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

By David L. Rolston | Go to book overview

4
Creating Implied Authors and Readers

Raising the Status of Fiction

Fiction was not originally well regarded in traditional China. By the end of the premodern era, however, some saw it as the hope for the salvation of China and honored it as the premier literary form.1 Although many factors lay behind this radical change of status, the efforts of fiction commentators surely played a part, even though those same commentators often protested the application of the word "fiction" (xiaoshuo) to the works on which they were commenting.

Any positive mention of a work of fiction can be interpreted as an attempt to raise its status. This is all the more true when people take the trouble to write commentaries on fiction, especially after Jin Shengtan set the precedent of commenting only on those aspects of his text he could present positively (even as he silently removed sections he was not inclined to defend). Commentary is usually reserved for texts considered important enough to justify such attention.


Official and Religious Attitudes Toward Fiction

The first edict banning a novel (the Shuihu zhuan) did not appear until 1642 ( T. Ma, p. 3), but a collection of literary-language fiction had been proscribed by imperial edict more than a century before,2 and the performance of certain types of dramatic and narrative stories had been banned in the Yuan dynasty ( Wang Liqi, p. 3). In the Qing dynasty, "literary inquisitions" were common, and the government repeatedly drew up lists of banned works including novels. The authorities were successful at suppress-

____________________
1
In 1907, Xia Zengyou ( 1863- 1924), in his "Lun xiaoshuo zhi shili ji yingxiang (On the power and influence of fiction)", said, "Fiction truly holds the most prestigious position in the world of literature" ( Chen Hong, Lilun shi, p. 348).
2
An edict proscribing Qu You ( 1341- 1427) Jiandeng xinhua dated 1442 appears in the Ming shilu (Veritable records of the Ming). See Fang Zhengyao, Piping shilüe, p. 91.

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