followed in its wake, were indeed responsible for the development of a Chinese nationalism in Shanghai. The book critically questions the fundamental assumption reiterated since the publication of Benjamin Anderson's Imagined Communities that newspapers were indeed powerful agents in the formation of  (Chinese) nationalism and the (Chinese) public sphere. This is one of a series of studies that originate in the "Public Sphere" project carried out by R.Wagner in the 1990s at Heidelberg University.
  • Emily Mokros, The Peking Gazette in Late Imperial China: State News and Political Authority. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2021. Based on an extensive viewing of original Peking Gazettes. See also the book by Standaert below.
  • Nicolas Standaert, The Chinese Gazette in European Sources (Brill: Leiden, 2022). An earlier version appeared as an article in T'oung Pao.Also see the book by Mokros above.
  • Natascha Vittinghoff, Die Anfänge des Journalismus in China (1860 - 1911) (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2002). This is the commercial edition of a 1998 dissertation. It focuses on the beginnings of journalism, using both the newspapers themselves, and external evidence such as biographical sources, archives, and so forth. She approaches journalism as a social phenomenon, rather than singling out great individuals who were responsible for all innovation. She looks both at the journalists and the readers. This is one of a series of studies that originate in the "Public Sphere" project carried out by R.Wagner in the 1990s at Heidelberg University. Her bibliography provides extensive further references; the state of the field is analyzed at the outset of this book.

  • Lena Henningsen,Cultural Revolution Manuscripts: Unofficial Entertainment Fiction from 1970s China, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.
  • Ian Johnson, Sparks: China's Underground Historians and their Battle for the Future (Oxford: OXford UP, 2023).
  • Website of underground literature
e. Modern printing

  • Brokaw, Cynthia Joanne and Christopher A. Reed eds., From woodblocks to the Internet : Chinese publishing and print culture in transition, circa 1800 to 2008 (Leiden: Brill, 2010) Contains wealth of relevan articles, esp. on the modern period.
  • Jean Pierre Drège, La Commercial Press de Shanghai, 1897-1949 (Paris: Collége de France, 1978).
  • Christopher A. Reed, Gutenberg in Shanghai: Chinese Print Capitlism, 1876-1937 (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2004). On the introduction of mechanized printing (lettertype, lythography, etc.) in Shanghai. Excellent book, but frustratingly unaware of the extensive research on Shanghai done in Heidelberg since the 1990s, including that on "public sphere" (newspapers etc.). The same unawareness extends to other developments in Europe, of an older date. Thus, the Leiden publisher referred to on p. 306 n. 68 which bought a specific Chinese font in 1845 is obviously Brill (then still E.J. Brill). Part of their printing reputation was based on their ability to use non-Western fonts and long more or less had the European monopoly on a Chinese font (when I was a student in the late 1970s, it was said that their printer traditionally knew no Chinese, but was able to find the required characters nonetheless).
  • Xu Xiaoman, "'Preserving the Bonds of Kin': Genealogy Masters and Genealogy Production in the Jiangsu-Zhejiang Areain the Qing and Republican Periods," in: Brokaw, Cynthia J. and Chow, Kai-wing eds., Printing and book culture in late imperial China (Berkeley, CA [etc.]: University of California Press, 2005), pp. 332-367.
f. Literacy

literacy movements
(works that seem more narrowly focused on literacy movements; the following section also contains further relevant studies with a slightly broader focus)

