The Scholar and the State

Fiction as Political Discourse in Late Imperial China

Liangyan Ge

  • Published: 2015. Paperback February 2017
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; Literary Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 292 pp., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

In imperial China, intellectuals devoted years of their lives to passing rigorous examinations in order to obtain a civil service position in the state bureaucracy. This traditional employment of the literati class conferred social power and moral legitimacy, but changing social and political circumstances in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) periods forced many to seek alternative careers. Politically engaged but excluded from their traditional bureaucratic roles, creative writers authored critiques of state power in the form of fiction written in the vernacular language.

In this study, Liangyan Ge examines the novels Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Scholars, Dream of the Red Chamber (also known as Story of the Stone), and a number of erotic pieces, showing that as the literati class grappled with its own increasing marginalization, its fiction reassessed the assumption that intellectuals' proper role was to serve state interests and began to imagine possibilities for a new political order.
Liangyan Ge is professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Notre Dame.

"A significant contribution to our understanding of late imperial Chinese culture. This is the first book to put the individual novels [discussed here] into a very specific political context."
-Margaret Wan, University of Utah

"[His] readings allow him to explore ways in which vernacular fiction replaced the homogenous voice of intellectual orthodox in the early modern era with a heterogeneous and multi-vocal one. . . . This extended and thoughtful essay, filled with much insight and creative reading, should be read by early modern historians and the students they teach."
-R. Kent Guy, American Historical Review

"What makes his study worth reading is the way he finds surprisingly original readings within this central frame-work. . . . Ge breathes life into his overarching theme by contextualizing the central literary works with a rich and historically-informed set of other texts. . . . In putting the relationship between scholar and state at the heart of vernacular fiction, Ge has provided us with a strong account some of the classics of the late-imperial novel. . . . Ge offers a reading that escapes narrow-minded literary criticism as a purely aesthetic pursuit."
-Paize Keulemans, China Quarterly, The