Two different Perspectives on the Development of Prose during the Ming-Qing Transition Era and the Relationship between Classical Prose and Vignette Essays
Keywords:言志, 載道, 明清散文, 小品, 古文, “expressing one’s aspiration”, “representing the Way”, Ming-Qing prose, vignette essays, classical prose
LANGUAGE NOTE | Document text in Chinese; abstract also in English.
During the New Culture Movement, Chou Tso-jen 周作人 was dissatisfied with general discussions on the development of Ming-Qing prose. He considered that these discussions left late-Ming essays unheeded and that they overgeneralized Qing-dynasty prose and placed it under the Tongcheng 桐城 School. Chou instead promoted late-Ming vignette essays and advocated the literary thoughts of the Gong’an 公安 School, even regarding them as a parallel of those from the New Culture Movement. These thoughts were highly influential. Ever since then, scholars who discussed prose of the Ming and Qing dynasties could not avoid mentioning vignette essays. Consequently, in most studies of Chinese literary history there has been an emphasis on Ming-Qing prose, especially vignette essays. In fact, this phenomenon was formed as a result of the competition of two literary thoughts, namely “representing the Way” 載道 and lyricism. There are some issues worth our consideration: Which of the two literary thoughts is more accurate? How can we evaluate prose development during the Ming-Qing transition in a fair and accurate manner? What is the relationship between classical prose and vignette essays? Starting from Chou’s disagreement with discussions of Ming-Qing prose, the present study aims to clarify the two discussions on the development of the prose of Ming-Qing times and discuss their literary thoughts. Although the discussion of the dichotomy of “expressing one’s aspiration” 言志 and “representing the Way” by Chou is not accurate, his discussion of the development of Ming-Qing prose is of significance. Based on the analysis of the views of classical prose of Ming-Qing essayists, we observe a less tense relationship between vignette essays and classical prose than what Chou discussed. However, his emphasis on the tense relationship between “expressing one’s aspiration” and “representing the Way” became the major motivation for change and development of Ming-Qing prose.
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