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The Influence of Bookshop Printing on the Creation of the Sequels to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms Open Access


Other title
Print Culture
Bookshop Printing
Sequels to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Chen, Zhuorui
Supervisor and department
Daniel Fried (East Asian Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Hyuk-chan Kwon (East Asian Studies)
Daniel Fried (East Asian Studies)
Anne Commons (East Asian Studies)
Department of East Asian Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-11:Fall 2017
Master of Arts
Degree level
In the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties of China, there was a close relationship between the printing industry and the creation of novels. The commercialization of novels, free from strict cultural policies, began in about 1522, the first Jiajing year of the Ming dynasty. This trend reached a peak during the Wanli era (1573-1620), reflected by bookshop printing houses, owned by booksellers, that primarily focused on the printing, publication, and sale of novels. Between the mid-16th century and the early 17th century, reader demands and scarcity of material encouraged commercial publishers to become amateur writers themselves. As the popularity of novels increased, more literary authors devoted themselves to writing novels, allowing booksellers to concentrate on publication and transmission while still recruiting professional and experienced writers. Commercial publishers in the Ming-Qing dynasties notably contributed to popular literature (tongsu wenxue) in its early stage, especially the rise of historical and supernatural novels (shenmo xiaoshuo). These publishers and their works not only satisfied Ming-Qing audiences’ need for leisure reading but also stimulated interactions among and the evolution of different genres. The creation of the three early sequels to the Sanguo yanyi 三國演義 [Romance of the Three Kingdoms] (hereafter referred to as the Three Kingdoms) – the Xu Sanguo yanyi 續三國演義 [Continuation of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms], the Dongxi jin yanyi 東西晉演義 [Romance of the Eastern and Western Jin Dynasties], and the Hou sanguo Shi Zhu yanyi 後三國石珠演義 [Romance of Shi Zhu after the Three Kingdoms] – was influenced by commercial publishers. Many previous scholars have paid attention to the relationship between commercial publishers and novels in terms of circulation and formation, but there has not been sufficient attention to the sequels to the Three Kingdoms. My study situates these three texts within the Ming-Qing print culture, examines the strong commercial purposes behind these texts, and argues that the popularity of historical novels since the mid-Ming dynasty was not solely due to the success of the Three Kingdoms, but also because Ming commercial publishers created materials that catered to popular taste of the time. Historical novels simplified official history in order to distribute it among less-educated, and even unlearned, audiences, expanding both readership and market. History, once reserved for the elite, became a common subject of popular fiction from the mid-16th century onward. The use of simplified classical language (Wenyan) or vernacular (Baihua), reading aids such as annotations and illustrations, and commentaries all contributed to the creation of a public, distinct from an elite, reading community. Moreover, the disordered society of the late Ming created a desire for the Confucian values of benevolence, morality, and sage-kings, which are often stressed in historical novels, and also highlighted social problems and dynastic changes. However, in the mid-17th century, the dynastic change from the Ming to the Qing lessened readers’ interest in political struggles; as well, with the maturing of book-shop novels, commercial publishers began producing a variety of genres and later combined genres, so that crime-case novels, supernatural novels, gentlemen-beauty novels, and story-telling novels competed in the marketplace against historical novels. Thus, early Qing historical novels, such as the sequels to the Three Kingdoms, tended to be mixed with other popular genres and were sometimes even overshadowed by imported features, in order to meet the new demands of the market.
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