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Mair, Victor Henry (1982) The Origins of the Tun-Huang Popular Narratives and Their Influences on Later Vernacular Literature. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The purpose of this thesis is to understand as much as possible of the history of the popular Chinese literary genre called pien-wen. These texts date from the eighth through the tenth centuries and are important because they represent the earliest surviving examples of extended vernacular narrative known in China. The thesis begins with a brief discussion of the discovery of the pien-wen manuscripts at Tun-huang in the northwestern province of Kansu. The author then turns to an intensive philological study of the term pien-wen and thereby justifies his translation of it as "transformation text." Having completed this analysis, he is in a position to delineate the corpus of pien-wen. In the process, he distinguishes it from other types of popular literary texts discovered at Tun-huang such as sutra lectures (chiang- ching-wen). The author then moves on to the significant questions of who wrote the pien-wen and why. He marshals evidence that most of the copyists were lay students studying at Buddhist monasteries in Tun-huang. The author proceeds to show that pien-wen were the written descendants of a type of oral performance called chuan-pien ("turning transformation [scrolls]"). This was a folk entertainment in which a storyteller used a picture scroll to illustrate his or her tale. The sudden and mysterious disappearance of pien-wen during the first half of the eleventh century is then explained. The last major section of the thesis deals with the effects of pien-wen on later Chinese popular literature, chief among these being the adoption of the prosimetric form and the use of vernacular language. The thesis concludes with an assessment of the current state of research on pien-wen.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2020 17:21

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