Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Feng Menglong’s Hsin lieh-kuo chih dates from after 1627; it is based on an earlier account by Yü Shao-yü (fl. c. 1566) titled Lieh-kuo chih chuan. After 1644, Feng’s version was edited slightly by Ts’ai Yuan-fang (fl. c. 1736) and given the title Tung-chou lieh-kuo chih; this version may be regarded as definitive. The novel contains no fictitious figures. It tells of an important time in Chinese history: from the eighth to the third centuries b.c.e. This period includes the Chou dynasty and, most significantly, China’s unification under the tyrant Ch’in Shih Huang-ti. Feng was more of a collector and editor of stories than an original fiction writer. His works were issued under various pseudonyms, and it is only through the careful investigation of modern scholars that he has been identified as the author or editor of the works now attributed to him. His prolific career was cut short by the overthrow of the Ming dynasty, which cost him his life. Feng’s novel has never been fully translated into English.

Feng was a man of broad interests, a learned scholar, and a talented writer of prose, but he is known principally for his contributions to popular, vernacular literature as opposed to literature in classical Chinese. As a scholar, however, he was deficient enough in the writing of classical poetry that he never passed the state government examinations. He nevertheless specialized in the classic Ch’un-ch’iu (Spring and Autumn Annals) by Confucious (551-479 b.c.e.), and he published two books on the subject, which were well received by other scholars. He is best known for his three collections of vernacular short stories. He left a lasting mark on the Chinese novel.

In Chinese tradition, “history” (shih) and “fiction” (hsiao-shuo) have meanings that differ significantly from such concepts in the West....

(The entire section is 806 words.)