The Scholars (novel)
The Scholars (Chinese: 儒林外史; pinyin: Rúlínwàishǐ; literally "The Unofficial History of the Forest (ie. World) of the Literati") is a Chinese novel authored by Wu Jingzi (吳敬梓) and completed in 1750 during the Qing Dynasty.
Set in the Ming period, the novel describes and often satirizes Chinese scholars in a vernacular Chinese idiom. The first and last chapters portray recluses, but most of the loosely-connected stories that form the bulk of the novel are didactic and satiric stories, on the one hand holding up exemplary Confucian behavior, but on the other ridiculing over-ambitious scholars and criticizing the civil service examination system.
Promoting naturalistic attitudes over belief in the supernatural, the author rejects the popular belief in retribution: his bad characters suffer no punishment. The characters in these stories are intellectuals, perhaps based on the author's friends and contemporaries. Wu also portrays women sympathetically: the chief character Du treats his wife as a companion instead of as an inferior. Although it is a satiric novel, a major incident in the novel is Du's attempt to renovate his family's ancestral temple, suggesting the author shared with Du a belief in the importance of Confucianism.
Chinese commentators have traditionally seen The Scholars as having a loose structure. The famous author Lu Xun wrote that "the novel has no central linking element" and is more like "a group of short stories". Hu Shi echoed this view, writing that the novel "lacks a general structural basis". The same opinion has been put forth by Western scholars. James R. Hightower described the work as "amorphous and plotless". However, more recent scholarship by Zbigniew Slupski detects organization in The Scholars on three levels. The first is the anecdotal level, in which the work can be divided into various "units" centered around a comical fact or occurrence. The second level is that of biography, in which the author constructs a multifaceted view of main characters in the work. An example is the portrayal of Zhou Jin, the elderly examination candidate. The final level is that of autobiography, the author's attitude toward the events of the story. This is revealed in chapter titles, poems, and occasional narrative interludes.
Chapter 37 of the novel depicts in great detail a Confucian ceremony honoring a Confucian sage of antiquity, Wu Taibo. Both modern and Qing Dynasty commentators have noted that this chapter constitutes the "high point" and "structural apex" of the novel. Shang Wei believes that the chapter points to Wu Jingzi's simultaneous desire to follow Confucian ritual and his need to critique it.
The earliest extant edition of The Scholars is the 1803 Wo Xian Caotang edition, commonly referred to as the "Wo" edition. This was followed in 1816 by the Qingjiang Pu Zhu Li Ge ("Qing") and Yi Gu Tang ("Yi") editions, which are both essentially copies of the Wo edition. The Suzhou Fan Shi Chao ("Chao") edition was the personal reading edition of a Qing Dynasty official. While this edition was quite rare, the following Suzhou Qun Yu Ji ("Su") edition was quite popular, and there are many extant versions of it in circulation. The first Shen Bao Guan ("Shen One") edition corrected the mistakes of previous editions, and the second Shen Bao Guan edition ("Shen Two") carried these corrections further.
In addition to further corrections, the Ji edition greatly shortened the text, by for example deleting characters' titles. The Zeng Bu Ji Sheng Tang ("Zeng Bu Ji") edition added four additional chapters of text to the novel. The Commercial Press edition of The Scholars was arranged according to the Shen Two edition, and made further corrections to the text. The Yadong edition was first published in 1920, and reissued a number of times in subsequent years. The 16th edition was released in 1948. This version of the text has greatly influenced modern printings of the novel.
- Slupski, Zbigniew (Jun., 1989). "Three Levels of Composition of the Rulin Waishi". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (Harvard-Yenching Institute) 49 (1): 5–53. doi:10.2307/2719297. JSTOR 2719297.
- Shang, Wei (Dec., 1998). "Ritual, Ritual Manuals, and the Crisis of the Confucian World: An Interpretation of Rulin waishi". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (Harvard-Yenching Institute) 58 (2): 373–377. doi:10.2307/2652665. JSTOR 2652665.
- 李,漢秋 (2010). 儒林外史：彚校彚評 (in Chinese). 上海: 上海古籍出版社. pp. 1–13. ISBN 978-7-5325-5557-4.
- Paul S. Ropp, Dissent in Early Modern China : Ju-Lin Wai-Shih and Ch'ing Social Criticism (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981).