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Insects in Chinese Literature: A Study and Anthology By Wilt L. Idema ...

Chapter :  Introduction
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Insects in Chinese Literature:


Portrayal of Insects

When it comes to animal tales, many people will think of “La cigale et le fourmis” (The cicada and the ant), the story of the frugal ant and the spendthrift cicada that Jean de La Fontaine (1621–1695) used to open his first collection of versified fables. But insects, especially anthropomorphized insects that speak to each other, are actually very rare in animal fables and, more broadly, in animal tales. This applies not only to the classical and Western tradition of animal literature, but even more so in China. As this volume will show, while poems on insects as emblems of virtues and vices, narratives on insects in human guise, and ballads and folktales on talking, fighting, and litigating insects were certainly not absent from Chinese literature in premodern times, they were quite marginal. As if to make up for a perceived lack of animal stories in traditional Chinese literature, Aesopian fables were one of the first genres of non-religious Western literature to be translated into Chinese from the seventeenth century onwards, by missionaries and others, to make their way into the modern textbooks of the final years of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911).1 And so the modern Chinese author Lu Xun 魯迅 (Zhou Shuren 周樹人; 1881–1936), while still in primary school, learned the fable of the ant and the cicada. But when retelling