Feng Menglong (fuhng muhng-lohng) holds a unique place in the history of Chinese literature. He contributed more than anyone else to the preservation and promotion of popular literature in its various genres. Feng lived at a time characterized by burgeoning literary activities and political unrest. Though details about his life are sketchy, the huge number of works associated with him indicate that he devoted much of his time and energy to collecting, editing, writing, and publishing the lowbrow literature of the masses and that in his old age he used his pen as a weapon to rally support for the Ming government against the invading Manchus.
Of Feng’s collections of colloquial stories, the best known is Gujin Xiaoshuo (stories old and new), published in three volumes and commonly known as the San-Yen or Three-Yen: Yu Shi Ming Yen (clear words to instruct the world), Jing Shi Tong Yen (ordinary words to warn the world), and Xing Shi Heng Yen (lasting words to awaken the world). The titles of the three volumes point to its didactic nature, and the stories, 120 in all, realistically depict various phases of Chinese life. Feng’s preface says that the stories will appeal to the “rustic ears” of the broad masses and affect them more swiftly and more profoundly than the Analects of Confucius (late sixth or early fifth century b.c.e.) or the Xiaojing (722; Classic of Filial Piety, 1879).
Feng also collected jokes and anecdotes. One of his collections, Xiao Fu (treasury of jokes), was the most famous of Chinese joke books, and it served as the basis of many later collections such as Xiaolin Guangji (forest of jokes) in the...
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