Many Faces of Mulian

The Precious Scrolls of Late Imperial China

Rostislav Berezkin

  • Published: December 2017
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; Literary Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 272 pp., 15 bandw illus., 2 tables, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

The story of Mulian rescuing his mother's soul from hell has evolved as a narrative over several centuries in China, especially in the baojuan (precious scrolls) genre. This genre, a prosimetric narrative in vernacular language, first appeared around the fourteenth century and endures as a living tradition. In exploring the evolution of the Mulian story, Rostislav Berezkin illuminates changes in the literary and religious characteristics of the genre. He also examines material from other forms of Chinese literature and from modern performances of baojuan, tracing their transformation from tools of Buddhist proselytizing to sectarian propaganda to folk ritualized storytelling. Ultimately, he reveals the special features of baojuan as a type of performance literature that had its foundations in multiple literary traditions.
Rostislav Berezkin is associate professor in the National Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies, Fudan University, Shanghai.

"A fine presentation of new and hitherto largely unstudied material, by a rising star in the field of Chinese folklore and popular literature."
-Philip Clart, translator of The Story of Han Xiangzi: The Alchemical Adventures of a Daoist Immortal

"The most critical study to date of baojuan versions of the tremendously popular story of Mulian, the filial monk who rescues his mother from the horrors of hell. Berezkin firmly establishes himself as the foremost scholar not just of Mulian but of the baojuan genre."
-Beata Grant, cotranslator of Escape from Blood Pond Hell: The Tales of Mulian and Woman Huang