Relational Characterization and Ambiguous Characters
Along with the shift of focus from plot to character came increasing interest in characterization and ways to achieve "depth" or "roundness." The "inhuman" and "heavy" characters of early vernacular fiction1 gave way to characters from ordinary life as authors turned their attention away from the "extraordinary" (conceived as different from the lives of most people) and searched for the "extraordinary in the ordinary."2
It was natural, therefore, for characters to become more human and more complex, and for characterization to become more subtle. Fiction commentators stressed that even evil characters such as Gao Qiu (of the Shuihu zhuan) and Pan Jinlian (of the Jin Ping Mel) are not completely evil.3 A comment in the Zhiyan zhai commentary argues that a truly talented and beautiful woman always has a defect, such as Shi Xiangyun's lisp, that adds to her beauty by making her more real ( ZYZ 20.382-83, jimao, gengchen, Wangfu, and Youzheng ic).
This is a far cry from earlier drama and fiction. According to descriptions of puppet theater in the Song dynasty, loyal and upright characters were given an "upright" visage, whereas evil characters were depicted as physically as well as morally ugly ( Xia Xieshi, p. 8). Drama continued to employ a rather rigid system of role types that distinguished between "good" and "bad" characters, although later playwrights such as Kong____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Traditional Chinese Fiction and Fiction Commentary:Reading and Writing between the Lines. Contributors: David L. Rolston - Author. Publisher: Stanford University. Place of publication: Stanford, CA. Publication year: 1997. Page number: 209.
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