  • Klaus Belde, Saomang: Kommunistische Alphabetisierungsarbeit (Bochum: Brockmeyer, 1982). Remains superficial, focuses on the campaigns and the internal Chinese evaluations of their success or failure.
  • Charles Hayford, "Literacy Movements in Modern China," in Harvey Graff & Robert Arnove (ed.), Literacy movements in historical perspective (Plenum Press 1987): 147-171, The volume has been reprinted as Robert F. Arnove, and Harvey J. Graff, eds., National Literacy Campaigns and Movements: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (Taylor & Francis, 2017).
  • Charles W. Hayford, To the People: James Yen and Village China (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990). On JAmes Yen (Yan Yangchu 晏阳初 1893 - 1990), including his Mass Education/ Literacy work and itrs larger contemproary context.
  • Kate Merkel-Hess, "Reading the Rural Modern: Literacy and Morality in Republican China," History Compass 7.1 (2009): 44-54.
  • Kate Merkel-Hess, The Rural Modern: Reconstructing the Self and State in Republican China (Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 2016). Includes a discussion of schools in creating a "rural modern."
  • Glen Peterson   (different studies in the next section)
  • Paul Serruys, Survey of the Chinese Language Reform and the Anti-Illiteracy Movement in Communist China (Berkeley: Center for Chinese Studies, Univ. of California, 1962)
  • ThØgersen, Stig, County of Culture: Twentieth-Century China Seen from the Village Schools of Zouping, Shandong.
  • Youru Zhong, "“Sacred, the Laborers”: Writing Chinese in the First World War," Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review 22 (2017): 296-324. This article focuses on the Chinese laborers in World War I France and their writing activities there.
the issue of literacy
  • ???, "Chûgoku ni okeru shikuji mondai," Waseda daigaku kyôiku gakubu gaku? kenkyû 42 (1994) 1-16.Not read
  • Edward Friedman, Paul G. Pickowicz, and Mark Selden, with Kay Ann Johnson, Chinese Village, Socialist State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991). This book contains a wealth of good anecdotal information on literacy, but this can not be found by relying on the rather incomplete index.
  • William Lavely, Xiao Zhenyu, Li Bohua and Ronal Freedman, "The Rise in Female Education in China: National and Regional Patterns," China Quarterly 121 (1990) 61-93.  Nice and differentiated analysis of female education figures from the 1982 census, arranged in age cohorts to allow for historical analysis. Differentiates between urban and rural, regions, core and periphery. Much more optimistic than Peterson and Seeberg, who approach the matter in a combined qualitative and quantitive way.
  • Nancy Pine, "A comparison of two cultures' complex graphical knowledge prerequisite to literacy (china, united states, semiotics)" (The Claremont Graduate School, PhD dissertation, 1993) (not yet seen)
  • Glen Peterson, "State Literacy Ideologies and the  Transformation of Rural China," The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs 32 (1994) 95-120.  One of the few articles that asks more than merely how many people could read and write, or how many were educated until what level. Instead it asks after the actual implications of literacy after 1949, i.e. did it bring power for literate people or further (or different kinds of) subjugation. Takes Seeberg into account.
  • ------------, "The Struggle for Literacy in Post-Revolutionary Rural Guangdong," China Quarterly (1994) 926-943.
  • ------------, The Power of Words: Literacy and Revolution in South China, 1949-1995 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1997).  Discusses the development of literacy policies in the province of Guangdong. Strong also on institutional aspects. (not seen).
  • Brenda Prouser, "Official and popular literacies in the people's republic of china: a search for shared perspectives," (The  University of Michigan, PhD 1990( (Not yet seen)
  • Vilma Seeberg, Literacy in China: the Effect of the National Development Context and Policy on Literacy Levels, 1949-1979 (Bochum: Brockmeyer, 1990).  Actually a PhD from 1989 (the date of 1979 in the author's preface must be a mistake) by a German scholar, partly trained in the USA! Utterly unreadable, but very useful piece of research, in which the results of the 1982 population census on literacy in China are highly critically reevaluated. Distinguishes between levels of literacy and raises the issue of literacy maintenance. The author concludes that after 1949 literacy has even decreased in the period from 1958 until 1976. Actual literacy (of a usable variety) may still not exceed 30 % by very much.
  • Vilma Seeberg, The Rhetoric and Reality of Mass Education in Mao's China (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000). Essentially the same as the 1990 book (but not properly acknowledged), with a new introduction, but without taking into account subsquent research.
  • Swetz, Frank J., ed, "Popular science readers: an aid for achieving scientific literacy in the PRC," Chinese Education (White Plains) 11, no.1 (1978) 3-106 (not seen)
  • ThØgersen, Stig, County of Culture: Twentieth-Century China Seen from the Village Schools of Zouping, Shandong. Strangely ignores the work by Vilma Seeberg. For more on this work, see above.
  • Walberg, Herbert J., "Scientific literacy and economic productivity in international perspective," Daedalus 112, no.2 (1983) 1-28 (not seen)
Reading practice
  • Li, Wenling, Janet S. Gaffney and Jerome L. Packard, Chinese Children's Reading Acquisition: Theoretical and Pedagogical Issues (Kluwer: Boston etc., 2002). Continues the material collected by Behr in his bibliography below.
  • Christina Neder, Lesen in der Volksrepublik China: eine empirisch-qualitative Studie zu Leseverhalten und Lektürepräferenzen der Pekinger Stadtbevölkerung vor dem Hintergrund der Transformation des chinesischen Buch-und Verlagswesen 1978-1995 (Hamburg : Institut für Asienkunde, 1999). Rare study on actual reading habits in the city of Beijing in the period 1975-1995.
  • Agnes, S. Schick-Chen, "'Erlesenes' Recht: Der Faktor Lesen im Prozess der Herausbildung eines chinesischen Rechtsbewusstseins nach 1979", Führer (2005) 251-268.
g. The formation of modern Chinese
  • Elisabeth Kaske, The politics of language in Chinese education, 1895-1919 (Brill: Leiden, 2008). Fabulous book on the political dimensions of the transformation of using the tradiitonal "Classical" writing language to the use of a new writing language (so-called spoken CHinese).
  • Federico Masini, The Formation of Modern Chinese Lexicon and its Evolution Toward a National Language: the Period from 1840-1898 , in: Journal of Chinese Linguistics, Monograph Series 6 (1993)
  • Jing Tsu, Sound and Script in Chinese Diaspora (Harvard UP: Cmabridge Mass., 2010). I am not sure where to put this book, but it deals with the notion l;of literary governance in the Chinese diaspora, i.e. the creation of a national language (let's call it modern Chinese) and the concommittant urge to find new methods of writing down the language such as by |Lin Yutang and others. I have not yet been able to read the book, which looks at first sight a bit daunting to me in terms of its theoretical approach. For one review see the one on MCLC.
h. Numeracy (desideratum)

