- Fictions of Enlightenment: Journey to the West, Tower of Myriad Mirrors and Dream of the Red Chamber, and: Androgyny in Late Ming and Early Qing Literature
These two volumes both present new perspectives on classical Chinese fiction. Fictions of Enlightenment addresses the impact of Buddhist thought on the creation of classical Chinese fiction. Li Qiancheng argues convincingly that previous scholarship on three key novels—the Xiyou ji, Xiyou bu, and Honglou meng—has drastically underestimated the influence of Buddhism on both the creative process that produced these novels and on the reception of them. Fictions of Enlightenment reminds us that while Buddhism's influence on China has in the past century been limited, this was far from the case in earlier times. In this regard, Li's volume is a welcome and long overdue study.
Androgyny in Late Ming and Early Qing Literature examines key texts from this highly productive period of China's history and seeks evidence for androgynous gender identity in the society of the time. The Honglou meng, Jin Ping Mei, and Mudan ting are among the significant texts that this volume examines.
Li Qiancheng's contribution to our understanding of the classical novel in Fictions of Enlightenment emerges not only in his innovative analysis of the novels themselves but also in his discussion of the materiality of writing novels in China. Li reminds us that while Confucianism was central to literati life, the marginalization of fiction within the Confucian tradition opened this genre to the full embrace of Buddhism. Scholars writing novels were consciously deploying Buddhist imagery and Buddhist philosophy against an overarching Confucian view of their class. The Mahayana tradition that flourished in China presented, in Li's terms, a "paradox" wherein the mundane world is unreal and yet time spent within it is vitally necessary for an individual to achieve transcendence in nirvâa. It was this tension between reality and illusion, the red dust of the world and enlightenment, that is the very stuff of much of Chinese fiction. While most students of Chinese learn that the Tang huaben were the origins of the novel in China, few would have been presented with such a coherent discussion of the continued importance of Buddhism to the writing and reading of fiction through to the high Qing. Li's volume is invaluable in filling this gap.
In his exploration of the immensely popular Xiyou ji, Li has contributed a long overdue analysis of the "journey" as a powerful trope illuminating the philosophical and literary context of the novel. This has been achieved with a clear [End Page 154] and coherent explication of underlying Buddhist principles that gives the novel its depth. Li's analysis reminds us of the novel's artistry: it can be at once a highly sophisticated philosophical treatise and a popular tale of adventure and magic. This polyvalent text is brought to full life in Li's volume as both philosophical and popular modes of appreciating the travails of Sun Wukong and his traveling companions intersect and inform each other.
The journey to enlightenment continues with a chapter on the Xiyou bu. This sixteen-chapter supplement to the Xiyou ji was written in 1640 and provides, according to Li, a bridge linking the sixteenth-century Xiyou ji and the eighteenth-century Honglou meng. Li regards this brief "insert" into the Xiyou ji as establishing new directions in the "fictions of enlightenment" that enabled the Honglou meng to emerge as an enduring work of immense mastery. The link emerges from the Xiyou bu's exploration of desire and emotion in Sun Wukong. Where the Xiyou ji deals with the avoidance of the desires of the tangible world, the Xiyou bu moves toward an advocacy of experiencing them. The novel reveals that one must first dream before waking...