Spirit and Self in Medieval China

Spirit and Self in Medieval China: The Shih-shuo hsin-yu and Its Legacy

Nanxiu Qian
Copyright Date: 2001
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Spirit and Self in Medieval China
    Book Description:

    TheShih-shuo hsin-yu,conventionally translated asA New Account of Tales of the World,is one of the most significant works in the entire Chinese literary tradition. It established a genre (theShih-shuo t'i) and inspired dozens of imitations from the later part of the Tang dynasty (618-907) to the early Republican era of the twentieth century. TheShih-shuo hsin-yuconsists of more than a thousand historical anecdotes about elite life in the late Han dynasty and the Wei-Chin period (about A.D. 150-420).

    Despite a general recognition of the place of theShih-shuo hsin-yuin China's literary history (and to a lesser extent that of Japan), the genre itself has never been adequately defined or thoroughly studied.Spirit and Self in Medieval Chinaoffers the first thorough study in any language of the origins and evolution of theShih-shuo t'ibased on a comprehensive literary analysis of theShih-shuo hsin-yuand a systematic documentation and examination of more than thirty imitations. The study also contributes to the growing interest in the Chinese idea of individual identity. By focusing on theShin-shuogenre, which provides the starting point in China for a systematic literary construction of the self, it demonstrates that, contrary to Western assertions of a timeless Chinese "tradition," an authentic understanding of personhood in China changed continually and often significantly in response to changing historical and cultural circumstances.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6442-2
    Subjects: History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Chinese Dynasties
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Japanese Periods Involved in the Japanese Shih-shuo Imitations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    This book offers a comprehensive analysis of theShih-shuo hsin-yü(conventionally translated as “A New Account of Tales of the World”) and its literary legacy—a legacy that lasted for well over 1,600 years in China and that also extended to other parts of East Asia during this period. Compiled by the Liu-Sung (420–479) Prince of Liu I-ch’ing (403–444) and his staff around a.d. 430,¹ theShih-shuo hsin-yüconsists of more than 1,130 historical anecdotes about elite life in the late Han (ca. 150–220) and Wei-Chin (220–420) periods—what is generally regarded as China’s early medieval...

  8. Part 1 From Character Appraisal to Character Writing:: The Formation of the Shih-shuo Genre
    • Introduction to Part 1: Shih-shuo t’i, the Term and the Genre
      (pp. 17-19)

      The termShih-shuo t’ifirst appeared in Ch’ao Kung-wu’s (fl. mid-twelfth century)Chün-chai tu-shu chih(Bibliographic treatise from the prefectural studio),¹ after the early wave ofShih-shuoimitations arose during the T’ang-Sung periods. Although the term has since recurred often in different academic works,² and althoughShih-shuo t’ias an influential genre has been historically affirmed by theShih-shuo hsin-yüand its dozens of imitations, its generic characteristics remain obscure.

      TheShih-shuo hsin-yühas remained in the category ofhsiao-shuoin the sense of “petty talk” or “minor persuasions” since its first appearance in the “Sui Treatise.”³ Following this basic...

    • Chapter 1 Character Appraisal: The Foundation of the Shih-shuo t’i
      (pp. 20-42)

      Various Chinese terms for the conceptcharacter appraisalcirculated in late Han and Wei-Chin gentry circles. Both theShih-shuo hsin-yüand the historical references quoted in its extensive and corroborative commentary by Liu Chün (462–521) abundantly document this practice.¹ In these records, character appraisal is known most fully asjen-lun chien-shih, with shortened forms such asjen-lun chien, chih-jen chien, chih-jen shih, chih-jen, jen-lun, chien-shih, shih-chien, or simply,shih, chien, orlun.² Technical actions that often accompany this practice includep’in(ranking),p’ing(commenting, evaluating),t’i(characterizing), andmu(evaluating, characterizing).³

      To my knowledge, the termjen-lun chien-shihdid...

