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Constructing the historical discourse of traditional Chinese fiction

Liang Shi, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation is a comparative study of the properties that distinguish Chinese fiction from its counterpart in the West. I argue that the nonmimetic nature of Chinese literary theory is derived from the world view epitomized in the concept of Dao as opposed to the Western definition of truth. Instead of representing dao, wen X (writing) is born out of, and remains part of, dao. The way in which orthodox Confucianist discourse takes shape and operates decides that fiction cannot have a cognitive function and, therefore, determines its low status in China. The Chinese term "xiao shuo" (small talk), which is always translated as "fiction," has clearly different associations from the Western word. Unlike "fiction," which mainly denotes the dualism of truth and falsehood, xiao shuo primarily signifies a value judgment. Xiao shuo is neither purely literature nor a genre in pre-modern China. Subsequently I propose that concepts such as "you xi" (game) or "qi" (the strange) are more appropriate constructs for approaching Chinese fiction than "realism" or any other Western term. On the basis of analysis of these indigenous terms, I conclude that we should recover the lost traditional criticism, which represents a unique understanding of pre-modern Chinese fiction. ^

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Asian literature

Recommended Citation

Shi, Liang, "Constructing the historical discourse of traditional Chinese fiction" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9639028.