Affective Writing in Ming Dynasty "Huaben" Stories — A Topic Modeling Study

paper, specified "short paper"
  1. 1. Yiwen Wang

    Zhejiang University, People's Republic of China

  2. 2. Maciej Kurzynski

    Stanford University

Work text
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Topic modeling is a text mining technique used to discover latent semantic dimensions in a corpus of texts. In our paper, we employ the LDA topic modeling algorithm to gain new insights into the language of
huaben narratives (short- or medium-length stories or novellas in vernacular language) written in early modern China during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Our corpus consists of 633 stories assembled from multiple digital databases according to Ouyang Daifa's 欧阳代发
History of Huaben Literature
《话本小说史》. Our quantitative analysis discovers a number of computational topics related to the discourse of
qing (情, often translated into English as “Feeling,” “sentiment,” or “sensibility”). We combine topic modeling (distant reading) with close reading in order to trace the evolution of narrative patterns and examine the usage of vocabulary during the so-called “cult of
qing” in the late Ming Dynasty. We show how the discourse of
qing became increasingly specialized and sophisticated, and how this development mirrored the evolution of sensibilities of both authors and readers of the
huaben stories. Specifically, we explore the ways in which writers combined the themes of love, erotic desire, and marriage in their works. The ornate vocabulary of poetic love was used to "set the tone" through opening poems, to structure the story’s plot via extra-diegetic transitions, and to provide a narrative frame to an otherwise unsophisticated pornographic content. The erotic vocabulary, on the other hand, which developed as a vernacular counterpart to the more abstract poetic discourse, was frequently employed to describe bodily experiences but also the “negative” or “evil” characters. The marriage vocabulary, finally, was largely unrelated to the poetic discourse. We argue that the presence or absence of erotic vocabulary served as an implicit moral judgement passed on literary characters by the narrators. More generally, our project shows the ways in which computational criticism can enrich traditional literary scholarship by drawing our attention to the very materiality of texts and the words that constitute it.

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Conference Info

In review

ADHO - 2022
"Responding to Asian Diversity"

Tokyo, Japan

July 25, 2022 - July 29, 2022

361 works by 945 authors indexed

Held in Tokyo and remote (hybrid) on account of COVID-19

Conference website:

Contributors: Scott B. Weingart, James Cummings

Series: ADHO (16)

Organizers: ADHO