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Zeng Pu's "Niehai Hua" as a political novel--a world genre in a Chinese form

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Author Yeh, Catherine Vance.
Broad Subject Comparative literature
Politics & Public administration
Summary The focus of this study is the literary and political context of the late-Qing novel Niehai hua by Zeng Pu. Historical and political novels had played an important part in the Young England movement and the Meiji restoration in Japan. Through translations and Liang Qichao's writings they became known in China, elevating the novel there to the rank of a serious international genre that could be used for advocating reform among the public. The modern novel in China begins with the political novel.

First drafted by Jin Songcen as a political novel against Russian encroachment on China, NHH was converted by Zeng Pu into a historical novel. Through an indirect depiction, it came out for liberty and democracy and took the "foreign" Manchu government to task. The plot structure of NHH operates through the adaptation, transformation and rejection of elements from traditional chuanqi, ballads and novels dealing with the love between courtesans and scholars. Although Zeng Pu was an avid reader of French literature in the original, the influence of his Western models on NHH comes out most clearly in the transformations of traditional Chinese motifs. In tune with Disraeli's and Shiba Shiro's political novels, NHH has the courtesan Sai Jinhua and her scholar-husband travel to the West. Their meeting Russian Anarchists is followed by a long episode on the history of the Anarchist movement. Both the international travel and this episode break with the traditional structure of the courtesan and scholar motif.

This motif is an important variant to the "beautiful lady and talented scholar" motif. Both courtesan and scholar depend on patrons, but both have the potential for high moral calibre. Zeng Pu uses the motif for a critical reflection on the late-Qing intelligentsia by setting off Sai Jinhua and her husband against the idealized couple as presented in The Peach Blossom Fan.

As an early example of a transitional literature, NHH is ideally suited for a study of the complex interaction of the Chinese socio-political environment with foreign and Chinese literary and aesthetic motifs and influences.

Language English
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