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Heroic Verse and Heroic Mission: Dimensions of the Epic in the Hsi-yu chi

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 March 2011

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To perceive more fully the particular meaning and aesthetic power of the Hsi-yu chi, it is necessary to examine more closely certain of its features hitherto ignored in criticism. One such feature is the vast amount of poetic “insertions” within the narrative. Though the mixture of prose and poetry is common in classic Chinese fiction, and has its antecedents in the pien-wen texts and in the popular stories and dramas of earlier periods, the poetry of the Hsi-yu chi has its own significant function. By its descriptive realism, its encyclopedic range, and its peculiar technique of versification, the poems serve to heighten both scenic situations and character developments. The narrative effect thus achieved may best be appreciated when it is compared with epic songs and heroic sagas of other cultures. Another means with which the novel is endowed with epic magnitude is the greatness of its theme, the sacred mission of Tripitaka. To understand the crucial importance of this mission, it is necessary to discern how it functions to create in both plot and characters a sense of heroic grandeur and epic immensity.

Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 1972

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1 See, for example, Huang T'ai-hung and Wang Hsiang-hsü, ed., Hsi-yu cheng-tao shu; Ch'en Shihpin, Hsi-yu chen-ch'üan (with a preface by Yu T'ung dated 1696); Liu I-ming, Hsi-yu yüan-chih (Original Preface dated 1758); Han-ching-tzu, Hsi-yu chi p'ing-chu (Original Preface dated 1891); Chang Shu-shen, Hsin-shu Hsi-yu chi (Original Preface dated 1749); Chu Ting-ch'en, Tang Santsang Hsi-yu Shih-o chuan.

2 See Shih, Hu, “Hsi-yu chi k'ao-cheng,” reprinted in Hu Shih wen-ts'un (4 vols.; Hong Kong, 1962), II 354–99Google Scholar; Hsün, Lu, “Chung-kuo hsiao-shuo shihlüch,” reprinted in Lu Hsün ch'üan-chi (20 vols.; Peking, 1948), IX, 295311Google Scholar; Chen-to, Chêng, Hsi-yu chi ti yen-hua,” reprinted in Chung-kuo wen-hsüeh yen-chiu ( 3 vols.; Peking, 1957), I, 263–99Google Scholar; Ts'un-yan, Liu, Szu-yu chi ti Ming k'epen,” Hsin-ya hsüeh-pao, V (1963), 323–75Google Scholar; Ts'un-yan, Liu, “The Prototypes of Monkey,” T'oung Pao, LI (1964), 5571Google Scholar; Ts'un-yan, Liu, “Wu Ch'êng-ên: His Life and Career,” T'oung Pao, LIII (1967), 197Google Scholar (also distributed as a separate monograph); Dudbridge, Glen, Hsi-yu chi tsu-pen k'ao ti tsai-shang-chüeh,” Hsin-ya hsüeh-pao, VI (1964), 497519Google Scholar; Dudbridge, Glen, “The hundred-chapter Hsi-yu chi and its early versions,” Asia Major, n.s., XIV (1969), 141–91Google Scholar; Dudbridge, Glen, The Hsi-yu chi: A Study of Antecedents to the Sixteenth-Century Novel (Cambridge: University Press, 1970)Google Scholar.

3 For a comprehensive bibliography of relevant materials, see Dudbridge, Antecedents, pp. 201–210.

4 For example, what excited Hu Shih and led him to pen his own “Quintessence of Ibsenism” (Hu Shih, “I-Pu-Shen chu-i,” in Wen-ts'un, I, 629–47) were the dramatist's trenchant critique of the social order and his championship of feminine rights, not the formal excellence or the dramaturgical innovations of the plays.

