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On the Three Stages of Contradictory Comments of The Water Margin

Liu Yongqiang 刘永强    Peking University, China    



From the Ming dynasty to the present day, the particular subject matter of the novel shuihu zhuan (The Water Margin or Outlaws on the Marsh) has polarized commentary on it more than any other work of pre-modern Chinese fiction. The continuous evolution of that commentary can be divided roughly into three stages. In the Ming and early Qing periods, the argument centered on whether the novel's protagonists were ‘loyal and righteous’ or ‘bandits’, two seemingly opposing views that were, in fact, both formed in the interest of defending established ideology. In the late Qing dynasty, while society underwent violent change, and prose fiction as a whole was devalued, there were those who saw in Shuihu zhuan «the beginnings of democracy and civil society», but there were also opponents who found in it the roots of civil unrest and national collapse, branding it «the cancer of the Fiction lists». Over the last half-century, the newly-established government’s initial championing of ‘reasonable revolt’ has clashed with greater support for the rule of law after Reform and Opening Up. While these three critical oppositions to Shuihu zhuan have not all addressed the same question, their approaches in intellectual engagement have been similar, inspired as they were by the novel’s descriptions of revolt against and protection of the established order. For this reason, the three-stage, spiraling advance of the conflicting commentary on Shuihu zhuan reflects, from a unique angle, changes in Chinese society, thought and literature.

16 Luglio 2016

Keywords: Shuihu zhuanThe Water MarginPre-modern Chinese fictionOutlaws on the Marsh

Copyright: © 2016 Liu Yongqiang 刘永强. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.