Literature

1. Ask your students to name writers of classic literature, whose stories have retained enduring appeal over centuries. As a class, discuss what qualities these stories have that continue to attract audiences.

Use the following questions to shape further discussion, as a class or in small groups:

  • Which, if any, of these themes also appear in The Story of the Stone. What does this tell us about the universal human experience across cultures?
  • What can we learn about a society from its literature?
  • Can we consider literature to be valid historical documents? Why / why not?
  • What biases or other potential problems do we need to consider when using literary texts as historical sources?
  • The National Library of China has an illustrated copy of The Story of the Stone that was printed in 1791. What can we learn from the physical book itself, as opposed to the story it holds?

2. Ask students to write a report, using both the novel itself and secondary sources, assessing what The Story of the Stone can tell us about the Qing of the late 1700s, particularly in relation to:

  • Chinese social structure and social mores
  • Chinese and Manchu values, especially in relation to women
  • family politics
  • the influence of religion

Students should further assess whether the continuing popularity of the novel has a correlating continuance of these features in Chinese society

The National Library of Australia’s copy of Biographies of Women is about 100 years older than a copy held by the National Library of China. What differences can you see when we compare the two? What assumptions can we make based on these differences?

Biographies of Women was reproduced and expanded after thousands of years. What can this tell us about Chinese culture and values?

In the preface to the tales, Ye Wenlan reminds readers that in the year 1654 an imperial edict strictly forbidding the drowning of female daughters was promulgated throughout the empire. How does this knowledge affect preconceptions about the Chinese practice of killing female babies? (Students should identify that it is clear that this practice didn’t begin with the one-child policy)

Given the supernatural element of the stories, it is safe to presume that they are fictional. What, then, can we learn from this text as a source of historical information? Would you agree with the presumption of fiction? How does this compare with categorisation of texts like the Christian Bible, Islamic Qu’ran, the Jewish Torah, the Buddhist Tripitaka?

1. Ask students to imagine that they have been tasked with the job of convincing Qing Chinese not to kill their daughters. Using what they know of Qing culture to shape their strategy, students should create a booklet or poster that they could distribute.

OR

Students should imagine that they are re-developing this book for a contemporary audience. What would you need to change? How would you illustrate it differently for twentieth century audiences? Would you still use religious and superstitious exhortations, or another strategy?

Female infanticide was one of the great moral topics in Chinese society during the Qing rule. If you were inclined to write a moral treatise for contemporary times, what might be an appropriately comparable subject? How would you approach it?