Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2021

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

East Asian Languages and Culture: Chinese

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



ABSRACT OF THE DISSERTATION - The Lure of Visualization— Narration, Decoration, and Meaning in Illustrated Fiction of the Ming-Qing Transition Wang, Wei

My dissertation examines a group of fictional works with a special design of illustrations that were produced in the mid-seventeenth century. Published during the Ming-Qing transition, these fictional works were products of the social, economic, and cultural milieus of their age, and are the fine examples of extraordinary narratives and exquisite illustrations. The prosperous connoisseur culture and print culture, in particular, had a visible impact on these fictional works both in textual composition and visual representation. With respect to the text, these cultural influences served as a mechanism for narrative construction, interweaving the authors’ encyclopedic interests and plenty of writings of various genres into the fictional plotting. In terms of the illustrations, connoisseur and print cultures provided tremendous sources of inspiration. In the cases of the illustrated fictional works under study in this project, letter paper catalogues, ink-block design books, and painting albums are the most reliable sources that the illustrators turned to for inspiration. This dissertation concentrates on four fictional works: Xiyou bu西游補 (Further Adventures on the Journey to the West), Bian er Chai弁而釵 (Between Caps and Hairpins), Shengxiaojian生綃剪 (Snippets of Raw Silk), and Doupeng xianhua 豆棚閑話 (Idle Talk under the Bean Arbor). It is my contention that these fictional works, although less studied compared to the canonized masterpieces, all made further achievements in the realm of vernacular fiction, and they deserve their positions in the trajectory of Chinese literature. In Xiyou bu, dream is used a vehicle to explore the human mind and desire. Through the Monkey’s straying mind the reader is brought into a fantastic world of past, present, and future, all charged with the illusory sentiment of qing that leads to the enlightenment of Monkey. In Bian er chai four stories are established as models of male-male love in order to revisit the late-Ming discourse of qing. Love in these exemplary stories achieves the power beyond various boundaries including gender, status, space, life and death. Moreover, by examining the sexual and social roles of the male lovers these stories negotiate the masculinity of educated men in the last years of the crisis-ridden Ming dynasty. Shengxiao jian is a collection of stories that are diverse in themes and voices. They are linked by an implicit thread of collective commemoration of the past Ming dynasty. A complex society is displayed, and in some stories the narrator is so emotionally involved that he becomes an unusually dedicated commentator. In Doupeng xianhua twelve stories are told by various storytellers with multiple levels of narration, under the bean arbor that is set up as a frame within which the discourses of human histories and reality are discussed, debated or subverted. Furthermore, the four books epitomized a larger body of fictional works that are equipped with an innovative style of illustrations: the combination of narrative images (with human figures) with object images (without human figures) that are assembled before the narrative text (rather than narrative illustrations exclusively). The object images, which are otherwise random items in the contemporary connoisseur and print cultures, are selectively grouped or paired with the narrative images. Through metaphoric associations and symbolic implications these illustrations provide interpretations and commentaries in the textual and visual contexts. This innovative experiment of illustrating literary works changed the conventional procedure of reading illustrated books dominated by narrative illustrations. The reader would undergo a process of viewing illustrations, reading the text, and re-viewing the illustrations. In other words, the authors, the commentators, the illustrators and carvers of these fictional texts had worked together to promote a new fashion of fiction production and reception that increases the reading pleasure with the challenge of visual deciphering. The sophistication of these fiction illustrations suggests an elite readership. Although this fashion lasted only for about a half century, the influence of these illustrated fictional works lingered on, both in fiction composition (as in the Dream of the Red Chamber) and in the field of painting (as in the motif of “Painting of the Idle Talk under the Bean Arbor”).


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Robert E. Hegel

Committee Members

Beata Grant

Available for download on Saturday, December 12, 2026