A vast array of “vernacular” novels from late imperial and modern China feature well-edited official documents such as decrees, edicts, and memorials. The present study argues that these long-overlooked official documents offer unique access to creative political ideas that would otherwise be inaccessible to us. Using Xiyou ji 西遊記 (The Journey to the West) as a case study, this article initiates a critical dialogue between histories of documents, print culture, knowledge dissemination, vernacular novels, and political thought. The study begins with an exposition of the Ming regulations governing the formatting and representation of official documents. Tracing how the civil service examinations familiarized the reading public with documentary formatting, it then details how anonymous producers of various editions of the novel problematized the emperor's two bodies on documentary margins. It concludes by providing examples from Manchu manuscripts and Lu Xun's novels, suggesting that the methods explored here may be applied to further studies beyond Sinitic texts and the late imperial period.

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