Qiancheng Li - Associate Professor of Foreign Language and Literature, Louisiana State University
This paper aims to complicate our understanding of a series of late imperial Chinese dramatic and narrative works dealing with qing (desire) by exploring one of their defining features. Particularly, it examines the impact of China’s religions on the discourse about desire as manifested in dramatic and narrative works from the late Ming (1368-1644) through the Qianlong period (1736-1795) and Honglou meng. In the literary scene of this period, we may be able to detect one persistent and consistent pattern, in the lives of the literati as well as in their works. In real life, many literati vacillated between two extreme ways of life, between an immersion in a life of pleasure, or at least a career championing qing, and religion, which prescribes a strict code of asceticism, or complete elimination of qing. Moreover, those who championed qing the most were among the most pious defenders of religion, a fact that makes it imperative to contextualize the cult of qing within the religious traditions. I would contend that the authors, when representing qing, tend to juxtapose two extremes in one work, namely human desire and its renunciation or transcendence. One depends on the other to define and express itself, and their tension and reconciliation inform the works under discussion. The writers configure qing and religions together, and understand one by its contrast with the other, with the result that both ends of the spectrum are highlighted, intensified, and enhanced.