‘Carving the Complete Edition’: Self-commentary, Poetry, and Illustration in the Early-Qing Erotic Novel Romance of an Embroidered Screen (1670)

in East Asian Publishing and Society
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Scholars of late imperial Chinese fiction have demonstrated that Ming ‘literati novels’ possessed both intellectual sophistication and aesthetic seriousness. Nonetheless, the large corpus of mid-length fictional narratives of the Qing remains mired in problematic assumptions about its ostensibly popular nature. The self-commentaried edition of Embroidered screen (Xiuping yuan) presents a salient example for reassessing the nature of Qing novels and the reading of fiction in the seventeenth century. First circulated in manuscript copies, extensive auto-commentary was added when the novel was committed to print. The commented edition incorporates different genres—poetry, examination essay, and anecdotal accounts—as well as visual elements, all intended to appeal to elite literati tastes among Qing readers. Its literary, visual, and formal heteroglossia also contributed to its popularity in eighteenth-century Japan, which in turn secured its preservation and eventual modern rediscovery, even while it fell into obscurity in Qing China, most likely due to political censorship.

‘Carving the Complete Edition’: Self-commentary, Poetry, and Illustration in the Early-Qing Erotic Novel Romance of an Embroidered Screen (1670)

in East Asian Publishing and Society



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GeThe scholar and the state67-97.


SunZhongguo tongsu xiaoshuo shumu144. The National Library of China in Beijing holds a Qing printed edition (keben 刻本) of Embroidered screen. The printed edition features the same chapter-end commentary as the manuscript copy at Leiden but nothing else. It has not been chosen for reprint by modern publishers nor has it been given much bibliographical and scholarly attention. This is likely the same edition recorded in Sun Kaidi’s catalogue of Chinese vernacular fiction.


WakemanThe great enterprise1099.


PastreichThe observable mundane55. It appears that no Chinese works literary or vernacular were subject to Tokugawa censorship.


KornickiThe book in Japan299-300. Jonathan Zwicker has also suggested that it was Chinese fiction including both established and contemporary novels rather than European fiction that dominated Japan’s literary imports from the eighteenth until the end of the nineteenth century: Practices of the sentimental imagination 125-55.


RolstonTraditional Chinese fiction and fiction commentary46.


Ibid. 269.


Ibid. 368-369.


KeulemansSound rising from the paper20.


In 1758poetry writing was re-institutionalized in the curriculum of the civil service examination. Yet in the seventeenth century poetry readings and gatherings had already become an important part of intellectuals’ social life in the Jiangnan area. It also influenced the trend of appreciating elite women writers. For pioneering studies on this subject see Meyer-Fong Building culture in early Qing Yangzhou and Ko Teachers of the inner chambers.


GaoYuanben Pipa ji jiaozhu202.


Ibid. 346.


Ibid. 198-200.


Ibid. 343.


Ibid. 159.


Ibid. 34. The Chinese title of ‘The old woman’ is Piaomu (漂母 lit. the old woman doing laundry). It evokes the allusion of the old woman who fed Han Xin when she noticed him starving by the river. Her criticism of Han motivated him to aspire for success. Later Han became a military general and was granted the title of the King of Chu.


Ibid. 2-3.


Ibid. 266.


LowryThe tapestry of popular songs51.


Yang‘Wang Anshi’s ‘ “Mingfei qu” ’82.


Yang‘Wang Anshi’s “Mingfei qu” ’58-9.


Ibid. 266-72.


WakemanThe great enterprise1099.


Ibid. 212.


  • View in gallery
    Xiuping yuan, page of “Eight Miscellaneous Poems by Su’an.”61
  • View in gallery
    Xiuping yuan, page of Wang Yuhuan’s aria, seal, and painting on a screen with inscription in Chapter 19.73
  • View in gallery
    Xiuping yuan, page of the opening song, “Stopping Flying Clouds” (Zhu yun fei, 駐雲飛), at the beginning of Chapter 19.81


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