The Novel and Theatrical Imagination in Early Modern China


The cultural fascination with and imagination of theater has long been overlooked as an important historical and literary context for reading Water Margin and Journey to the West. This study focuses on the concept of “the theatrical” to read those novels and their commentaries. Imbued with performances, playacting, spectacles, and spectatorship, the early modern theatrical novel borrowed heavily from theater to conflate the theatrical and the real, juggle theatrical roles, persons, and identities, and contest orthodoxies by challenging and appropriating sites of control and authority. This study showcases the theatrical novel’s unique position as a new form of literati self-representation in response to the destabilizing social and political forces of early modern China.

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Mei Chun, Ph.D. (2005) in Chinese and Comparative Literature, Washington University in Saint Louis, is Assistant Professor of Chinese at Central Washington University. Her publications include “Garlic and Vinegar: The Narrative Significance of Verse in ‘The Pearl Shirt Reencountered’” in Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (2009).
'Throughout her study Mei traverses easily from analysis of her main two novels to other works and genres, including one-act plays, short fiction, and woodblock prints. Her impressive facility with such a wide range of sources helps to undergrid her arguments about the centrality of theatricality to seventeenth-century discourse.'
Andrea S. Goldman, University of California, Los Angeles, Journal of Asian Studies 73.3 (2013)

'[W]e are much indebted to Mei Chun's pathbreaking study to show us how we might rethink the relationship between the theater, visuality, and fiction in stimulating and insightful ways.'
Patricia Sieber Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews 34 (2012).
Scholars of late imperial/early modern Chinese literature, non-China specialists who study drama, performativity, theatricality, theatrical culture, and general readers who enjoy Chinese classic novels.
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