Some material is contained in discussion of literacy and education, especially under the keywords arithmetic and mathematics, but never very substantial.

i. Minorities

  • Nicholas Tapp, Sovereignty and Rebellion: The White Hmong of Northern Thailand (Oxford UP, Oxford, 1989, 1990).  Discusses the Miao/Hmong loss of literacy myth (shared by other ethnic groups as well).
j. Gender aspects

Also check the section  1. Traditional China, i. Women

  • Bauer, John, et al. "Gender Inequality in Urban China: Education and Employment. " Modern China 18.3 (Jul 1992), 333-370.
  • William Lavely, Xiao Zhenyu, Li Bohua and Ronal Freedman, "The Rise in Female Education in China: National and Regional Patterns," China Quarterly 121 (1990) 61-93.


The distinction between primary and secondary orality is intended as a heuristic distinction, between orality as the earliest stage of communication, i.e. before the pervasive use of writing in certain social layers, and the oral transmission of all kinds of information in a society/social layers in which literacy can be accessed relatively freely.

a. General

b.Primary orality
(see also preceding sections of this bibliography, esp. 1.d. The Classical Period)

  • Alexander Beecroft, "Oral Formula and Intertextuality in the Chinese "Folk" Tradition (Yuefu), Early Medieval China 15 (2009) 23-47. On anonymous yuefu as poetry with strong oral characteristics.
  • Behr, Wolfgang (2006). "Spiegelreflex: Reste einer Wu-Überlieferung der Lieder im Licht einer spät-Han-zeitlichen Bronze-inschrift" [Mirror reflex: Remnants of a Wu tradition of the Odes in the light of a Late Han bronze inscription]. In: Stumpfeldt, Hans; Friedrich, Michael; Emmerich, Reinhard; van Ess, Hans. Han-Zeit: Festschrift für Hans Stumpfeldt aus Anlass seines 65. Geburtstages (Lun Wen, Studien zur Geistesgeschichte und Literatur in China). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 333-358. Continues an approach by Martin Kern with reference to rich phonological evidence from a mirror inscription on the importance of oral transmission and aural reception of the so-called Book of Song/Odes as late as the Eastern Han.
  • Richard A.  Kunst,  "The Original Yijing : A Text, Phonetic Transcription, Translation and Indexes with Sample Glosses"  (Ph.D. diss., University of California,Berkeley, 1985) . Including important remarks on the formulaic dimension of Yijing
  • Michael Puett, "Sages, Ministers, and Rebels: Narratives from Early China Concerning the Initial Creation of the State," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 58: 2(1998) 425-479.  He stresses that early "mythological" accounts functioned as rethorical arguments and do not necessarily reflect one "original" or "true" oral mythical tradition. His analysis supports my notion of the pre-Han (minimally) existence of an oral culture with floating narrative structures (on which also Sarah Allan's first book). The free use of the material in the Luxing chapter (dated to circa fourth century B.C.) from Shu recalls the way in which Shu and Shi "quotations" (I would call these diffferently, given the absence of written mother-books from which is quoted) are used for varying rethorical purposes.
  • Saussy, Haun,  "Repetition, Rhyme, and Exchange in the Book of Odes", Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 57 (2): (1997) 519-542 (not seen)
  • Schaberg's Zuozhuan dissertation - book has come out!
  • Schaberg, David "Song and the Historical Imagination in Early China", Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies   59:2 (1999) 305-361.
  • C.H. Wang, The Bell and the Drum: Shih Ching as Formulaic Poetry in an Oral Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974).  Analyzes the Shijing as a book derived from a once oral tradition, showing itself in its extensive use of the kind of fixed formulae first pointed out by Milton Parry and Albert Lord for Homer and Yugoslavian epics. I would disagree, since I see the present work as the late end-product of a courtly  song culture (like the Book of Changes ).
  • Steven van Zoeren, Poetry and Personality : Readings, Exegesis,and Hermeneutics (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Pr., 1991)

