Papers on Premodern Literature III

11:00 am – 12:45 pm
Room C

  • Chaired by Roland Altenburger
  • Elizabeth Smith Rosser, “’Good Wood on Crowdpleasers:’ Humour and Joke Collections of the Mid-Late Ming”
  • Yingyu Li, “Courtesan, Literati Gathering and Acting—Pan Zhiheng’s Dramatic Criticism and Literati Association in Nanjing in Late Ming (1573–1644)”
  • Roland Altenburger, “Sartorial Politics and Semiotics in Ming–Qing Novels: On Hats in Rulin waishi
  • Teresa Görtz, “The Power of qi: Sensory Encounters Between Ghosts and Humans in Zibuyu

Elizabeth Smith Rosser, “’Good Wood on Crowdpleasers’: Humour and Joke Collections of the Mid-Late Ming”
The mid to late Ming period was the stage to a huge proliferation in humour and joke publications. As part of a wider thesis which intends to situate this phenomenon within concurrent trends on the intellectual landscape, this paper focuses in on publications such as leishu 類書 and other forms of compiled collection in which the humour section comprises just one or a few sections. Humour categories were included in a wide variety of publications with professed purposes as diverse as chronologically ordered histories, civil service skill guides and literary quotation collections. These publications were consumed by a literate public who did so not just for their humorous content, as would be the case for standalone collections. This aspect appears to have caused a great deal of anxiety for the men who compiled them. Taking the authorial prefaces and other paratextual material as its focus, this paper looks at the strategies used to present and “sell” humour and jokes to a sceptical public. As the paper demonstrates through close textual analysis, compilers go to great lengths to justify its inclusion, almost to the point of defensiveness. From this attitude it is possible to infer wider prejudices against the acceptability of humour and joking within such contexts. Through this it is possible to pinpoint a juncture in changes in currents of thought and interpret joke and humour publications as a battleground upon which the playing out of a variety of Ming ideological conflicts can be clearly observed.

Yingyu Li, “Courtesan, Literati Gathering and Acting—Pan Zhiheng’s Dramatic Criticism and Literati Association in Nanjing in Late Ming (1573–1644)”

The association of literati was very popular in late Ming Dynasty, and its significance for the research of poetry and eight-legged essay has been recognized in academia. However, its influence on traditional theatre has not been fully understood. Literati gatherings based on different associations not only provide places and occasions for drama performance, but also closely interact with the development of drama including its creation, performance, and criticism, thus influencing the aesthetic style of Chinese traditional theatre. This article will focus on Pan Zhiheng, the most famous drama critic in late Ming, to discuss this topic in-depth, based on all his criticism materials. Nanjing, the culture centre of Ming Empire, used to attract numerous top courtesans and players as well as literatus of various social statuses. As a sojourner, Pan Zhiheng had ever lived in Nanjing for a long time and served as the important organizer, participant, and witness of gathering performance in Nanjing. He contributed many insightful dramatic criticisms and a number of documents commemorating those living events and courtesans that would not be recorded in history. In brief, combining with female roles, literati culture, and dramatic criticism, this article will take three literati gatherings involved with Pan Zhiheng at different times as clues, and investigate the connection between literati society and dramatic criticism. On basis of that, I expect to consider the future of this research subject from a broader perspective.

Roland Altenburger, “Sartorial Politics and Semiotics in Ming–Qing Novels: On Hats in Rulin waishi

Vernacular novels have long been employed as sources on the social and cultural history of late-imperial China. The rich representation of aspects of everyday life included in them is considered particularly indispensable since we have few other sources that provide information on such matters. However, there always remains the question of how reliable and historically accurate these representations actually are to be considered. Recent contributions to the history of clothing and consumption in the Ming have pointed out to what extent the representation of dressing in novels such as Jin ping mei and Xingshi yinyuan zhuan indeed corresponded to actual phenomena and sartorial politics in late-Ming society and culture, focussing on sumptuary laws, their systematic violations, and gentry anxiously policing social boundaries (e.g., Clunas 1993, 2004, Wu 1999).
Rulin waishi, a novel written ca. 1730–1750, almost a century after the fall of the Ming, but nevertheless featuring a mid-Ming backdrop, has also been read along this line, and the historicity of its representation of Ming customs has often been emphasized. However, the early-Qing reform of sartorial customs was far-reaching, and the fact that in the mid to late Ming, sartorial norms were in a state of flux, may have additionally obfuscated Qing authors’ precise knowledge about them. This can be demonstrated through a specific focus on hats and the semiotics of sartorial character description in this that might have been closer to contemporary issues and the author’s personal situation than to the imagined historical past.

Teresa Görtz, “The Power of qi: Sensory Encounters Between Ghosts and Humans in Zibuyu

Yuan Mei’s 袁枚 (1716–1798) work Zibuyu 子不語 (1788) is a compilation of ca. 750 zhiguai 志怪 (records of the strange) entries which forms a mosaic impression of the complexities of human life and its environments across the lands of 18th century Qing dynasty China. In Zibuyu, the largest discussion of human engagement with the environment falls on encounters with ghosts. While ghosts appear in many of the records and are usually described as making themselves known to humans through their words and visual appearance, those records with a description of a physical connection between human and ghost are remarkable because, in almost all stories detailing such physical contact, the focus in touching the human body lies exclusively on exhaled ghostly qi 氣. Focusing on sensory and bodily experiences, this paper scrutinizes the significance of qi as a form of differentiation between the categories “human” and “ghost” as well as the act of breathing or blowing air (chuiqi 吹氣) as a means of establishing and complicating the relationship between the human and other-than-human. Furthermore, this paper seeks to make comparisons to the descriptions of human-ghost encounters in other zhiguai contemporaneous to Zibuyu and attempts to refine the understanding of boundaries between human and ghost but also of socially acceptable and proscribed views of the existence of sentient life.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room C