Genre and Empire: Historical Romance and Sixteenth-Century Chinese Cultural Fantasies
English Language and Literature
Chinese historical romance blossomed and matured in the sixteenth century when the Ming empire was increasingly vulnerable at its borders and its people increasingly curious about exotic cultures. The project analyzes three types of historical romances, i.e., military romances Romance of Northern Song and Romance of the Yang Family Generals on northern Song's campaigns with the Khitans, magic-travel romance Journey to the West about Tang monk Xuanzang's pilgrimage to India, and a hybrid romance Eunuch Sanbao's Voyages on the Indian Ocean relating to Zheng He's maritime journeys and Japanese piracy. The project focuses on the trope of exogamous desire of foreign princesses and undomestic women to marry Chinese and social elite men, and the trope of cannibalism to discuss how the expansionist and fluid imagined community created by the fiction shared between the narrator and the reader convey sentiments of proto-nationalism, imperialism, and pleasure. Contextualizing the fiction in its contemporary political discourses and its literary evolution in history, the dissertation concentrates on fictional images, i.e., religious practitioners, women, demons, and categories of barbarians. It argues that the historical romances have self-healing and self-assuring characteristics. They sublimate history into tales of triumphs, jokes, games, references, and historical reversions, and thus allow readers to imagine an invincible imperial history. This study brings into light the importance literature plays as a cultural response to China's long history of cross-border military and cultural encounters with her Eurasian neighbors.