Publishers and their Hua-p'u in the Wan-li Period: The Development of the Comprehensive Painting Manual in the Late Ming
The late Ming period is marked with the flourishing of art and the development of art historical knowledge among not just the old gentry but also among the rising middle class. The spurring economy gave more people, dwelling in the metropolitan areas of China, a chance to buy and savor contemporary arts of the Ming as well as to collect antique works produced in the previous dynasties. Publishers in the Wan-li period (1573-1620) wasted no time to answer the enthusiasm for collecting and decorating which went hand-in-hand with an increased desire for knowledge on the arts and tradition of painting. The publication of comprehensive painting manuals, the most developed form of hua-p'u one after another fulfilled such enthusiastic needs. Hua-p'u or woodblock printed books with illustrations defined various aspects of the art of painting, including theory, history, styles and methods of multiple genres, such as birds-and-flowers, landscapes, and figures.
In the stream of development of comprehensive painting manuals in the Wan-li period, literati artists, commercial publishers or the imperial clan head which published the hua-p'u attempted to record the history of the tradition through their printed texts and illustrations. The publications were edited and produced to satisfy the needs of the target audience of the individual publishers. Comprehensive painting manuals played the most important role in circulating knowledge regarding the art of painting and its history both in text and through visual images to a wide audience that prepared to establish the foundation of antiquarian trends of the late Ming.