MING DYNASTY VERNACULAR FICTION AND HU SHI'S LITERARY REVOLUTION

Matthew Miller

ABSTRACT


This paper looks at the great works of Ming dynasty vernacular fiction through the lens of the thought of Hu Shi and other thinkers of the May Fourth generation. In particular, this paper investigates the concept of ‘popular literature.’ It asks whether Ming dynasty works can be considered “popular,” as Hu would have us believe. This is a thorny issue, since, despite having ostensibly been written in the vernacular, the works are filled with classical language and allusions. According to some commentators, the works would only have been accessible to an elite few. Investigation into the style of the works, multiple versions of the works in concurrent publication, the economics of the publishing industry, and the state of education in the late Ming or early Qing suggests, however, that there was likely a large, non-elite (those who were not a part of the government nor the bureaucracy) audience for Ming vernacular literature. Thus we can reservedly conclude that Ming vernacular fiction literature held a position similar to the one Hu suggested for it.

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