Learning to Read the Chinese Novel: Critical Commentary and Reading Practices, ca. 1600


Professor Robert E. Hegel, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, Liselotte Dieckmann Professor of Comparative Literature, Washington Unversity, St.Louis

Time: December 4, 4:00pm

Location:White Hall 111, Emory University

Open and free to the public

Beginning with its first printed edition in 1522, Sanguo zhi tongsu yanyi (Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms: A Popular Romance) set the model for long fictional prose narratives in Chinese (zhanghui xiaoshuo or novels) to be published with commentaries.  At first these critiques followed the tradition of classical exegesis, explaining unusual terms or providing information on persons mentioned in the text.  But by 1600 commentators were expressing strong emotional reactions to characters and situations, thereby demonstrating how a reader was to enjoy--and to learn from--these texts.  Reading through a sequence of these commentaries demonstrates the evolution of reading practices: commentators exhorted their reading audiences both to imagine themselves present in the fictional scene as a way to judge the participants and to evaluate the writing skills of the novelist from a critical perspective.  By around 1600 both the novel form and a range of reading practices had become conventionalized.