An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Ming-Period Literature

Mar 19, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

Anecdotes, Stories and Novels

The advance in printing technique as well as the demand from an urban public made it necessary and possible for vernacular literature to become more widespread than ever before. Anecdotes, stories and tales were published in collections like Pai'an iingqi 拍案驚奇 "Surprising stories causing the reader to pound the table" and Jingu qiguan 今古奇觀 "Wonderful tales of old and new times". Probably the most important late Ming anecdote writer is Feng Menglong 馮夢龍 who wrote the ghost story Pingyaozhuan 平妖傳 and the collection Xingshi hengyan 醒世恆言 "Proverbs awakening the world" . Apart from short stories, voluminous novels (changpian xiaoshuo 長篇小說) were written that consisted of hundreds of small tales about local and historic heroes: the hero tales Xiyouji 西游記 "Journey to the West" by Wu Cheng'en 吳承恩, Fengshen yanyi 封神演義 "Investiture of the Gods", the Sanguo yanyi 三國演義 "Three Kingdoms", and the Shuihuzhuan 水滸傳 "Water Margin" or "Bandits of Liangshan Swamp", said to be written by Luo Guangzhong 羅貫忠, and finally, the erotic social critic Jin Ping Mei (Jinpingmei) 金瓶梅 "Plums in a golden vase". Theatre plays had been popular since the Song Dynasty, and we possess a collection of famous Yuan theatre plays published during Ming, the Yuanquxuan 元曲選. The greatest Ming theatre play is Tang Xianzu's 湯顯祖 Mudanting 牡丹亭 "Peony Pavillion".