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Law, Deities, and Beyond: From the Sanyan Stories to Xingshi yinyuan zhuan


Xiaoqiao Ling compares several Sanyan stories with the full-length novel Xingshi yinyuan zhuan, especially in the context of seventeenth-century print culture and the social practice of merit-accumulation, to show how the two genres differ in their representation of law. The Sanyan stories target both an imagined, illiterate mass audience and the sophisticated literatus reader; they thus adopt the storyteller’s voice to educate the former and provide marginal commentary to address the literate elite. Set in everyday reality, the courtroom stands out as a fictional space where retributive calculations are carried out to fulfill the mandate of Heaven. By contrast, Xingshi yinyuan zhuan removes the storyteller’s voice and invokes multiple moral discourses to explore the limitations of law as a human institution. Morality, Ling concludes, is a fluid field shaped not only by the contemporary intellectual debates but also by the audience that the author anticipates.

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