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Out of the Margins

Out of the Margins: The Rise of Chinese Vernacular Fiction

Liangyan Ge
Copyright Date: 2001
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  • Book Info
    Out of the Margins
    Book Description:

    The novel Water Margin (Shuihu zhuan), China's earliest full-length narrative in vernacular prose, first appeared in print in the sixteenth century. The tale of one hundred and eight bandit heroes evolved from a long oral tradition; in its novelized form, it played a pivotal role in the rise of Chinese vernacular fiction, which flourished during the late Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) periods. Liangyan Ge's multidimensional study considers the evolution of Water Margin and the rise of vernacular fiction against the background of the vernacularization of premodern Chinese literature as a whole. This gradual and arduous process, as the book convincingly shows, was driven by sustained contact and interaction between written culture and popular orality. Ge examines the stylistic and linguistic features of the novel against those of other works of early Chinese vernacular literature (stories, in particular), revealing an accretion of features typical of different historical periods and a prolonged and cumulative process of textualization. In addition to providing a meticulous philological study, his work offers a new reading of the novel that interprets some of its salient characteristics in terms of the interplay between audience, storytellers, and men of letters associated with popular orality.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6382-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note on Chinese Romanization
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    In both the West and the East, the relationship of writing to speech has a direct bearing on literature, especially narrative literature. Around the eighth century b.c., the Greeks adopted the writing shapes from the Phoenician syllabary and invented what is known to be the earliest alphabetic system. The advent of the Greek writing system marks the beginning of a new era of Western civilization, with written literature as one of the most immediate results. The Homeric epics, hitherto existing only orally, now became written, although there is no consensus how that was accomplished. The significance of this process has...

  6. 1 Vernacularization before Shuihu zhuan
    (pp. 10-35)

    It is extremely difficult to determine exactly when the writing script of ancient China began to diverge from speech. Bernhard Karlgren estimated that Chinese writing and speech started to part ways at the beginning of the Christian era, which was roughly equivalent to the end of the Western Han period (206 b.c.–a.d. 22): “In the written language from the pre-Christian era right down to our own day, people have continued to use the original short and concise word material; in other words, the authors have continued to write classical Chinese, regardless of the fact that the spoken language had...

  7. 2 Told or Written: That Is the Question
    (pp. 36-63)

    The field of early Chinese vernacular fiction has long been haunted by questions concerning the origins of the genre. How was each of the earliest full-length vernacular novels—Shuihu zhuan, Sanguo yanyi, andXiyou ji—related to the long oral tradition that preceded it? Did the popular story-cycles only provide the subject matter for the composition of the narrative, or did the oral model exert a shaping influence on the work in print on the level of narrative discourse as well? These questions are so hard to answer simply because we know so little about those popular traditions and about...

  8. 3 The Narrative Pattern: The Uniform versus the Multiform
    (pp. 64-100)

    If indeed the narrative discourse inShuihu zhuanis to a large extent of oral provenance, what is the most convincing textual evidence of the ties to its oral antecedents? Scholars in the past focused on some formal features, inShuihu zhuanand in other vernacular narratives, that were considered devices in storytelling before they survived the transition from the oral to the written, or, in C. T. Hsia’s words, “a storyteller’s clichés.”¹ These features include the frequent use of formulary phrases such as “huashuo,” “queshuo,” “qieshuo,” “buzai huaxia,” and so on, which could have been part of the storyteller’s...

  9. 4 From Voice to Text: The Orality-Writing Dynamic
    (pp. 101-143)

    In the previous chapter, the narrative discourse ofShuihu zhuanis discussed in terms of the oral mode of composition and story making. The discussion, I hope, helps elucidate the fact that much of the narrative discourse indeed took shape in an oral milieu, with many elements characteristic of oral literature intact or discernible in its present textual form. Of course, the voice of the storyteller is gone forever, and it is only in the form of the printed text that the narrative exists today. The current chapter addresses the issue of the textualization of the work. My argument here...

  10. 5 The Engine of Narrative Making: Audience, Storytellers, and Shuhui xiansheng
    (pp. 144-178)

    In the foregoing chapter, the results of the philological analyses of thefanbentext demonstrate a continuous deposition of stylistic and linguistic features from different periods. While we remain still ignorant of many things about the evolution of theShuihucomplex, we can now say one thing with a reasonable amount of certainty: Thefanbentext ofShuihu zhuan, which presents full-fledged vernacular prose, was “written” and repeatedly “rewritten” amid constant contacts with orality over a long time historically. Yet while the results of such analyses are obviously historicist in nature, the approach to the study of the stylistic and...

  11. 6 Literary Vernacular and Novelistic Discourse
    (pp. 179-198)

    The rise of written vernacular as a new literary language, in China as in the West, was inevitably the result of a long process of the interaction and interpenetration between the forces of written culture and those of orality and of a gradual confluence of literary consciousness with oral sensibilities.¹ In the cultural context of early premodern China, the persistent transmission and textualization of theShuihustory cycles was a major part of the interface between oral and written traditions. With modern knowledge on the nature of oral culture and the relationship between orality and writing, we can now pay...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 199-244)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 245-260)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 261-282)
  15. Index
    (pp. 283-293)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 294-294)