Textual Analysis for the study of imagery and the representation of emotions in late imperial China
Paolo Santangelo - Sapienza University of Rome
Anthropological Chinese history may lead one to reconstruct the so called mental structure in Ming and Qing China. The long term project on emotions and imagery in late imperial China aims at analyzing and re-examining various sources and rediscovering and reconstructing the so called mental structure in Ming and Qing China and its rich capital of lexicon, concepts and symbols to represent internal and external reality. Here some results of the analysis of two literary sources are presented:
Shan’ge 山歌is a text which can be considered of ‘marginal’ importance compared with other writing of the times. This marginality itself however is significant in that it helps us understand the nature of the society, which was very mobile and articulated, as well as the vitality of the intellectual world of Jiangnan. A series of symbols pervade the entire collection: euphemisms, metaphors and parallelisms, particularly those implying sexual love and desire. But in this collection of folk songs, sublime and selfish passions, desires and lustful thoughts, sincerity and treachery, all are voiced and accepted with great tolerance. Thus, if Shan’ge is a ‘marginal’ work in the complex framework of Chinese literature, it cannot be considered marginal in its effort to express the codes of emotions in a new way, and to transmit them to the readers with great immediacy.
Zibuyu 子不语 is a collection of fantastic tales of the zhiguai genre. Although Yuan Mei in his preface says that tales should not be taken seriously and they just aim to dispel boredom, it is a work with different reading levels, which allows readers to uncover several deep trends, taboos and fantasies of late imperial intellectual circles. Disgust, surprise and laughter are constantly evoked, by keeping the reader in a continuous mood of attraction and repulsion that reminds him of the perturbing bewilderment of the unconscious desire. The ambiguous atmosphere introduces us to a world of a lost innocence where contamination between ‘magic’ and ‘real’, dream and consciousness, charm and horror, fantasy and rationality seem natural, but at the same time the darkness of existence is dominating.
Paolo Santangelo leads an international research project on the textual analysis of literary and non-literary sources in Chinese culture; this textual analysis aims to collect and evaluate the expressions concerning emotions and states of mind. He is the director of the series Emotions and States of Mind in East Asia, of Brill publishers, editor of the journal Ming Qing yanjiu, Napoli-Roma, IUO-IsIAO, 1992-2007, and editor of Ming Qing Studies from 2010. He is in the Board of several international Journals, such as Frontiers of History in China. Santangelo is also the author of several essays on the social history of pre-modern China. Since 1980 he has been working on the history of mentality, publishing several articles on the topic. The latest products of his research on the representation of emotions and imagery include numerous articles and volumes. Some of his articles and books have been translated and published in China, under his pseudonym 史华罗.