Playing for Profit: Tracing the Emergence of Authorship through Li Yu's (1611-1680) Adaptations of his Huaben Stories into Chuanqi Drama.
Author(s)Szekely, Lenore J.
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AbstractIn this thesis the comparison of Li Yu???s (1611-1680) adaptations of his own huaben stories into chuanqi plays is used to show aspects of the emergence of Authorship in seventeenth-century China in reaction to a newly stratified and competitive literary market. Huaben (vernacular short stories), less directly censored, gave Li Yu the space to be more subversive and to exercise and brand his authorial persona, self-mythologizing his creative genius. By personalizing his huaben narrator, Li Yu presented himself and his genius in these stories for the appreciation of a restricted audience of readers. That audience was invited to view themselves as part of an exclusive circle of cultural elites. This option was not readily available when he adapted his own stories as chuanqi drama, a genre more vulnerable to censorship, without a narrator, and which Li Yu, in his criticism and practice, stressed should be accessible to a broad audience that needed also to include illiterates. His plays, in contrast to his stories, will be shown to be socially neutralized and sanitized, yet able to incorporate bawdiness as long as they stayed away from threatening the hegemonic gender order of the day. An introductory chapter contextualizes Li Yu and his work and shows how scholarship on the emergence of the Author has yet to be fruitfully applied to the study of Li Yu, despite the fact that he has been generally recognized as most probably the first Chinese professional author. Four chapters then separately take up the four extant plays that Li Yu adapted from his own huaben stories and compare them to their source stories. Besides showing how Li Yu crafted his stories and plays for very different audiences, these works are shown to reflect Li Yu???s anxieties over the competitive literary market of his day, whose comparatively unrestricted circulation carried with it both opportunities and the danger of piracy and plagiarism. These works will also be shown to include meditations on sticking with the patronage system, and with it, more restricted circulation, or to take his chances with the comparatively unrestricted circulation of the literary market.