As the capital city of the last three imperial dynasties—Yuan (1271–1368), Ming (1368–1644), and Qing (1644–1912)—and of contemporary China from 1949 onward, Beijing has long featured in literature; however, it was not until the last decade of the Ming that writers began to establish a systematic account of the city’s history and its cultural reputation. This dissertation explores the changing relationship among literary practice, urban experience, and historical writing in a critical moment prior to the dynastic collapse. Focusing on the literary environments of Beijing, this project proceeds from a neglected, yet widely influential urban miscellany published in 1635, A Sketch of Sites and Objects in the Imperial Capital (Dijing jingwulüe, 帝京景物略). It argues that the textual worldview of the urban miscellany played a central role in the discursive invention of the imperial capital, transforming what had been a frontier city into a cultural nucleus of the Ming state. Blending a new sentimental style found in personal expression with a documentary mode for public purposes, A Sketch encapsulates the early modern intellectual reflections on the relation of historiography and literature. My study of the text demonstrates how they were engaged in commemorative writing while facing drastic social changes caused by domestic crisis and foreign threats. This dissertation presents three case studies to elaborate how the late-Ming scholars inhabited Beijing in the literary sphere: an account of violence and death, the depiction of the northern landscape, and research on ancient stone inscriptions. Working across a variety of textual materials, including strange tales, travelogues, gazetteers, and treatises on epigraphical studies, this project examines the intertextual relation of A Sketch and its contemporary world of knowledge and learning. It also introduces the circulation and reception of A Sketch in subsequent periods. Integrating the study of literary networks, architectural history, and geospatial analysis, my research demonstrates how Chinese classical prose, as a distinctive mode of seeing and thinking, was reshaped by social transformation and political turmoil.




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