    • Chapter 2 Character Appraisal and the Formation of Wei-Chin Spirit
      (pp. 43-83)

      After the Wei nine-rank system had discharged character appraisal from its political responsibilities, what caused the practice to become even more prevalent and to evolve on its own into a multidimensional exploration of human nature? What motivated and sustained the two-hundred-year Wei-Chin desire to know, to develop, and to express one’s self, leading eventually to the creation of theShih-shuo hsin-yü? The answer lies in the interaction between the practice of character appraisal, the growth of self-awareness, and the evolution of the dominant Wei-Chin ideology,Hsüan-hsüeh.¹ All three influences contributed to the process of Wei-Chin self-fashioning and self-expression, offering terminology...

    • Chapter 3 Shih-shuo t’i: A Sui Generis Genre
      (pp. 84-98)

      Wei-Chin character appraisal bequeathed to theShih-shuo t’iobligatory discursive properties, and its nonpragmatic approach propelled the genre into a philosophical, psychological, and aesthetic quest for ideal personalities. Semantically, character appraisal implanted in theShih-shuo t’ia preoccupation with the study of human nature. Syntactically, it foreshadowed the taxonomic structure of theShih-shuo t’i, which classified historical anecdotes according to human character types. And verbally, the linguistic paradox that haunted character appraisal throughout the Wei-Chin era stimulated theShih-shuoauthor to a broad search for adequate literary and artistic expressions of human nature. A new genre was in the making....

  9. Part 2 The Narrative Art of the Shih-shuo hsin-yü
    • Introduction to Part 2: Fictional Truth or Truthful Fiction
      (pp. 101-102)

      Later readers unanimously acclaim theShih-shuo hsin-yüto be the best of all theShih-shuo t’iand a fascinating work in its own right. For instance, Ch’ien Fen (fl. 1650s) tells us: “The dots and strokes in theShih-shuo hsin-yüare so vividly applied that they make the reader feel as if personally listening to the tastyShaomusic played by the Musician Wei and connecting with Yin Hao and Liu T’an’s abstruse thoughts. Their spirit, intelligence, and intentions all flourish at the tip of the ink-brush … Had the author not excelled in such Nature-like creativity, how could he...

    • Chapter 4 Between Order and Disorder: The Shih-shuo Taxonomy of Human Nature
      (pp. 103-150)

      The most distinctive formula of theShih-shuogenre is its classification, a “system of elements”¹ composed of both its perceptible components, including the anecdotes and the chapter titles, and an abstract syntax that links all the elements. How did the author structure this system? Why did he choose to order human nature in this particular way? What problems did he face in creating this system with language—after all, any order is ultimately a linguistic rearrangement of reality—and how did these problems affect the expression of his ideas?

      TheShih-shuo hsin-yüoffers no explicit statement about its principles of...

    • Chapter 5 Using Body to Depict Spirit: The Shih-shuo Characterization of “Persons”
      (pp. 151-190)

      Along with its chapter title, eachShih-shuoepisode comes to illustrate the human type represented by that title. Apart from its chapter title, eachShih-shuoepisode presents a portrayal of a particular character. Over six hundredShih-shuocharacters freely traverse different chapters, establishing their identities through the presentation of various aspects of their lives. When we read about their loves, their sorrows, their arguments, or their rivalries, we feel transported to a real human world, where each person projects his or her unique personality. No matter how hard we try to identify all of the trait names associated with each...

  10. Part 3 Discontinuity along the Line of Continuity:: Imitations of the Shih-shuo hsin-yü
    • Introduction to Part 3: A Category Mistake
      (pp. 193-210)

      TheShih-shuo hsin-yüis one of the most imitated works in the entire Chinese literary tradition. What was it about the original that impelled scholars to compose their own versions of this Wei-Chin pioneering oeuvre? What were imitators of theShih-shuotrying to achieve, and how were their derivative works received by the reading public in subsequent periods?

      I have been able to track down at least thirty-five imitations of theShih-shuo hsin-yüand have reviewed thirty texts. For the remaining five, one is not extant and the other four have not yet been located. Each of these imitations shares...