5 See Hsi-yu chi yen-chiu lun-wen-chi (Peking, 1959).

6 For example, Shen Jen-k'ang, “Hsi-yu chi shihlun,” in ibid., pp. 39–55.

7 Dudbridge, Antecedents, p. ix.

8 The most skeptical case has been argued by Iwao, Tanaka in Siyuki no sakusha,” Shibun, n.s., VIII (1953), 3239Google Scholar, and his contention has been quoted with approbation by Dudbridge in “Versions,” 187. Of the five reasons that the Japanese author advanced for discrediting the widely held view of Wu's authorship, the strongest (p. 38) one seems to me to be the fact that a commentary of the Hsi-yu chi written by the critic Li Cho-wu,* which could not have been more than twenty years after Wu's death, had made no mention of the author's name. Li did praise the literary skill of the author by citing numerous examples from the text. However, if Wu Chêng-ên prided himself in being part of a literary circle largely famous for upholding and imitating the classical writings, as Liu Ts'un-yan's study seems to indicate, he might well have wished to remain anonymous as far as his authorship of a popular novel is concerned. I do not read Japanese and I am indebted to Professor William la Fleur of Princeton University for translating the essay for me.

9 Hsia, C. T., The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction (New York and London, 1968), pp. 115–64Google Scholar.

10 Dudbridge, Glen, “C. T. Hsia: The Classic Chinese Novel, A Critical Introduction—A Review,” Asia Major, n.s., XV (1970), 251Google Scholar.

11 The only essay, to my knowledge, which attempts a specific comparison of the Hsi-yu chi and Western epics is a brief and rather cursory one by Dye, Harriet. See her “Notes for a Comparison of The Odyssey and Monkey,” Literature East and West, VIII (1964), 1418Google Scholar.

12 Lord, A. B., “Homer and Odier Epic Poetry,” in A Companion to Homer, ed. By Wace, Alan J. B. and Stubbings, Frank H. (London, 1962), p. 180Google Scholar.

13 Cf. Tillyard, E. M. W., The English Epic and Its Background (New York, 1966), pp. 113Google Scholar; Greene, Thomas, The Descent From Heaven: A Study in Epic Continuity (New Haven and London, 1963), pp. 825Google Scholar; Wilkie, Brian, Romantic Poets and Epic Tradition (Madison and Milwaukee, 1965), pp. 329Google Scholar.

14 The distinctions maintained by Lewis, C. S. in A Preface to Paradise Lost (London, 1942), pp. 1361Google Scholar, and by Bowra, C. M. in From Virgil to Milton (London, 1945), pp. 132Google Scholar.

15 The standard edition of these texts in Chinese is Tun-huang pien-wen chi, ed. By Chungmin, Wang, et al. (2 vols.; Peking, 1957)Google Scholar.

16 See “Miao-fa lien-hua ching chiang-wen” and “Wei-mo-chieh ching chiang-wen”a in ibid., II, 501–645.

17 Shih, Hu, Pai-hua wen-hsüch shih (Shanghai, 1928; repr. Taipei, 1957), I, 204210Google Scholar.

18 Cf. Hu Shih, “Sung-jen hua-pen pa-chung hsü,” in Wen-ts'un, III, 555–73; Chêng chen-to, “Ming Ch'ing erh-tai ti p'ing-hua chi,” in Wen-hsüeh yen-chiu, I, 360–474; Lu Hsün, Ku-Asiao-shuo kou-ch'en (repr. in the 1948 edition of his complete works, Vol. 8); Hsün, Lu, Chung-kuo hsiao-shuo ti li-shih pien-chien (repr. Hong Kong, 1957)Google Scholar; Chia-jui, Li, “Yu shuo-shu pien-ch'êng hsi-chü ti hên-chih,” Li-shih yü-yen yen-chiu-so chi-k'an, VII (1936), 405–18Google Scholar; Průišek, Jaroslav, Chinese History and Literature (Dordrecht, Holland, 1970), pp. 214448CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Waley, Arthur, “Notes on History of Chinese Popular Literature,” T'oung Pao, XXVIII (1949), 346–54Google Scholar; Demiéville, P., Les débuts de la littérature en Chinois vulgaire (Paris, 1952)Google Scholar; Eberhard, W., Die chinesische Novelle des 17.-19. Jahrhunderts, eine soziologische Untersuchung (Ascona, 1948)Google Scholar; Bishop, John L., The Colloquial Short Story in China: A Study of the San-Yen Collections, Harvard-Yenching Institute Studies, XIV (Cambridge, 1956)Google Scholar, chapters 1–2; Birch, C., “Some Formal Characteristics of the Hua-pen Story,” Bull, of the School of Oriental and African Studies, XVII (1955), 346–64Google Scholar; Ju-hêng, Ch'en, Shuo-shu shih-hua (Peking, 1958)Google Scholar; Te-chün, Yeh, Sung Yüan Ming chiang-ch'ang wen-hsüeh (Peking, 1959)Google Scholar; Hanan, P. D., “A Landmark of the Chinese Novel,” Toronto Quarterly, XXX (1961), 325335CrossRefGoogle Scholar; V. Hrdličková, “Some Observations on the Chinese Art of Storytelling,” Acta Univ. Carolinae, Philologica, III, 53–78; Hrdličková, V., “The First Translations of Buddhist Sutras in Chinese Literature and Their Place in the Development of Storytelling,” Archiv Orientalní, XXVI (1958), 114–44Google Scholar; Hrdličková, V., “The Professional Training of Chinese Storytellers and the Storytellers' Guild,” ArOr, XXXIII (1965), 225–48Google Scholar; K'ai-ti, Sun, Ts'ang-chou chi (2 vols.; Peking, 1965), I, 160Google Scholar; 72–77; 78–91; 92–96.

