Four Novels Vying for Glamor


During the Ming dynasty, the production of block-printed novels in workshops flourished and the earliest professional community of novelists was born. Deng Zhimo, who lived in the late 16th century–early 17th century, the main author of this work, was known for a series of Daoist novels with themes such as the immortals, and for his novels in a genre called Zheng qi xiao shuo (Novels vying for glamor). The distinguishing themes of these novels, which Deng’s works epitomized, included birds and flowers, mountains and waters, wind and the moon, young boys and pretty girls, vegetables, plums and snow, and tea and wine. The stories often had two objects contesting each other. The format of these novels can be traced back to the Sui and Tang periods, as well as to story-telling performances of folk literature. Also known by his style name Baizhuosheng (Student of Great Modesty), Deng Zhimo was a tutor at the school founded by the Yu family of printers in Jianyang, Fujian Province. They printed a great number of popular reading materials and published and republished many of Deng’s writings. The earliest three-juan edition of Deng’s Si zhong zheng qi (Four novels vying for glamor), which is on birds and flowers, was printed at the workshop of Cuiqing Tang, belonging to the Yu family. This expanded edition was printed by Chunyu Tang, during the Tianqi reign (1621–27), when Deng was about 65 years old. It has 12 juan, in 12 volumes. The original three juan on birds and flowers are followed by three juan on young boys and pretty girls, three juan on wind and the moon, and three juan on vegetables. The work is a collection of poetry, prose, and short stories, in various forms, such as ci (a form of classical Chinese poetry), fu (prose poems), and lian ju (quatrains), often with names of song tunes attached to the verses. These are mostly Deng’s own compositions, which are in a lively and popular style, although he also quoted poems and songs by some famous authors. One preface was written by Zhang Tianzuo, a fellow member of a society to which Deng belonged.

Last updated: January 3, 2018