Traditional Chinese Fiction and Fiction Commentary: Reading and Writing between the Lines

By David L. Rolston | Go to book overview

Introduction
Traditional Chinese Fiction Commentary in Context

Two handy places to add short comments to a traditional Chinese text are the space between the vertical lines (hang) of Chinese characters and the upper margin beyond the solid lines (lan) surrounding the text. However, this appearance of hard and solid boundaries between text and commentary is quite deceiving. When a text with commentary was printed, it was the usual practice to move comments from the upper margin to immediately after the passage to which they refer, where they appeared as double- columned small-character interlineal comments. Sometimes mistakes happened--commentary was printed as part of the main text or vice versa. This was not the only place, however, where text and commentary became confused. The lines dividing commentary from text became even more porous in the reader's memory. What happened when readers of fiction in commentary editions turned into writers of fiction? That is one of the things this book will investigate.

"Reading between the lines" involves the apprehension of a hidden message in the text. Commentators can lay claim to our attention only by promising to show us something that would otherwise elude us. They are thus as much in the business of reading between the lines as of writing between them. Readers of Chinese fiction commentaries learned from them to read between the lines. When such readers became authors, they tended to "write between the lines" in a figurative sense, although some literally wrote between the lines of their own texts as well.

Yet another set of lines dividing one set of things from another was frequently transgressed in fiction commentary and composition in premodern China. These are the lines between author and commentator, author and reader, reader and commentator, and extratextual commentator and narratorial commentator. These pairs could be written with a diagonal slash (author/commentator) to express alternation between the two statuses or with a hyphen to indicate the possibility of a deeper fusion (author-commentator).

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