10 Milman Parry's writings have now been collected into a one-volume edition by his son, the late Professor Parry, Adam. See The Making of Homeric Verse: The Collected Papers of Milman Parry, ed. By Parry, Adam (Oxford and New York, 1971)Google Scholar, and Lord, A. B., The Singer of Tales (Cambridge, 1960)Google Scholar. The literature on the “Homeric Question” and the Oral Tradition is vast and complex; see the introduction to my forthcoming anthology, Parnassus Revisited: Modern Criticism and the Epic Tradition. On Chinese storytellers and oral entertainers working with written materials, see Ch'en Ju-hêng and Sun K'ai-ti cited in the previous footnote and more recently, Eberhard, W., “Notes on Chinese Story Tellers,” Fabula, XI (1970), 133CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Cf. also my review of Dudbridge's Antecedents in a forthcoming issue of History of Religions.

20 Chadwick, Nora K. and Zhirmunsky, Victor, Oral Epics of Central Asia (Cambridge, England, 1969), pp. 319339Google Scholar.

21 After Hu Shih's article of 1923, the question of the Indian prototype of Monkey was taken up again in Yin-ke, Ch'en, Hsi-yu chi hsüan-tsang ti-tzu ku-shih chih yien-pien,” Li-shih yü-yien yen-chiu-so chi-k'an, II (1930), 157–60Google Scholar, which supported Hu's speculations. The theory came under the most skeptical scrutiny in Hsiao-ling, Wu, Hsi-yu chiLo-mo-yen shu,” Wen-hsüeh yen-chiu, II (1958), 163–69Google Scholar. On the motifs mentioned, see Stein, R. A., Recherches sur l'épopée et le barde au Tibet (Paris, 1959), pp. 362–89Google Scholar; Balbir, J. K., L'histoire de Rāma en tibetain d'après des manuscrits de Touenhouang (Paris, 1963)Google Scholar, and Dudbridge, Antecedents, p. 36. Dudbridge is properly cautious about suggesting influence of or derivation from alien literary sources, but he has also demonstrated that the earliest Chinese version of the Hsi-yu chi story, the Ta-T'ang San-tsang ch'ü-ching shih-hua, reflects not only “traces of scriptural fable and pious legend, but also motifs shared with the epic literature of Central Asia, as well as with the world of popular entertainment in China of the thirteenth century and before. It is towards an environment which encompasses these elements that any search for the roots of the Hsi-yu chi monkey must be directed” (Antecedents, p. 164).

22 All quotations are taken from the Hsi-yu chi (2 vols.; Peking, 1954); all translations are my own.

23 Whallon, W., “Old Testament Poetry and Homeric Epic,” Comparative Literature, XVIII (1966), 113–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar; cf. also his Formula, Character and Context: Studies in Homeric, Old English and old Testament Poetry (Cambridge and Washington, D. C, 1969), pp. 6870Google Scholar.

