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Into the Inferno: The Netherworld in Ming-Qing Novels

Wed, June 24, 11:05am to 1:00pm, South Building, Floor: 8th Floor, S802


This paper examines the presentation of the netherworld in Ming-Qing literature and considers its literary and social significance in the context of travel writing.
Although the concept of hell has been known in China since as early as the pre-Qin period, most notably found in such ideas as the Yellow Spring 黃泉and necropolis 幽都 as referenced in the Chronicle of Zuo 左傳 and Songs of the Chu Region 楚辭, it did not begin to register its presence in the literary imagination until it was infused with the Buddhist notion of Naraka during the Han and Jin Dynasty. Since then, it has manifested into a unique literary trope with a wide spectrum of attached meanings, ranging from religious sermons to social concerns. By looking at the Ming-Qing fictional presentation of hell in such works as Journey to the West 西遊記, A Dream of Life and Death to Caution the World 警世陰陽夢, and some of the short stories collected in Stories Old and New 古今小說 and Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio 聊齋誌異, this study aims to compare this necromantic journey to the developing convention of travel writing and to unravel the complicated meanings of the netherworld to the contemporary Chinese imagination.