1902 Encyclopedia > China > Chinese Literature (cont.) - Chinese Novels

(Part 54)


Chinese Novels

In the works of fiction we are treated only to the same crude narration of facts without any just representation of nature. Exaggerated sentiments, which always precede correct reasoning and refined simplicity, fill the pages of their works of fiction, rendering them favourites only with those who are taught to judge of them according to their own standard of taste. Of the characters portrayed, we have to judge only from actions attributed to them, which are strung together with no connecting links, except those supplied by the iteration of details, which are wearisome to a degree. Several novels have been translated into English by Sir John Davis and others ; but, from the causes I have described, few have attracted any public interest. Some of their shorter tales, being to a great extent purged of the cumbrous repetitions common to larger works, are better fitted for translation, and the novelty of many of the situations and incidents serves to keep alive the attention of the reader. Unfortunately the tone of most Chinese novels is not such as to afford any palliation for the dreariness of their contents. If Chinese novelists are to believed, virtue in women and honour in men are to be found only in a few rarely-gifted individuals, and this has been so constantly insisted on, that it appears to have become one of those beliefs which have been the means of their own justification.

If then, having considered the past and present literature of China, we cast a glance into the future, the prospect is not encouraging. Already every subject within the scope of Chinese authors has been largely treated of and infinity elaborated. Every grain of wheat has long ago been beaten out of it, and any further labour expended upon it can but as thrashing out of straw. The only hope for the future of the literature is that afforded by the importation of foreign knowledge and experience in the country. For many years these can only be introduced in the shape of translations of books. But the time will come when Chinese authors will think for themselves ; and when that period arrives, they will learn to estimate their present loudly-wanted literature at its true value.

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