From oral to written

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  • Charles H. Egan, "Reconsidering the Role of Folk Songs in Pre-T'ang Yüeh-fu development", T'oung Pao LXXXVI: 1-3 (2000) 47-99. Excellent discussions on "folk songs", Yüeh-fu and orality. Points out amonst many other things that being composed for oral/aural usage does not mean folk origin.
  • Fraser, Sarah, Performing the visual: the practice of Buddhist wall painting in China and Central Asia, 618-960 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2004) is full of relevant comments on the relationship between oral culture, narrative culture (the Transformation texts) visual culture and writing.

c. Secondary orality
  • Børdahl, Vibeke  The Oral Tradition of Yangzhou Storytelling (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1996) [GR336.Y36 B67] (reviews: Asian Folklore Studies vol. 56-1 [1997] 177-178). Excellent book on storytelling in Yangzhou, but note that this is story telling in a written context and taking its cue in part from written traditions. This is not the direct continuation from pre-theatrical ,pre-scriptural storytelling.
  • Mair, Victor H., T'ang transformation texts : a study of the Buddhist contribution to the rise of vernacular fiction and drama in China (Cambridge, MA: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1989) contains mnay valuable remarks on orality (e.g. Chapter Five, pp. 110-151) He uses Patrick Hanan's term of "simulated context" to point to the use of techniques used to create an atmosphere or semblance of orality. He calls this secondary orality.
  • Keulemans, Paize. Sound rising from the paper : nineteenth-century martial arts fiction and the Chinese acoustic imagination (Cambridge Massachusetts; London: Published by Harvard University Asia Center, 2014)
  • Anne E. McLaren, Chinese Popular Culture and Ming Chantefables (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998). Includes discussion of the different way in which the chantefables and later vernacular fiction use the storyteller's mode of narration. She points out that in the earlier chantefables, the storyteller and his audience are only implied in the text, whereas later vernacular fiction makes the storytelling and the listening, the tellers and the audience present in the text itself. The chantefables were composed to be read aloud for an audience of fellow listeners, and did not require such information. In later vernacular fiction, which was meant to be read, this information became crucial to keep up the fiction of storytelling.

d. Others
For the time being I will put stuff here that does not fit in the present system of headings for orality. More is also contained in various sections above.
  • Yasuhiko Karasawa, "Between oral and written cultures : Buddhist monks in Qing legal plaints", Hegel, Robert E. and Katherine Carlitz eds., Writing and Law in Late Imperial China: Crime, Conflict, and Judgment (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007).
  • Zelin, Madeleine, Ocko, Jonathan K., Gardella, Robert eds., Contract and Property in Early Modern China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004) contains various useful studies (check the index, for instance under 'enforcement', 'oral testimony').

"Writing, literacy & orality in ancient China"

(this bibiography from 2000 can be downloaded as bib-project.PDF).

( W. Behr , formerly Universität Bochum, F.R.G.; now at Zürich University, Switzerland)