Chinese Fiction as a 'Signal Bell of the Revolution' and the Transregional Birth of an Author

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This essay examines late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century interest in Shi Nai'an, the putative author of the traditional Chinese novel, The Water Margin. Despite the paucity of reliable evidence attesting to Shi Nai'an's composition of The Water Margin, Japanese writers of the Meiji period were keenly interested in Shi on the basis of his alleged stature as a pioneering author of Oriental or East Asian (Tōyō) fiction. This characterization of Shi Nai'an was a byproduct of the recently established academic discipline of literary history in Japan, and the concomitant desire by Meiji-period historians to locate a literary text that could compete with Western works in terms of narrative and structural complexity. When late Qing-period Chinese authors became aware of Japanese writing on Shi Nai'an, they built on this budding biographical tradition by emphasizing Shi's identification with an incipient Chinese nationalism, evidenced by his alleged resistance to the Mongol regime during the Yuan dynasty. The case study of Shi Nai'an thus illustrates the nexus between the construction of authorial personae and the pursuit of various ideological goals, as well as demonstrates the centrality of transregional literary contact in the formation of emergent concepts of authorship and canonization in modern East Asia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-150
Number of pages26
JournalEast Asian Publishing and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • authorship
  • Chinese literary history
  • Shi Nai'an
  • The Water Margin (Shuihu zhuan, Suikoden)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Media Technology
  • Library and Information Sciences


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