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Rethinking Orient

In Search of Sources and Inspirations


Adam Bednarczyk, Magdalena Kubarek and Maciej Szatkowski

The contributions in this book address a vast variety of questions concerning the sources and mutual inspirations in Oriental and European literatures. The authors discuss selected texts from both historical and synchronic perspectives. They reveal and scrutinise the sedimented layers in their search for the original as well as for the repetitive and universal. The book revolves around the creative reception of one’s own cultural heritage and of works which originated in other cultures.

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The Motif of Legendary Emperors Yao and Shun in Ancient Chinese Literature (Dawid Rogacz)


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Dawid Rogacz

Adam Mickiewicz University Poland

The Motif of Legendary Emperors Yao and Shun in Ancient Chinese Literature*

Abstract: Yao and Shun are two of the legendary Five Emperors, considered to be China’s rulers from 2355–2185 BC. Apart from archeological discussions on their historicity, they play a key role in classical Chinese culture as a distinctive literary motif. Both Confucius and Mencius put their beliefs into mouths of Yao and Shun because of the Confucian idealization of the past: wanting to justify some convictions, they argued that long since Yao and Shun certain customs or rules were in force. All stories about their life, e.g. the legend about Yao’s decision of choosing Shun as his successor, were morality tales or, like in the case of other Confucian writer, Xunzi, served as examples illustrating the results of conducting ancient rituals. The aim of the paper is to show different roles in which Yao and Shun were functioning in ancient Chinese literature, providing examples from The Analects, Mencius, Xunzi’s On Learning, The Classic of the Virtue of the Tao and Zhuangzi’s The True Classic of the Southern Flower. The author argues that actually there are no essential differences in the usage of these figures between literary prose and historiography. This insight provides some arguments for interpreting Chinese historiography from the narrativist point of view, which is to say, as a kind of literature.

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