    • Chapter 6 Body and Heart: T’ang and Sung Imitations
      (pp. 211-246)

      Three T’angShih-shuoimitations are found in various bibliographic records: Wang Fang-ch’ing’s (d. 702)Continuation of the Shih-shuo hsin-shu, Feng Yen’s (fl. 742–800)Memoirs, and Liu Su’sNew Account of the Great T’ang. Wang’s work is not extant today. Feng’sMemoirs, written in the early ninth century, mainly covers a broad range of encyclopedic entries. Only chapters 9 and 10 consist of thirty-seven T’ang historical anecdotes, divided into thirty-six imitativeShih-shuocategories. Liu Su’s work, compiled in 807, follows theShih-shuoscheme in a more rigorous way. It collects around 380 episodes about T’ang political and intellectual life under...

    • Chapter 7 Things and Intent: Ming and Ch’ing Imitations
      (pp. 247-282)

      MostShih-shuoimitations emerged in the late Ming and the early Ch’ing, from the 1550s to the 1680s. These works covered a longer time span (from antiquity to the early Ch’ing) and a broader range of Chinese social and intellectual life (with up to ninety-eight categories in one work) than previousShih-shuo t’iworks. The subgenres also expanded from general or dynastic surveys of gentry life to works focusing on specific groups, such as Chiao Hung’sYü-t’ang ts’ung-yüon scholars of the Han-lin Academy and Yen Ts’ung-ch’iao’sSeng Shih-shuo, culled from three biographical works about eminent monks.¹ There were also...

    • Chapter 8 Milk and Scent: Women Shih-shuo
      (pp. 283-318)

      Two Ch’ingShih-shuoimitations, both entitledNü Shih-shuo(WomenShih-shuo), deal entirely with women: One is by the male writer Li Ch’ing (1602–1683),¹ composed in the early 1650s, and the other is by a woman, Yen Heng (1826?–1854), published a decade or so after her death. Li’s work includes 759 stories about remarkable women from antiquity to the end of Yüan, collected from both historical and legendary writings and categorized into thirty-one types. Yen managed in her short lifetime to collect seventy-nine unclassified entries about women poets and artists from the early Ch’ing to her own time—mainly...

    • Chapter 9 An Alien Analogue: The Japanese Imitation Daitō seigo
      (pp. 319-338)

      TheShih-shuo t’iinspired imitations not only in imperial China but also in Tokugawa and Meiji Japan.¹ Ironically, the closest imitation of theShih–shuo hsin-yüin late imperial times can be found in Japan rather than in China. It is Hattori Nankaku’sDaitō seigo, orAn Account of the Great Eastern World, a work that presents an animated scroll of Heian (794–1185) and Kamakura (1185–1333) personalities. Written entirely in classical Chinese and furnished with its model work’s taxonomic scheme and linguistic style, theDaitō seigophysically looks very much like theShih-shuo hsin-yü.² Moreover, it spiritually resembles...

    • Chapter 10 New and Old: The Last Wave of Shih-shuo Imitations
      (pp. 339-367)

      The last wave ofShih-shuoimitations, Hsü K’o’sCh’ing-pai lei-ch’ao(Classified records from unofficial Ch’ing historical writings) and Yi Tsung-k’uei’sHsin Shih-shuo(NewShih-shuo), emerged soon after the 1911 Republican Revolution. The two works were finished only two years apart, in 1916 and 1918 respectively, but the two authors’ motivation and purpose of compilation differed greatly.

      Although claimed as aShih-shuoimitation, Hsü K’o’sCh’ing-pai lei-ch’aolooks more like an encyclopedic work. With 13,500 Ch’ing historical anecdotes classified into ninety-two categories, it covers almost every aspect of Ch’ing China: its geographical features, social, political, and economic systems, art, religion, and...

  11. Conclusion: The Self and the Mirror
    (pp. 368-380)

    TheShih-shuotradition reveals an intimate and inextricable connection between the “self” and the “other.” Although theShih-shuogenre arose from the Wei-Chin elite’s desire to express themselves on their own terms, as if the opinions of others did not matter, in fact they and their successors never stopped adjusting their images, trying to present an ideal self to others. TheShih-shuotradition clearly reflects this effort in its never-ending revision of the genre—in its expansion of categories, reclassification of episodes, and rewriting of accounts—all so that the intellectual elite could dazzle their audience—and themselves—with the...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 381-458)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 459-474)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 475-504)
  15. Index
    (pp. 505-520)