Monstrosity and Chinese Cultural Identity: Xenophobia and the Reimagination of Foreignness in Vernacular Literature since the Song Dynasty

by Isaac Yue


This book is the Cambria Sinophone World Series, headed by Professor Victor H. Mair (University of Pennsylvania).

*Includes color images.

This book examines the interconnection between the idea of monstrosity and the emergence of Chinese cultural identity since the Song dynasty. Using four case studies on the developmental history of the fox demon, Zhang Fei, Sun Wukong, and Zhong Kui in vernacular literature, it explores how monstrosity, through its traditional connection to foreignness, played a crucial role in shaping society’s idea regarding the self/other dichotomy.

Chinese vernacular literature matured during the Southern Song period and coincided with society’s growing apprehension of foreignness. As society’s perception of the other fluctuated between acceptance and abhorrence following the Mongolian conquest of the Middle Kingdom and the subsequent political desire to return to a fixation with the concept of Han during the Ming dynasty, the idea of monstrosity was adopted by these works as a logical vessel for contemplating the question of identity. Unlike other forms of written work in China, vernacular literature developed out of the necessity to cater to the mass. As such, they provide a unique window to understand society’s reaction to the cultural and political milieu of the time.

By resituating the production of these works within this cultural backdrop, the importance of this study lies both in the foregrounding of the manifestation of Chinese cultural identity in the literary and the proposition of its importance to our understanding of the cultural politics since the Song dynasty.

Although academics have long been aware of the importance of the cultural milieu of the Song-Yuan-Ming period to the development of Chinese cultural identity, there remains a lack of attention to the evolution of this identity during this time. The aim of this book is to explore the way cultural identity is encapsulated by the idea of monstrosity and how vernacular literature offers a window into society’s continuous attempt to redefine this concept, in response to a shifting political landscape. But beyond its timely discussion of the background and historical genealogy of how Chineseness is conceptualized, this book specifically addresses the effect of the contentiousness of ethnicity on the identity question. In doing so, it explores how this gradual historical transformation of Chinese cultural identity is closely tied to xenophobia and the reimagination of foreignness as reflected in the idea of monstrosity.

Students and scholars of Late Imperial Chinese literature are likely to find this book refreshing and informative. However, its overall thrust of the development of Chinese cultural identity should also appeal to readers who are interested in Early Modern Chinese history, especially those fascinated by questions concerning the formation of Chinese cultural identity.


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