In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ming-Qing Fiction

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • English Translations of Fictional Works
  • Anthologies in English
  • Reference Works in English
  • Research Materials
  • Bibliographies
  • Bibliographic Studies
  • Collections of Facsimile Copies of Early or Rare Editions
  • Journals
  • Histories
  • The Classical-Language Fiction
  • Liaozhai Zhiyi 聊齋誌異
  • Late Qing Fiction
  • Traditional Fiction Commentary and Criticism
  • Ming-Qing Fiction and its East and Southeast Asian Connections

Chinese Studies Ming-Qing Fiction
Yenna Wu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0015


Ming-Qing fiction (Ming Qing xiaoshuo 明清小說) refers to the fictional works produced during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) dynasties. This vast group of narratives is heterogeneous due to their diverse influences, sources, linguistic mediums, subject matter, aesthetic levels, and functions. Depending on the dominant medium adopted, these narratives can be roughly divided into two groups: classical-language fiction and vernacular fiction. Drawing upon both classical and oral traditions, vernacular stories and novels often exhibit hybrid characteristics in language and narration. The topics of Ming-Qing fiction cover history; wars and violence; chivalry and martial arts; adventures and fantasies; the supernatural; religions and moral values; deities and demons; human relationships and conflicting desires; scholars and beauties; romantic comedies and tragedies; social criticism and satire; crime and detection; literati identity and erudition; courtesans and prostitutes; eroticism; and loyalism and nationalism. Fiction, particularly vernacular fiction, had traditionally occupied a much-lower rung on the literary ladder, and many authors wrote anonymously or pseudonymously. Because of their depiction of heterodox desires, ideas, and behaviors, many vernacular fictional works were frequently proscribed or destroyed by the government. They were not well preserved, formally catalogued, described, or studied. Intellectuals of the New Culture Movement (mid-1910s–1920s) began to study vernacular fiction seriously and to compile bibliographies systematically. Much research was conducted on the textual history, historical background, sources, authorship, and sociopolitical and cultural significance of canonic novels. During the Mao era (1949–1976), scholars—primarily outside China—continued the research, expanding and revising our understanding. Beginning in the 1980s, the field has witnessed rapid development as scholars both inside and outside China have joined efforts in research. Scholarship since the 1960s has made new discoveries and important revisions, unearthing obscure works while also highlighting literary relations and artistic aspects. Better translations of canonic fictional works as well as new translations of lesser-known works have greatly facilitated the appreciation and research. Studies in fiction commentary have enhanced our understanding of subtle techniques, hidden ironies, and complex relationships among authors and readers, commentators, and fictional narrators. Achievements have been made in such areas as genre studies; comparative literary studies; studies about Western influence in late Qing; studies in gender, sexuality, and eroticism; and other thematic and topical studies. Some aspects of Ming-Qing fiction’s influence on East and Southeast Asian literature through translations and adaptations have also been explored.

Introductory Works

Hanan 1990 and Ropp 1990 provide cogent and helpful introductions to the development of Ming-Qing fiction as well as some of the canonic novels. Liu 1991 introduces major genres, authors, and works, and Ma 1986 discusses Chinese fiction’s genres and characteristics. Hsia 1996 is the first book-length literary study in English of the six classic novels: Sanguozhi yanyi 三國志演義 (also known as Sanguo yanyi 三國演義, translated as Three kingdoms or Romance of the three kingdoms), Shuihu zhuan 水滸傳 (The water margin; Outlaws of the marsh), Xiyou ji 西遊記 (Journey to the west), Jin Ping Mei 金瓶梅 (The golden lotus; The plum in the golden vase), Rulin waishi 儒林外史 (The scholars), and Honglou meng 紅樓夢 (The dream of the red chamber; The story of the stone; A dream of red mansions). Chang 1983 introduces classical-language tales about the supernatural, focusing on the celebrated collection Liaozhai zhiyi 聊齋誌異 (Strange tales from make-do studio). The following works include updated scholarship and bibliography. Idema and Haft 1997 includes succinct introductions to classical-language fiction, the novel, the vernacular story, and late-Qing fiction. Mair 2001 contains chapters discussing vernacular stories, full-length vernacular novels, some lesser-known novels, later classical tales, and late Qing fiction. Chang and Owen 2010 aims to create “a history of literary culture” by taking a “more integrated historical approach” instead of a generic approach, as some earlier histories have taken.

