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Organizer and Chair: Daniel M. Youd, Princeton University
Discussant: David Rolston, University of Michigan
Focusing attention on the representation of streets and roads in a selection of significant yet under-studied works of vernacular fiction from the Qing dynasty, this panel considers the changes and continuities in the literary construction of social and public space from the mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. More than any other locus of human activity, streets and roads define the social milieu of this literature. Frequently functioning as the physical setting for events of great narrative significance, they may serve as devices of narrative structure, as well as constituting the raw material for metaphor and allegory.
The following are some of the questions addressed by the panel: What are the serious intellectual and ideological issues that arise from the depiction, in fiction, of the social and political theater of the street? Who, according to this fiction, should be on the road? Who should not? And, why? What are the consequences when private, familial conflicts spill beyond household walls onto the street? How are streets and roads employed in this literature as symbols of the danger and unpredictability of life? How do streets and roads dramatize situations of decision-making and choice? Throughout, we seek to emphasize the capacity of streets and roads in Qing fiction to serve as a space for significant social interaction, negotiation, conflict, transgression, confluence, and theatricality.
There are five panelists. Maggie Chiang examines carnivalesque and grotesque street scenes in Xing shi yinyuan zhuan as evidence of grave disorders in domestic relationships. Alex Des Forges draws connections between the narrative structure of nineteenth-century urban novels and their exhaustive representation of streets and roads. Steve Roddy raises the possibility that the figure of the road in Jie Shuihu zhuan relates to this novels almost maniacal obsession with political and moral order. And, Daniel Youd explores the metaphorical and symbolic dimensions of road imagery in Qilu deng. David Rolston will serve as the discussant.
Strange Sights and Happenings Along the Road in Xing shi yinyuan zhuan
Maggie Chiang, Princeton University
Following in the tradition of the domestic novel, the author of the seventeenth-century novel Xing shu yinyuan zhuan (Marriage Destinies to Awaken the World) draws some of his greatest mileage out of literary topoi associated with the danger that roads, journeys and open spaces pose to the maintenance of social distinctions: to name only the most prominent examples, the pilgrimage, religious festival, distant quest and street spectacle. Such topoi by the time of this novel had been recognized and embraced for their dramatic potential as sites for the public exposure of domestic dysfunction and other social ills. To such scenes of exposure, of humiliation and punishment, the author of Xing shi yinyuan zhuan contributes his share through a development of the spectacular aspects of scenes on and along the road. It is in the spectacle, as the author patiently traces the processions of a most bizarre human circus, that he seems to give greatest rein to his imagination, one that would appear to delight in grotesque descriptions and to revel in carnivalesque images. Focusing on scenes of this type that involve Xue Sujie and Di Xichen, the main wife and husband pair in this novel, this paper will discuss the ways in which these highly stylized passages modify and enhance the readers reactions to the novels more conventional and didactic elements, from its employment of the old stock-in-trade of narrative devices to its use of the literary stereotype of the shrew and the henpecked husband.
Geographies of Success and Failure in Li Lüyuans (170790) Qilu deng
Daniel M. Youd, Princeton University
To the extent that modern critics have taken note of streets and roads in the eighteenth-century novel Qilu deng (A Lantern for the Crossroads) by Li Lüyuan (170790), they have done so with an eye to assessing their verisimilitude. My paper, however, considers streetscapes in this novel not in terms of their literal correspondences, but rather as a figurative mapping of this novels engagement with the complex emotional issues of a young mans loss and eventual recovery of social and moral identity.
First, I explore how streets and roads provide a site for mediation between the external and internal worlds of the novel. My paper argues that, in Qilu deng, the simulated context of oral storytelling encourages oblique description of interior psychological states. For example, from the narrators public vantage on street level, moments of intense embarrassment and loss of face signify the protagonists descent into despair over mounting debts. How, then, I ask, does Qilu deng establish a metaphorical geography for describing success, failure, and their attendant psychic terrain in the context of eighteenth-century Chinese society?
Second, I discuss how, as the title of the novel suggests, street and road imagery informs the archetypal shape of this narrative, which is figured as a journey punctuated by a series of crossroads. Dramatizing a situation of choice, this metaphor of the crossroads highlights Qilu dengs central ethical dilemma. To wit, time and again, Qilu dengs protagonist confronts situations in which he must choose either to fulfill his filial duties or to abdicate the moral responsibilities of sonship. Responding to earlier views of Qilu deng as the simple elaboration of a moral fable, my paper investigates the ethical and symbolic resonances of the street, as metaphor, map, and suggestive emblem for the struggles of a prodigal son.
Tying up Loose Ends: The Reconfiguration of the Moral Order in Jie Shuihu zhuan
Stephen J. Roddy, University of San Francisco
The mid-nineteenth-century sequel to Shuihu zhuan, Jie Shuihu zhuan (a. k. a. Dangkou zhi), was first printed in the early stages of the Taiping Rebellion by an official who judged it to bear a useful message for those unsettled times. This was due perhaps to this works return to questions of loyalty which had received relatively less emphasis in fiction of the previous century. Whereas works such as Luye xianzong or Yesou puyan had depicted sedition and banditry as merely theoretical possibilities for most educated men, Jie Shuihu zhuan revived the issue of rebellion in the name of serving a higher cause. Its protagonists do not merely give voice to the alienation or frustration of under-employed literati; they explore anew the difficulties entailed in choosing to defy the state. And while unequivocally affirming the inviolability of the reigning dynasty, Jie Shuihu zhuan offers lengthy and occasionally profound discussion of the forces contributing to the fraying of the social fabric.
This paper seeks to contrast Jie Shuihu zhuan with its seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literary forebears by focusing on the motifs of travel and geographical knowledge, and the various metaphorical dimensions of the road. It contends that the representation of travel, and particularly its function as a means of bringing together like-minded heroes for future combat, differs significantly from that of its predecessors, including both Shuihu zhuan and early- to mid-Qing fiction. My overall aim is to demonstrate how these changes reflect the transformation of the ideological and political landscape in the period of roughly 17801850.
Mapping the Structure of the Nineteenth-Century Urban Novel
Alex Des Forges, Brown University
This paper traces the development of the concrete and seemingly coherent street system as organizing principle in the nineteenth-century Chinese urban novel. Individual street names began to appear in both long and short vernacular fiction of the late Ming, but served primarily as unitary symbols or scenes for action through the mid-Qing. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, systems of streets and alleyways come to figure prominently in urban fiction: many novels not only obsessively cite street and alley names, but insist on providing the reader with partial descriptions of the route from one place to another. Instead of standing simply for one human quality or social phenomenon, these streets are defined differentially, with reference to each other, as part of a complex system.
Where earlier novels with complex plot structures and multiple groupings of characters might rely on pre-existing narrative sources or genealogical structures to enable the potentially confused reader to organize the text, late nineteenth-century urban novels depended instead on the persistent textual construction of ordered urban space to make the text as a whole coherent. As this paper will show, however, this apparent seamless narrative command of movement throughout the city does not in fact exist, reminding the reader that narrative continuity is itself constructed. While the account presented in any text is discontinuous at almost every point, this account as read has a continuity that is always in part a product of the reading process.