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Lecture

EAST 211 Lecture Notes - Yongle Emperor, Ming Dynasty, Jade Emperor


Department
Asian Language & Literature
Course Code
EAST 211
Professor
Rebecca Doran

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WEEK 9 STUDY GUIDE
The Emergence of the Novel and Vernacular Literature during the Ming
Roots in oral storytelling: historical sagas, romances, reworking of classical literature
Flourishing commercial market in books
The Water Margin (水滸傳): about a band of righteous outlaws living during the Song dynasty
Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三國之演義), about the swashbuckling heroes vying for power in
the aftermath of the Han dynasty
Plum in the Golden Vase (金瓶梅), an erotic novel about the rise and fall of a wealthy merchant and
his various wives
Journey to the West (西遊記), about the pilgrimage of Tripitaka (Xuanzang) and his memorable
disciples to obtain Buddhist scriptures from India
Traditional low evaluation of the novel as a “frivolous” genre (versus “serious” genres such as the
classical poem, or shi)
“Vernacular” versus “Classical”
o Vernacular: spoken language; Classical: written language
o 20th century valorization of vernacular literature as the living language of the people
o “Vernacular” is not synonymous with “low-brow” and “classical” is not synonymous with “high-
brow”; the best vernacular novels are sophisticated and well-written, geared towards a highly
educated reader/consumer
Journey to the West, attributed to Wu Cheng’en 承恩 (ca. 1500-1582)
Chapters 1-7: self-contained history of the Monkey King
Miraculous birth from a stone egg
Pursuit of immortality under Patriarch Subodhi
Monkey as subversive trickster capable of great deeds and great violence: battle against the
Monstrous King of Havoc: Monkey as the ultimate underdog; wins by turning his hairs into tiny
monkeys:
Monkey’s rebellion against Heaven:
1. Summons to the Underworld:
o intimidation of the Ten Kings of the underworld; erasure of all monkeys from the registers of
birth and death
2. Jade Emperor’s two attempts to appease Monkey and integrate him into the heavenly
bureaucracy
o as a groomsman: he becomes angry when he discovers his low status, quits, and rebels
o as the “Great Sage, Equal to Heaven” and Guardian of the Immortal Peaches - infiltration of
the banquet; harassment of the immortal maidens; stealing Laozi’s elixir >>> full-scale
rebellion
3. Monkey as a challenge to the celestial hierarchy because he does not respect authority for
authority’s sake; final subjugation by Buddha
Chapters 8-12: introduction of the monk Tripitaka’s back story and the gods’ involvement in his
western journey for sutras
1. Tripitaka is nominally based on the historical monk Xuanzang 玄奘 (602-664), who left to journey
west to study with Buddhist masters and obtain scripture in 629 after dream vision; snuck out due to
proscription on travel; west across the Gobi Desert, welcomed by the leaders of Buddhist kingdoms;
study with Indian masters; triumphant return in 1645; translation of many new scriptures
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Chapters 13-99: pilgrimage narrative: Tripitaka and his disciples
2. Tripitaka of the novel: assigned four magical disciples by Buddhist deities, including Guanyin: they
have all committed a transgression in the heavenly realm and must complete the pilgrimage to atone
for their sins
a. Monkey King: (Sun Wukong 孫悟空): brave, violent, talented, heroic; banished for launching a
massive rebellion against heaven
b. Zhu Bajie (豬八戒; “Eight-precepts Pig” or Pigsy): formerly a heavenly general; banished for
flirting with the moon goddess, gluttonous and lazy
c. Sha Wujing (沙悟淨; Friar Sand or Sandy): river ogre; also formerly a heavenly general, banished
for breaking a celestial vase, stoic
d. Third prince of the Dragon-King, Yulong Santaizi (玉龍三太子): transformed into Tripitaka’s
horse; originally banished from heaven for setting fire to his father’s pearl
The pilgrimage narrative: allegory for Buddhist enlightenment; episodic
Tripitaka: whiny and unappealing character; Monkey is the real hero
o Tripitaka controls Monkey with a golden crown that Guanyin attaches to Monkey’s head; when
Tripitaka recites the secret spell, the crown tightens and causes Monkey unbearable pain
o Difficulty journey necessary for true enlightenment
Chapter 100: achievement of enlightenment
Buddhist Allegory or Satire?:
Negative portrayals of Tripitaka and the Jade Emperor
o Tripitaka is whiny and does not believe Monkey, who is always right
o the Jade Emperor is only vested with authority because others believe in his authority; he does
not participate in battle himself and only deputes others
Possibility of enlightenment even for weak and pathetic mortals (like Tripitaka)
China on the International Stage
1. Zheng He’s 鄭和 (1371-1433) Maritime Expeditions:
Zheng He: born Ma He to a Muslim family living in Yunnan; Persian ancestry, forefathers served in
Mongolian Empire
o Yunnan was the final Yuan holdout against the Ming conquest
o 1381: Zheng He’s father was killed in the Ming conquest of Yunnan; 11-year-old Zheng He was
captured by the Ming troops and made a eunuch in the service of the Prince of Yan, Zhu Di, the
future Yongle Emperor.
o Trusted advisor to Zhu Di/Yongle; promoted to Eunuch Grand Director 太監 and Chief Envoy
使; deputed by Yongle to carry out the grand maritime expeditions
o Passed away in Hormuz (near Iran) on return from final voyage in 1422
Maritime Expeditions: 7 in total, under Yongle and his successors (Hongxi/Renzong and
Xuande/Xuanzong), 1405-1433; visited various areas of Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, Arabia,
and the eastern coast of Africa
o Huge ships, many sailors
o Main Goals: establish a Chinese presence abroad, impress foreigners with China’s greatness, and
increase trade and tributary networks
o (Largely baseless) rumors that they were actually an elaborate hidden hunt for the Jianwen
Emperor, whom Yongle had deposed
o Misperception of the voyages as China’s “missed opportunity”: accomplished their goals of trade
and prestige-building; end of the voyages did not signal Ming’s withdrawal from international
trade and diplomatic networks
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