“Vernacular Literature in China” 1650-1800 Reference Vol. D
What is Vernacular Chinese? • Written Chinese is divided roughly into “literary” or classical” Chinese and “vernacular Chinese. • Many assume that “classical”Chinese represents something like the spoken language of the first three centuries BC. • However, as time went on and spoken Chinese evolved, “classical” Chinese remained the standard of writing—and in most cases was probably aurally comprehensible (as the King James Bible is to us).
Very Different Qualities • From the 13th century on, stories could be written in either classical or vernacular Chinese. • Classical stories (usually called tales”in some imperfect analogy to the distinction between tales and short stories in the West) were terse and placed a particular emphasis on phrasing. • Vernacular stories, imitating the manner of oral storytelling, delighted in detailed description, lively dialogue and speculation on the motivation of characters. • In a classical story a small gesture would be pregnant with meaning, while in a vernacular story the narrator often explains such a gesture fully.
Chapter Overview 1. When the Mongol (Yüan) armies overran northern China and the southern Sung dynasties, they established themselves as a dynasty, abolishing governmental principles derived from Confucian teachings. 2. Often building on works of classical literature, vernacular literature (dealing with sex, violence, satire, and humor) became known for its ability to elaborate creatively on plots of earlier works by filling in details or perhaps even by articulating what had been omitted.
3. Under the Ch'ing Dynasty, and especially during the period known as the "literary inquisition," classical Chinese writing suffered a devastating blow. 4. China's autonomy and cultural self-confidence were decimated in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when European colonial powers began to exert control over China's economy.
A Political Overhaul • When the Mongol (Yüan) armies overran northern China and the southern Sung dynasties, they established themselves as a dynasty, abolishing governmental principles derived from Confucian teachings. • In effect, this meant that although classical literature retained importance in intellectual circles, it gradually became marginalized in spheres of public and private life.
In the place of formal Chinese literature. . .,. • Vernacular literature (plays, verse, romance, and prose fiction) began to play an important role in urban areas. • Emphasized especially sex, violence, satire, and humor. • These Vernacular works, while often building on the tradition of classical literature, became known for their ability to elaborate creatively on plots of earlier works by filling in details or perhaps even by articulating what had been omitted
For instance, Wu Ch'eng-en's extensive novel Monkey, or "Journey to the West," is historically based on the Buddhist monk Tripitaka's pilgrimage from China to India. • Whereas neo-Confucianism emphasized rediscovering the Confucian classics as a way to build a system of private and social ethics that could determine all aspects of life, vernacular literature focused on liberty, violent energy, and passion. • In effect, it gave a voice to aspects of life that neo-Confucianism tried to repress.
K'ung Shang-jen's Peach Blossom Fan is a play derived from the ch'uan-ch'i tradition, which consists of long plays that are performed over a period of several days. • Cao Xueqin's novel the Story of the Stone, better known as the Dream of the Red Chamber, is a long, unfinished female-centered novel and has been viewed as an embodiment of Chinese national identity.
The Chinese Novel • The novel in China was essentially a vernacular form. • Later there were attempts at novels in classical Chinese in the tradition but with mixed success. • First developed in story telling cycles. • The breakup of the Han Dynasty emerged in the novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms • Another cycle deals with the heroic bandits of the Sung Dynasty became Men of the Marsh (Pear Buck’s version is All Men Are Brothers.
Wu Cheng'enor Wu Ch'eng-en • He received a traditional Confucian education and became known for his clever poetry and prose composition in the classical style. • Interested in bizarre stories, he used oral and written folktales as the basis of the novel Xiyouji (Journey to the West, also partially translated as Monkey), published anonymously in 1592. • Like all novels of its time, Hsi-yu chi was written in the vernacular, as opposed to the officially accepted classical style, and therefore had to be published anonymously to protect the author's reputation. As a result, the identity of the novelist was long unknown outside of Wu's native district.
Monkey • A Folk novel—evolved over time. Wu Ch’eng was the last handler of the story (like Thomas Malory and his Mort de Arthur.) • As mentioned, novels were consider a low-status activity and before the eighteenth century known literary men were often unwilling to have their names associated with a novel—so instead they usually wrote under a pseudonym. • Economic success led to plagiarism with reduced or expanded versions of a work.
Journey to the West • It is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. • Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三國演義) (14th century) • Water Margin (水滸傳) (also known as Outlaws of the Marsh) (mid-13th/14th/15th century?), • Journey to the West (西遊記) (16th century), • Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢) (also known as The Story of the Stone) (first block print 1792)
Originally published anonymously in the 1590s during the Ming Dynasty, and even though no direct evidence of its authorship survives, it is traditionally ascribed to the scholar Wú Chéng'ēn. • The novel is a fictionalized account of the legends around the Buddhist monk Xuánzàng'sor Tripitaka's pilgrimage to India during the Táng dynasty in order to obtain Buddhist religious texts called sutras. The Bodhisattva Guānyīn, on instruction from the Buddha, gives this task to the monk and his three protectors in the form of disciples — namely Sūn Wùkōng, Zhū Bājiè and Shā Wùjìng — together with a dragon prince who acts as Xuánzàng's horse mount. • These four characters have agreed to help Xuánzàng as an atonement for past sins. The pilgrims undergo eighty-one calamities of all sorts before bringing the sutras back to the Chinese capital of Cháng'ān (present-day Xī'ān). (From Wikipedia)
Some scholars propose that the book is a work of satire on the effeteness of the Chinese government at the time. Journey to the West has a strong background in Chinese folk religion, Chinese mythology and value systems. In particular, the pantheon of Taoist and Buddhist deities is still reflective of many Chinese folk religious beliefs today. • Part of the novel's enduring popularity comes from the fact that it works on multiple levels: it is a first-rate adventure story, a dispenser of spiritual insight, and an extended allegory in which the group of pilgrims journeying toward India stands for the individual journeying toward en-lightenment. It also has much comedy, poetry and word play.
Sites Cited “Journey to the West.” Wikipedia. 27 Feb. 2007 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journey_to_the_West Norton Anthology of World Literaturehttp://www.wwnorton.com/nawol/s16_overview.htm "Wu Cheng'en." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. 27 Feb. 2007 <http://concise.britannica.com/ebc/article-9382986/Wu-Chengen>.
Dr. Rearick’s Sites • “Wu Ch'eng-en” Dr. Rearick’s Readers’ Corner at MVNU. (26 Feb. 2008) http://nzr.mvnu.edu/faculty/trearick/english/rearick/readings/authors/specific/Wu%20Ch'eng-en.htm • “Journey into the West” Dr. Rearick’s Readers’ Corner at MVNU. (26 Feb. 2008) http://nzr.mvnu.edu/faculty/trearick/english/rearick/readings/works/novel/monkey_journey_into_the_west.htm