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Topics in Traditional Chinese Vernacular Literature

Home Free essays Philosophy Topics in Traditional Chinese Vernacular Literature

Most of us are unsure about the concepts of traditional Chinese literatures and where they are coming from. However beliefs are one of the major influences in their literature. As we have noticed, Confucianism and Buddhism values are the moral lessons which we can extract from reading their crafts. For so many years, The Chinese have remained loyal to their beliefs. They have instilled to their children that the teachings of their ancestors must be practiced in a daily basis. Apparently, the ancestral teachings had a direct impact to their community which influenced their authors and writers to create stories relevant to Chinese beliefs. As we go along, I will be expounding about their beliefs. Values and lifestyle of the Chinese will also help us understand the construction/creation of the Traditional Chinese Literature. There are a lot of Chinese who are very successful in their chosen endeavors but why do they remain humble in spite of the milestones that they have reached. The answer to the riddle is they are trying to resemble Confucius and/or Buddha. The people are living by their examples because they believe in ‘Karma and Rebirth’ which will be tackled later on.

Confucius taught the early Chinese the values and lifestyle that made every single one of them cautious and curious with their actions and thoughts. Ever since Confucius started to share his way of life to the public, a remarkable change was projected from his believers and listeners. They have dumped their pride and greed and started to uplift their humanity. Responsibility then has a broader meaning for them. Chinese began to show more care for others, for every being, Chinese or not, Human or not, Alive or not. They felt more responsibility towards everything and everything around them. It was also written from one of my references that Confucius had examined his acts and thoughts even when he was all alone. It inspired a lot of believers to do great things even if nobody witnesses their actions. This attributed to the well-being of an individual and his/her neighbors. Believers were able to redeem their humanity by allowing their minds to disorient negative thoughts and sinful ideas. Confucians always believed in equality amongst everybody. Sharing and giving has become a noble practice of Confucians because in the eye of their watchful Supreme Being there is neither rich nor poor.

Confucianism is a philosophical as well as ethical system developed from the teachings of Confucius

It originated as an “ethical-sociopolitical teaching” during the Spring and Autumn time period. However during the Ham Dynasty it was developed as metaphysical and cosmological elements. After abandoning Legalism in China it became the official ideology of the Han. Later during the time of Tang it was reformulated as Neo-Confucianism. There are three essential values of Confucian i.e. Filial piety, humaneness, and ritual. These values can be considered as a tripod in Confucian. Filial piety is considered the cornerstone of the Confucian values; it is the root of all the others. It means respect towards ones parents including relatives and ancestors. From the point of view of Confucian it is the part point of all virtue. The ultimate goal is Humaneness which starts with filial piety when the root is firmly established, the moral law will grow. Filial piety and brotherly respect is the root of humanity. Filial piety is derived from the most fundamental human elements i.e. parent and child. This is among the first of the five Confucian relations. As parents nurture and take care of their children in their infancy, similarly young people ought to look after their parents in old age and even sacrifice to them after their death. Ancestor worship is also required which means to respect par4nts while they are alive and to remember them when they are dead. The sources or means of ancestral worship is the graves. Hence people throughout China would visit the graves of their ancestors especially recent ones just to tidy up the graves and to worship them.

When the first Chinese edition was published in 1620, compiler and editor Feng Menglong wrote in the preface of the power of fiction:

“Just ask the storytellers to demonstrate in public their art of description: they will gladden you, astonish you, move you to sad tears, rouse you to song and dance; they will prompt you to draw a sword, bow in reverence, cut off a head, or donate money. The faint-hearted will be made brave, the debauched chaste, the unkind compassionate, the obtuse ashamed. One may recite the Classic of Filial Piety and the Analects of Confucius every day, yet he will not be moved so quickly nor so profoundly as by these storytellers.” 

The second leg of the tripod of the Confucian thinking or philosophy is humaneness i.e the concern and care of other humans. This Humanity is made up of two parts. One of the elements means a human being while the other means two, in the sense together. A human being together with another human being, a human being in a society.

Confucius said: “…The humane man, desiring to be established himself, seeks to establish others; desiring himself to succeed, he helps others to succeed. To judge others by what one knows of oneself is the method of achieving humanity…”Excerpt from Sources of Chinese Tradition, Wm. Theodore de Bary, ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), Analects 6:28.

