The Scholar and the State
Fiction as Political Discourse in Late Imperial China
- PUBLISHED: February 2017
- SUBJECT LISTING: Asian Studies / China, Literary Studies
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 292 Pages, 6 x 9 in
- ISBN: 9780295994185
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
In imperial China, intellectuals devoted years of their lives to passing rigorous examinations in order to obtain a civil service position in the state bureaucracy. This traditional employment of the literati class conferred social power and moral legitimacy, but changing social and political circumstances in the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) periods forced many to seek alternative careers. Politically engaged but excluded from their traditional bureaucratic roles, creative writers authored critiques of state power in the form of fiction written in the vernacular language.
In this study, Liangyan Ge examines the novels Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Scholars, Dream of the Red Chamber (also known as Story of the Stone), and a number of erotic pieces, showing that as the literati class grappled with its own increasing marginalization, its fiction reassessed the assumption that intellectuals’ proper role was to serve state interests and began to imagine possibilities for a new political order.
The open access publication of this book was made possible by a grant from the James P. Geiss and Margaret Y. Hsu Foundation.
Authors & Contributors
Liangyan Ge is professor emeritus of East Asian languages and cultures at the University of Notre Dame.
[Ge’s] readings allow him to explore ways in which vernacular fiction replaced the homogenous voice of intellectual orthodox in the early modern era with a heterogeneous and multi-vocal one. . . . This extended and thoughtful essay, filled with much insight and creative reading, should be read by early modern historians and the students they teach.- R. Kent Guy, American Historical Review
What makes his study worth reading is the way he finds surprisingly original readings within this central frame-work. . . . Ge breathes life into his overarching theme by contextualizing the central literary works with a rich and historically-informed set of other texts. . . . In putting the relationship between scholar and state at the heart of vernacular fiction, Ge has provided us with a strong account some of the classics of the late-imperial novel. . . . Ge offers a reading that escapes narrow-minded literary criticism as a purely aesthetic pursuit.- Paize Keulemans, The China Quarterly
Ge is probably the first student of Chinese vernacular fiction who attempts to explain the rise of this important literary genre and many of its features from a new “political” perspective. Students of Chinese intellectual and political histories would have much to learn from this ostensibly literary study because its author has successfully brought so much to bear upon the important historical question of the complex relationship between state and scholars from a very unique angle—how these novelists were able to engage the issues associated with this question in a narrative genre with the kind of freedom and imagination they could never had had if they had chosen to confront similar issues in formal political discourse.- Martin W. Huang, Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR) - Modern
Liangyan Ge’s new book deals with a topic of great significance and urgency. Ge’s study is an important new contribution to the field and a timely reminder of the challenges and rewards attending a rigorous historicization of traditional Chinese fiction. The book’s broad scope and remarkable clarity of style make its rich material particularly suitable for classroom use.- Maria Franca Sibau, Journal of the American Oriental Society
A significant contribution to our understanding of late imperial Chinese culture. This is the first book to put the individual novels [discussed here] into a very specific political context.- Margaret Wan, University of Utah