2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 136

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The Many Lives Of a New Canon: Performance Genres, Print Culture, and Social Reproduction in Qing China

Organizer: Patricia A. Sieber, Ohio State University, USA

Chair: David L. Rolston, University of Michigan, USA

Discussant: Cynthia J. Brokaw, Brown University, USA

The so-called “books of genius” editions of vernacular belles-lettres figured very prominently among foreign versions of Chinese literature in the early modern era in Asia and Europe. Yet, surprisingly little work has been done on how these texts shaped cultural production in Qing China. The panel addresses the domestic uses of the three performance-related “books of genius,” that is, the sixth (Jin Shengtan, Xixiangji/Story of the Western Wing, 1661), the seventh (Mao Lun/Mao Zonggang, Pipaji/Story of the Lute, 1666) and the eighth (Zhong Daicang, Huajianji/Story of the Flowery Notepaper, 1713) “books of genius” respectively, in order to map how these editions intersected with and reconstructed literati practices of reading, writing, anthologizing, and performance in the long eighteenth century (1660-1840). The panel argues that these “books of genius” were not only widely disseminated within China, but offered new and potentially transformative technologies of reading and writing. Accordingly, the panel shows that these texts considerably extended the impact of vernacular song forms from both ancient literary (Western Wing, Lute) and newer local traditions (Flowery Notepaper) on diverse cultural processes of social reproduction such as reading practices (West on Western Wing; Llamas on Lute), real and imaginary performance (Chen on Western Wing and Lute), and essaywriting (Sieber on Flowery Notepaper). By extension, the panel shows that these texts not only created an alternate canon of vernacular classics with multiple uses, but that the foreign diffusion of these texts attest to the curious conjunction of the popularity and prestige they enjoyed in Qing China.

Struggle and Experimentation: Discursive Space in Qing Dynasty Commentaries on The Story of the Western Wing
Stephen H. West, Arizona State University, USA

Canonized as the "Sixth Book of Genius" by Jin Shengtan, The Story of the Western Wing provided a fertile ground for contestation and experiment in the early Qing period by such notable critics as Jin, Mao Qiling (1623–1716), You Tong (1618–1704) Pan Tingzhang (b. 1612), and others. The two major influences in this early Qing hotbed of commentarial choice were the proscription of The Story of the Western Wing as a book that instructs one on “lechery” and by the dominance of Jin Shengtan's commentary. The responses ranged from the thematic—debate on desire and ethical propriety to a willful misreading of the play as a discourse on “form” and “emptiness” (stemming from late Ming and early Qing theories of "waking to realization that it is all a dream" (wumeng)—to the stylistic: a masking of commentary in "eight-legged essays" written on passages from the drama. This paper will present a preliminary examination of these commentaries, focusing in particular on You Tong's essays and Pan Tingzhang's Buddhist reading of The Story of the Western Wing, as reactions to the issues of propriety and to the claim of authority made in Jin Shengtan's elegant essays.

Dramatic Readings: Theater as Text in the Mao Family’s “Seventh Book of Genius” (Story of the Lute)
Regina S. Llamas, Stanford University, USA

The seventeenth-century literatus Mao Lun (style name Shengshan) and his son Mao Zonggang, in their "Seventh Book of Genius" commentary on the classic work of Southern theater Story of the Lute (Pipaji) formulated a set of criteria and strategies for reading Chinese theater that had a major impact on the way subsequent aficionados read the Chinese theatrical tradition (at least thirteen different editions of this version survive, attesting to its popularity). This paper will explore the Maos’ strategies of reading what was to become one of the mainstays of the corpus of Chinese theater. In their commentary, the Maos responded to the dramatic categories employed by previous critics, championed their favorite interpretations, and explicitly placed the play in the larger community of readers, thereby elevating theater from mere entertainment to a medium with a utilitarian didactic and social function. This paper will discuss reading commentary and dramatic practice, and how the Maos’ commentary on the Lute, while trying to provide a better understanding of the play by positioning it within a Confucian moral value system, helped, perhaps unwittingly, to legitimate it as a play in its own right, not only to be read in a scholar’s studio, but to be performed on stage. More generally, this paper endeavors to contribute to our understanding of the curious case of theater—an essentially performative art—in the context of the history of reading.

Staged Performance or Textual Mise-en-Scène? The Afterlife of Story of the Western Wing and Story of the Lute in a Qing Drama Miscellany
Liana Chen, George Washington University, USA

Drama miscellanies are one of the most interesting genres through which Chinese literati negotiated the presence of Western Wing (Xixiangji) and Lute (Pipaji) in print and performance. Shenyin jiangu lu (A record for parsing notes and mirroring classic performances) is a Kunqu drama miscellany published in the Qianlong reign and reprinted in 1834. It is the only extant Kunqu miscellany with exhaustive stage directions and, as such, the work was seen as a guidebook for aspiring Kunqu practitioners. However, the compiler’s attempt to establish a paradigm for Kunqu performance through carefully arranged commentaries suggests that it targeted a rather “highbrow” reading public — most likely literati fans of Kunqu. This paper examines Shenyin jiangu lu’s excerpts and adaptations of Western Wing and Lute and commentaries of these passages. To what extent, and in what way, were the staging guidelines in Shenyin jiangu lu informed by the commentary tradition, particularly by the circulation of such annotated editions as the “Sixth” and “Seventh Book of Genius”? Through analyzing the structure of staging directions, the revisions on arias and dialogues, as well as the notes and comments on characterization and plot development, the papers explores how the compiler/commentator of Shenyin jiangu lu made use of a familiar literary practice to construct elaborate textual representations of an ideal stage production in his mind’s eye. This is how Qing literati participated in the process of refinement (yahua) of Kunqu performances. Performance cultures thus connected with other modes of literary production in the Qing.

Between Writing Elite and Reading Public: Examination Essaywriting and the Eighteenth-Century Editions of the Cantonese Songbook “Eighth Book of Genius” (Flowery Notepaper)
Patricia A. Sieber, Ohio State University, USA

This paper examines how the “Eighth Book of Genius” editions of the Cantonese songbook Flowery Notepaper (Huajian ji) challenge us to rethink the boundaries between vernacular and classical literacy in the reproduction of social elites in late imperial China. The songbook circulated in three major forms, namely as a fine commentaried edition (1714 preface), as an illustrated, annotated edition with the addition of numerous examination style essays about poetic lines drawn from the ballad itself (1771), and as a cheap, unannotated, variant-graph performance edition (c. 1790s). The paper aims to contextualize these editions, particularly those with the essays, in order to expand our understanding of the multiple uses of vernacular texts among the writing elite. After reviewing the orthodox literature on training young males to write examination essays, the paper explores whether the claim of Jin Shengtan, the commentator of the seminal “Fifth” (1641) and “Sixth Books of Genius (1661),” that reading “books of genius” (caizi shu) facilitated essaywriting simply served to legitimate the emerging genres of fiction and drama or whether the particulars of his and subsequent book of genius commentaries (the Mao family on the Lute, Zhang Daicang on Flowery Notepaper) suggest that this proposition was grounded in actual reading and writing practices. The paper argues that Chinese print culture may not have generated vernacular versions of the classics for an expanding reading public, but instead absorbed, via the category of the versatile “books of genius” even locally inflected popular forms as a means to expand the writing elite.