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Anne McLaren

In 1967 a body of Chinese texts was discovered in a tomb outside Shanghai. It contained a set of unique examples of an oral genre favoured by unlearned classes in the late imperial period (15th century), best called 'chantefables', appearing at the beginning of a profound historical shift which resulted in a broadening of the uses of writing and printing in China. These texts are now generally seen to occupy an important place in the development of Chinese literature as a whole, and of Chinese vernacular literature in particular.
In the first monographic treatment of all the chantefable corpus in English the author, by examination from a more anthropological view, points out that these 'oral traditional texts' can only be appreciated in the festival, ritual and performative context of their derivation and reception. Topics dealt with in this important work include the popular interpretation of Confucian orthodoxies, the literary recycling of the oral tradition, and the influence of chantefables on the development of Chinese vernacular fiction.
The author offers interesting comparative perspective on the different social consequences of print technology in China and the West.
Illustrations of ten chantefable woodblocks are included.
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Anne E. McLaren

Abstract

This study offers a critical analysis of recent Western scholarship on issues of orality and print culture in China of the late imperial period, with a particular focus on the development of written Chinese vernacular(s) and the social impact of these vernaculars in print. It is concluded that recent scholarship is marked by a heightened sensitivity to the medium in which the ‘text’ is transmitted, as either oral, written, or printed, and the potential for ongoing interaction between these forms.