This series of separate brief monographs in uniform format (8.5 by 11, stapled, blue paper covers) was begun as a private venture in November 1986 by Victor Mair. Copies of printed issues were kept on shelves in the basement of his house in Swarthmore, and orders reached him via his department (then Oriental Studies) at the University of Pennsylvania. The intended scope and character of the series (not a journal in the strict bibliographic sense of the term) is well described in the statement that has appeared on the inside front cover of every issue since the first:
. . . to make available to specialists and the interested public the results of research that, because of its unconventional or controversial nature, might otherwise go unpublished. The editor actively encourages younger, not yet well established, scholars and independent authors to submit manuscripts for consideration. Contributions in any of the major scholarly languages of the world, including Romanized Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) and Japanese, are acceptable.
It was thought at one point that with the diffusion of print technology among the class of computer owners, publishing would break out of its previous constrictions. This general development did not take place, but SPP is one example: an explicit challenge to the gatekeepers whose chief role is to keep the lid on.
There was also a substantive emphasis. Again the inside front cover:
Although the chief focus of Sino-Platonic Papers is on the intercultural relations of China with other peoples, challenging and creative studies on a wide variety of philological subjects will be entertained. This series is not the place for safe, sober, and stodgy presentations. Sino-Platonic Papers prefers lively work that, while taking reasonable risks to advance the field, capitalizes on brilliant new insights into the development of civilization.
The recognition that scientific advance involves a risk factor, and the acceptance of the scientific understanding that not all insights turn out to be brilliant, is itself an important contribution to the general Sinological awareness. And finally, to the thesis auntie with her margin-measuring tool, and the semicolon expert with his decapitalization fetish and his romanization hangup, SPP, while betraying a systematic dislike of Chinese characters (implicit in the invitation for "romanized Chinese" in the paragraph quoted above) SPP responds by opening the door all the way:
The only style-sheet we honor is that of consistency.
From this audacious beginning, there have followed 200 issues, all admirably kept in print, with individual numbers reprinted by the same Swarthmore print shop, as their popularity might require. Only those who have tried to organize a basement, or given up searching for an envelope the right size to hold exactly seven-eighths of an inch worth of stapled paper, will have any idea of the industry, not to mention the dedication, that have sustained this series over twenty years. The other factor that has sustained it is the interest of the Sinological public. The editor said recently:
When I first started Sino-Platonic Papers back in 1986, I never dreamed that it would still be going after twenty years, that I would have published 170 issues, and that the series would attract so many distinguished authors. As a matter of fact, the whole purpose of SPP was to provide a venue for articles that were more venturesome than any other established, mainstream journal would be willing to take on. I always thought that SPP would be something of a samizdat operation, so I was quite surprised when major libraries all over the world began ordering the whole run of issues.
For some years, the selective SPP page at this site was a significant source of orders. More recently, SPP has acquired its own more complete and fully functional web site.
Success tends to swamp a samizdat beginning, and it also eventually raises the question: What next? SPP's own gradual use of Internet resources suggests the obvious answer. In response to our recent inquiry on these points, the editor has recently said:
The operation has now grown so large that it is beyond my ability to continue to operate it as a paper publication any longer. I simply do not have the space to warehouse any more back issues (they all remain in print), and I certainly do not have the time and energy to continue to address, invoice, package, and mail thousands of copies of the series every year. Consequently, I have decided that, after the current batch of issues (nos. 146-170) are printed and sent out, SPP henceforth shall be strictly an online publication.
Indeed, I have already begun to experiment with online publication, and I am finding that it reaches a very wide audience with much less physical labor than is required of a paper publication. I do not, however, regret all of the labors of the last two decades that were invested in the 170 paper SPPs, because I believe that I brought a considerable amount of significant scholarship before the public eye, and this was scholarship of a kind, furthermore, that might well never have seen the light of day in conventional journals. But I began SPP before online publication was a viable possibility. Now that it is, I am happy to let SPP take the next step in its evolution.
To which next step, the widening SPP public will look forward with much interest.
- [none at present]
- SPP web site and order page (includes some on-line issues)
20 Feb 2006 / Contact The Project / Exit to Sinology Page