The last one is ritual i.e. the right way of performing things in the deepest sense

Confucius said: “In rites at large, it is always better to be too simple rather than too lavish. In funeral rites, it is more important to have the real sentiment of sorrow than minute attention to observances.”    

Buddha is considered as the supreme being of the Buddhists. People say that he was the one responsible for the enlightenment in China. He also captured the people’s attention when he shared his knowledge about karma and rebirth. At first many Chinese felt uncomfortable about this supernatural cycle of life. As time goes on they realized that Buddha could be right, that there could be life after life. Given that they already believed Buddha’s words it has never been hard to follow him and his teachings anymore. Our next life will depend on our deeds in the present life and will be measure by the aura of karma that is engraved to our soul. There are two types of karma, the good and the bad. Obviously good karma attracts positively into our life and will bring us to a better life in our next. On the other hand, Bad karma will give us unhappy sequences after the present life. The chronology of our rebirth will always be judged by the Supreme Being by how we deal with our lives during smooth and rough situations. Awareness is the key word to determine the type of karma that will be applied to individuals. We have to be conscious about our personality towards others, are we ill-treating our neighbors unintentionally. Maybe we should try to ask ourselves because intentional or unintentional deeds will not produce a different karma. Karma is determined thru good and bad actions.

Stories Old and New is the first complete translation of Feng Menglong’s Gujin xiaoshuo is a collection of forty short stories published in 1620 in China. These stories provide valuable lessons because of being examples of early fiction and for being a daily life depiction of a broad range of social classes. Feng Menglong takes the reader to the cultural, social, political and economic nature of the Chinese society during the seventeenth century. The main emphasis in these stories is the gender relations present at that time period. It provides an insight on the rigidly defined roles of men and women and the range of moral and social obligations that are affiliated with them. . The most famous stories are JIANG Xing-ge Remeets Pearl-Shirt, Jin yu Spanks Her Faithless Lover and the Story of Monk Yue Ming. These stories are quite worthy reading to understand reincarnation, karma, understanding and revenge

With extraordinary story lines, and interesting character pairs, these three stories are very worthy to read and understanding karma, revenge and reincarnation. Furthermore the stories instills the readers that the people who were not able enough to stay and maintain their gender roles were in fact immoral and weak. The purpose of the book is to crate social awareness among the people. The stories in the book revolve around different social themes including social, political and humanistic elements. Furthermore it reflects the bright and positive side of human behavior and thought. It also showed the bitter lives of the poor and low rank people.

Audience of Feng’s stories were educated male literati and women of elite family

He showed indignant at the inequity of the heroine and softened the harsh moralism of his original sources. He condemned women who failed to live by the sexual strictures of the Ming era; directed fulsome praise towards virtuous wives who committed suicide rather than remarry. He accepted conventional view of femmes fatales to rationalize male callousness. Feng strikes a balance between female chastity and male fidelity as shown in“The Lady Who Was a Beggar” is “Jin the Jade Slave Beats Her Callous Husband with Rods” in Chinese. He used Zhu Maichen’s story to explain the “Song of the Rejected Wife”. One of the several morals was “do not scorn poverty and covet riches”. It means wealth and poverty, fame and obscurity, each has its time.

To summarize the essay, I conclude that the Traditional Chinese Vernacular Literature got most of its influence from the teachings of Confucius and Buddha. Traditional writers attempted to encourage readers to abide by their ancestors teachings. The strategy of the writers is the start their stories in a negative perspective and then makes the main character find a better life by taking the right path. But not all stories end up well. A negative ending was utilized by traditional writers to open the eyes of the readers by seeing a drastic outcome due to someone’s wrong-doing. Success of the Chinese is a product of loyalty to their beliefs. No matter what endeavor they try to enter they will dedicate time and effort for it. It is the application of Confucius’ drive to learn and gain Great knowledge with no intentions to become powerful enough to persuade the people and gain profit from it.

Whatever it is that the ancient Chinese wrote about, It only boils down to one thing, Chinese writers want us to become better as human through sharing, helping, and loving. Let us appreciate their efforts in increasing our morale.

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