Rulin waishi 儒林外史 “The Scholars”

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Wu Jingzi 吴敬梓 (1701-1754) used this novel called “Inofficial History of the Scholars” to describe with a good portion of irony the ideals of a the Confucian scholarship and their dedication to study and eremitic life. The author himself gave up his career and began a life of dissipation. His work is a mirror for his own disrespect for the intellectual decay of the middle Qing time 清 upper class. The sources for his novel are undeniable popular stories about remarkable scholars that loved more to live a quiet life instead of pursuing the traditional way to become an official. The langage of the Scholars is a vernacular prose that exhausts in detail descriptions and builds up a mixture of folk and belletristic work.

A masterpiece from the Ming dynasty, Wu Ching-tzu’s The Scholars ranks with Dream of the Red Chamber, Journey to the West, and the Water Margin as one of the greatest classic novels of China. The Scholars is the first Chinese novel of its scope not to borrow any characters from history or legend and it is the first work of satiric realism to achieve an almost complete disassociation from the religious beliefs of the people. Departing from the impersonal tradition of Chinese fiction, Wu abandons such established narrative formulas as folk songs and poetic verse in favor of autobiographical experiences, descriptive realism, and characters modeled after his friends and relatives — elements that combine to give this critique of the Confucian civil service system an unprecedented immediacy and humor.

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