Articulating the Parts
Fiction can begin abruptly, with a direct leap into the characters' world, or it can begin with a transitional section in which the implied author speaks directly to the reader. In traditional Chinese fiction, so heavily oriented toward the author, we would expect critics and authors to favor the latter course, and this turns out to be the case. Mirroring these opening sections, most novels end with a similar segment serving as a transition from the characters' world back to that of the implied author, in preparation for the reader's return to his own world. These opening and closing sections can be long or short, but a minimalist version, consisting of opening and closing poems in a lyric tone from the point of view of the implied author, became the favored form. Fiction critics praised openings of this type1 and edited earlier texts so as to bring them into accord with this practice.
The practice of opening with a poem is paralleled in chuanqi drama by the convention of having the first actor to appear intone a poem or poems to introduce the play to come. At least by the late Ming, it was common for the author to work his name into these opening poems. The general name for these prologues in chuanqi plays is jiamen.2 When characters first appear on stage, they usually introduce themselves and their family background (zibao jiamen: "announcing one's family background"). These prologues were places for the author to introduce his play and himself. Li Yu described the first poem in a jiamen as traditionally not directly connected to the subject matter of the play and mostly conveying "trite expressions" (taohua) that exhort the listener to "lose his cares in wine" (duijiu wangyou) and take "a detached attitude" (fengchang zuoxi; Li Yu, Li Liweng quhua,____________________