Ming-Qing Fiction

Yenna Wu

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Ming-Qing Fiction

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  • East Asian Studies
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Ming-Qing fiction (Ming Qing xiaoshuo 明清小說) refers to the fictional works produced during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) dynasties. This vast group of narratives is heterogeneous due to their diverse influences, sources, linguistic mediums, subject matter, aesthetic levels, and functions. Depending on the dominant medium adopted, these narratives can be roughly divided into two groups: classical-language fiction and vernacular fiction. Drawing upon both classical and oral traditions, vernacular stories and novels often exhibit hybrid characteristics in language and narration. The topics of Ming-Qing fiction cover history; wars and violence; chivalry and martial arts; adventures and fantasies; the supernatural; religions and moral values; deities and demons; human relationships and conflicting desires; scholars and beauties; romantic comedies and tragedies; social criticism and satire; crime and detection; literati identity and erudition; courtesans and prostitutes; eroticism; and loyalism and nationalism. Fiction, particularly vernacular fiction, had traditionally occupied a much-lower rung on the literary ladder, and many authors wrote anonymously or pseudonymously. Because of their depiction of heterodox desires, ideas, and behaviors, many vernacular fictional works were frequently proscribed or destroyed by the government. They were not well preserved, formally catalogued, described, or studied. Intellectuals of the New Culture Movement (mid-1910s–1920s) began to study vernacular fiction seriously and to compile bibliographies systematically. Much research was conducted on the textual history, historical background, sources, authorship, and sociopolitical and cultural significance of canonic novels. During the Mao era (1949–1976), scholars—primarily outside China—continued the research, expanding and revising our understanding. Beginning in the 1980s, the field has witnessed rapid development as scholars both inside and outside China have joined efforts in research. Scholarship since the 1960s has made new discoveries and important revisions, unearthing obscure works while also highlighting literary relations and artistic aspects. Better translations of canonic fictional works as well as new translations of lesser-known works have greatly facilitated the appreciation and research. Studies in fiction commentary have enhanced our understanding of subtle techniques, hidden ironies, and complex relationships among authors and readers, commentators, and fictional narrators. Achievements have been made in such areas as genre studies; comparative literary studies; studies about Western influence in late Qing; studies in gender, sexuality, and eroticism; and other thematic and topical studies. Some aspects of Ming-Qing fiction’s influence on East and Southeast Asian literature through translations and adaptations have also been explored.

Article.  25572 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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