24 Průšek, op. cit., pp. 386 and 393.

25 Bowra, C. M., Heroic Poetry (London, 1952), p. 31Google Scholar. For a recent study of the literary device of digression in Homer, see Austin, Norman, “The Function of Digressions in the Iliad,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, VII (1966), 295312Google Scholar.

26 Bowra, Heroic Poetry, pp. 149–57; cf. also Chadwick, H. Munro and Chadwick, N. Kershaw, The Growth of Literature (3 vols.; Cambridge, England, 1940; reprinted, 1968), III, 72Google Scholar ff.

27 See Waley, Arthur, The Real Tripitaka and Other Stories (London, 1952), pp. 280–81Google Scholar.

28 Hu Shih, in “Hsi-yu chi k'ao-cheng,” 386, has suggested that the numerolog y here may reflect some influence by the Hua-yen ching (the Avataḿsaka-sūtra). In the last section of that sutra, it is recorded that a certain youth in search of Buddhahood has had to traverse no cities and experience no lessons of moral virtue before attaining enlightenment.

29 For an informative discussion of this motif in these epics, sec Levy, G. R., The Sword from the Rock.: An Investigation into the Origins of Epic literature and the Development of the Hero (London, 1953), pp. 120–73Google Scholar.

30 Lord, Singer, pp. 158–97; cf. also his “Tradition and the Oral Poet: Homer, Huso and Avdo Medjedovic,” in La poesia epica e la sua formazione, Problemi attuali di scienza e di cultura, quaderno n. 139 (Roma, 1970), pp. 13–28.

31 The line I have in mind is I, 33: tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem.

32 Hsia, op. cit., p. 130.

33 A portion of this sutra reads:

O Sariputra, form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, nor does form differ from emptiness; whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form. The same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness. Here, O Sariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness, they are neither produced nor stopped, neither defiled nor immaculate, neither deficient nor complete. Therefore, O Sariputra, where there is emptiness there is neither form, nor feeling, nor perception, nor impulse, nor consciousness; no eye, nor ear, nor nose, nor tongue, nor body, nor mind; no form, nor sound, nor smell, nor taste, nor touchable, nor object of mind; no sight-organ element: and so, fortn, until we come to: no mind-consciousness element: there is no ignorance, nor extinction of ignorance and so forth, until we come to; there is no decay and death, no extinction or decay and death; there is no suffering, nor origination, nor stopping, nor path; there is no cognition, no attainment and no non-attainment.

From Buddhist Texts Through the Ages, trans. and ed. by Edward Conze, et al. (New York, 1964), p. 152.

34 Hsi-yu chi lun-wen chi, passim.

35 Dudbridge, Antecedents, pp. 168–69.

36 Ibid., p. 176.

37 The incident occurred during the episode of the Cart-Slow Kingdom, where Monkey engaged in a magic contest with his Taoist opponents. When at one point the Tiger Strength Immortal proposed a duel in meditation to see who could sit perfectly still for the longest period, Monkey was quite defeated at once. See pp. 234–35 in the translation by Arthur Waley (New York, 1943), pp. 234–35 for a humorous account.

38 For a brilliant discussion of the subject of menos and manas, see Dumézil, Georges, Horace et les curiaces (Paris, 1942), pp. 1133Google Scholar; cf. also Autran, Charles, L'épopée indoue (Paris, 1946), pp. 246–87Google Scholar.

39 Cf. Kao Hsi-ts'ung, “Hsi-yu chi-li ti tao-chiao ho tao-shih,” and P'eng Hai, “Hsi-yu chi-chung tui fo-chiao p'i-p'an t'ai-tu,” in Lun-wen chi, pp. 153–57, and 158–71. The satiric accounts of the Taoists and the Buddhists have been regarded as possibly a veiled form of criticism aiming at the Ming Emperors, several of whom were known to have elevated clerics to high places. See Yang Chi-ts'iao, “Ming-tai chu-ti chin ts'ung-shang fang-shu chich ch'i ying-hsiang,” in Ming-tai chung-chiao, ed. by Pao Tsun-p'eng (Taipei, 1968), pp. 203–97.