The Xingshi yinyuan zhuan : a study of utopia and the perception of the world in seventeenth-century Chinese discourse
The present project sets out to discover what the Xingshi yinyuan zhuan ('A Tale of Marriage Destinies that will Bring Society to its Senses'), an anonymous novel of manners from seventeenth-century China, can tell us about life in the world out of which it emerged. Seventeenth-century records depict China on the verge of modernity as a world torn between the traditional agricultural society and the new challenges of urban life, commerce and a money economy. The shifts from conventional norms and values gave rise to concepts of Utopia and anti-utopia: to nostalgia for the lost paradise of the past and to apocalyptic satire on present conditions. Scholars have noted the prominence of utopianism in seventeenthcentury fiction but no detailed study has been undertaken so far. Utopianism is here explored in terms of the indigenous Chinese traditions. The text of the Xingshi yinyuan zhuan is analysed to see how it perceives and reflects the seventeenth century Chinese world. Utopia serves as an analytical construct to recreate a glimpse of society and the moral evaluation of the world through the eyes of a contemporary observer. The body of the thesis analyses three major motifs in the Xingshi yinyuan zhuan: the healers, the elite and the mother. Critical comparison with other contemporary literary and historical sources attempts to place the novel into its context. The visions of Utopia and anti-utopia provide insight into the dreams and nightmares as seventeenth-century Chinese minds may have perceived them, shedding light on the vernacular culture as opposed to the officially recognised and imperially ordained culture of China.