From the eleventh through the seventeenth centuries, the publishers of Jianyang in Fujian province played a conspicuous role in the Chinese book trade. Unlike the products of government and educational presses, their publications were destined for the retail book market. These publishers survived by responding to consumer demands for dictionaries, histories, geographies, medical texts, encyclopedias, primers, how-to books, novels, and anthologies. Their publications reflect the varied needs of the full range of readers in late imperial China and allow us to study the reading habits, tastes, and literacy of different social groups. The publishers of Jianyang were also businessmen, and their efforts to produce books efficiently, meet the demands of the market, and distribute their publications provide a window on commerce and industry and the growth of regional and national markets.
The broad cultural, historical, and geographical scope of the Jianyang book trade makes it an ideal subject for the study of publishing in China. Based on an extensive study of Jianyang imprints, genealogies of the leading families of printers, local histories, documents, and annotated catalogs and bibliographies, Lucille Chia has written not only a history of commercial printing but also a wide-ranging study of the culture of the book in traditional China.