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‘Carving the Complete Edition’: Self-commentary, Poetry, and Illustration in the Early-Qing Erotic Novel Romance of an Embroidered Screen (1670)

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Scholars of late imperial Chinese fiction have demonstrated that Ming ‘literati novels’ possessed both intellectual sophistication and aesthetic seriousness. Nonetheless, the large corpus of mid-length fictional narratives of the Qing remains mired in problematic assumptions about its ostensibly popular nature. The self-commentaried edition of Embroidered screen (Xiuping yuan) presents a salient example for reassessing the nature of Qing novels and the reading of fiction in the seventeenth century. First circulated in manuscript copies, extensive auto-commentary was added when the novel was committed to print. The commented edition incorporates different genres—poetry, examination essay, and anecdotal accounts—as well as visual elements, all intended to appeal to elite literati tastes among Qing readers. Its literary, visual, and formal heteroglossia also contributed to its popularity in eighteenth-century Japan, which in turn secured its preservation and eventual modern rediscovery, even while it fell into obscurity in Qing China, most likely due to political censorship.

Affiliations: 1: University of Puget Sound


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