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Western sinology on Ming and Qing literature

TIAN YUAN TAN | 2023-01-19 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today

A Collection of European and American Papers on Ming and Qing Poetry and Prose 

A Collection of European and American Papers on Ming and Qing Poetry and Prose, under the chief editorship of Ye Ye, a professor from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Peking University, and Yan Zinan, an associate professor from the School of Chinese Language and Literature at Beijing Normal University, compiled and translated 21 works of research (including papers and several prefaces) on Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) poetry and prose by European and American sinologists in recent decades from an academic history perspective. 

Many would associate Ming and Qing literary studies in European and American sinology with either novels and operas, or cultural phenomena of the late Ming and early Qing and women’s literature. As the evolutionary theory of literary history tilts towards newly developing dynastic literary genres, the “emerging” popular literature, such as novels and dramas of the Ming and Qing dynasties, has attracted considerable attention. Orthodox literature such as poetry and prose, often snubbed as the “echo” of previous dynasties, is often ignored. This phenomenon can also be found in domestic academia. 

Research on cultural phenomena in late Ming and early Qing and women’s literature centers on historical and cultural phenomena and themes. Although involving such literature forms as poems and essays, it does not necessarily concern the development and change of a certain literary genre itself. Instead, it regards poetry, prose, and other literary types as historical documents or texts for later generations to probe the features of a certain era. Therefore, to explore European and American sinology on Ming and Qing poetry and prose, what we can see is not necessarily a clear-cut literary genre-centered mainline, but several intersecting and integrated rich veins among multiple genres and disciplines. 

In research of Ming and Qing prose, Western sinologists tend to pay particular attention to baguwen [eight-legged essays]. This is illustrative of the intricate perspectives and veins of sinology in Europe and America. Generally, the field falls into three categories. The first mainly proceeds from the literary perspective, ranging from pioneering research and translation of Ching-I Tu, Andrew Plaks, and Andrew Lo in the 1970s to Alexander Des Forges’s book on the aesthetics of baguwen published in 2021. The second takes the imperial examination system as its research object, which belongs to the scope of historical research. In addition, outside of traditional sinology circles, the related discipline of rhetoric has also shown great interest in baguwen. In Western rhetoric and in comparisons between Chinese and Western rhetoric, baguwen has always gained much attention, being viewed very early as a literary genre that can embody the laws of Chinese rhetoric. 

Tian Yuan Tan is Shaw Professor of Chinese in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oxford.