BYU Asian Studies Journal


Jackson Keys


BYU Asian Studies, chastity, Feng Menglong


Romantic fiction of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) often contains a scene that reads as such: Two lovers, usually a young scholar and a beautiful young woman, cast their fate towards heaven as they decide to make vows of devotion, promising each other that they will marry none but the other. This couple will then go through challenges and setbacks, and although it seems there is no possible way for them to be together, their devotion to one another allows them to ultimately overcome all obstacles and live happily together. This structure, with roots dating back to the Tang (618–907) chuanqi 傳奇 (classical language tales), is found in countless vernacular fiction stories written by the prominent late Ming writer Feng Menglong 馮夢龍 (1574–1646). Despite Feng’s own assertion that vernacular short stories can be more educationally and morally powerful than even the Analects (Yang and Yang 2005, xiv), many of these romance stories include positive depictions of female characters who have sex before they are married—which should therefore make them void of the virtue of female chastity so prominent during the Ming.