Toward a Theory of Late Imperial Chinese Media: Paper-Money-Body-Internet
4: The Vernacular Story as Internet Literature
Friday, March 25, 2022
1:30pm – 3:00pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 316A
Yale University, United States
The efflorescence of book production in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century China has never mapped very well onto either premodern Chinese genre theory or the European Renaissance genre theory that underlies much modern scholarly work. But this early modern boom does match well with the ways in which the internet has enabled a new relationship with the written word, partly in the forms that text assumes in both ages—fan fic, commentary slapped onto everything, comment threads that turn into the object of reading—but also in other ways as well, most particularly in the flexibility of platforms to facilitate dynamic interaction among authors and readers, such that the distinction between the two became blurred. As with internet literature, these changes of infrastructure (not just the platform of the woodblock but also the way in which materials circulated so rapidly as to refute the idea of definitive versions) fostered an aesthetic of immediacy and spontaneity that prized above all rapid recombination.
This paper first looks at some of the congruences between seventeenth-century print culture and internet production and then considers what happens if we reframe the seventeenth-century vernacular story (or huaben) as internet literature. Instead of reading stories for plot (when many plots were largely recirculated), the focus is directed instead at genre as a whole, at the reader’s toggling back and forth between the classical language paratext and the vernacular text, much like a seventeenth-century version of Mystery Science Theater 3000.