  • Chang, H. C. Chinese Literature. Vol. 3, Tales of the Supernatural. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

    Focuses on classical-language tales about the supernatural. A long, general introduction discusses the tales of the supernatural from the Han to the Ming dynastic periods, while another introduces Pu Songling’s (b. 1640–d. 1715) celebrated collection Liaozhai zhiyi. Good translations of selected texts.

  • Chang, Kang-i Sun, and Stephen Owen, eds. The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    Excellent discussions of Ming-Qing fiction can be found in such chapters as “The Literary Culture of the Late Ming (1573–1644)” (by Tina Lu), “Early Qing to 1723” (by Wai-yee Li), “The Literati Era and Its Demise (1723–1840)” (by Shang Wei), “Prosimetric and Verse Narrative” (by Wilt L. Idema), and “Chinese Literature from 1841 to 1937” (by David Der-wei Wang).

  • Hanan, Patrick. “The Development of Fiction and Drama.” In The Legacy of China. Edited by Raymond S. Dawson, 115–143. Legacy Series. Boston: Cheng & Tsui, 1990.

    A cogent survey, originally published in 1964 (London: Clarendon). Notes three mutually influencing traditions: short tales written in classical Chinese, stories told in colloquial Chinese in urban entertainment districts, and a written vernacular literature that drew on classical and oral traditions. Introduces some vernacular stories and the six canonic novels, pointing out their unique characteristics and artistic merits.

  • Hsia, Chih-tsing. The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction. Cornell East Asia 84. Ithaca, NY: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 1996.

    Originally published in 1968 (New York: Columbia University Press). A pioneering work in English of literary study on the six canonic novels: Sanguozhi yanyi, Shuihu zhuan, Xiyou ji, Jin Ping Mei, Rulin waishi, and Honglou meng. Discusses the novels’ backgrounds, philosophical and religious themes, plot structure, characterization, and so forth. Provides interesting excerpts. Also includes a useful introduction and bibliography (on translations and critical studies) and a revised article, “Society and Self in the Chinese Short Story.”

  • Idema, Wilt L., and Lloyd Haft. A Guide to Chinese Literature. Michigan Monographs in Chinese Studies 74. Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 1997.

    Concise yet fairly comprehensive. Part IV (covering the period 1000–1875) includes succinct introductions to classical-language fiction, the novel, and the “novella” (vernacular story), while Part V (1875–1915) includes discusses on late Qing fiction. Very thorough bibliography (including studies and translations) arranged according to the order of the topics in each chapter. Adopts Hanyu pinyin throughout.

  • Liu, Wu-chi. An Introduction to Chinese Literature. New York: Greenwood, 1991.

    Originally published in 1966 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). Not aiming to be comprehensive, but to focus on major genres, authors, and works. Chapters 14–16 (pp. 195–246) introduce the vernacular story collections compiled by Feng Menglong and Ling Mengchu, as well as the six canonic novels. Contains notes, selected bibliography of books in English, glossary of Chinese words, and index.

  • Ma, Yau Woon. “Fiction.” In The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature. Edited by William H. Nienhauser Jr., Charles Hartman, Yau Woon Ma, and Stephen H. West, 31–48. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

    Introduces traditional Chinese fiction, its genres, its characteristics, and its place in Chinese history. Cautions about traditional attributions of authorship.

  • Mair, Victor H., ed. The Columbia History of Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

    Chapters 34–38 discuss vernacular stories, full-length vernacular novels, some lesser-known novels, later classical tales, and late Qing fiction. Includes updated scholarship and bibliography in “Suggestions for Further Reading” (pp. 1105–1152). Contains three long Sinograph glossaries—terms, names, and titles (pp. 1161–1240)—and easy-to-use extensive index (pp. 1241–1333). Good for students and experts.

  • Ropp, Paul S. “The Distinctive Art of Chinese Fiction.” In Heritage of China: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization. Edited by Paul S. Ropp, 309–334. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520064409.003.0013

    A competent introduction to the development of Chinese fiction and the great novels. Includes comparisons with the West.

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