The section on “Historical Writings”in “The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons” (《文心雕龙·史传》) by Liu Xie (刘勰) is the first theoretical article in the history of Chinese literary theory to comprehensively discuss the style of historical writings. It paid much attention to the ethics of historical narration. Specifically, it criticized the historical narrations which are “contrary to the principle found in the Classics and did not do justice to the actual fact” (违经失实), while praising the historical writings of “giving honor to the virtuous and protecting one’s dear ones by hiding their faults” (尊贤隐讳). This paper illustrates, with the theory of “narrative ethics” in contemporary Western narratology, that narrative ethics are always self-contradictory both in Liu Xie’s discussion and in Chinese historical narrative texts. This is determined by the ideological meta-narrative of the imperial autocratic society. Breaking through the restriction of the old meta-narrative requires not only the efforts of historical narrators, but also the making of new cultural meta-narratives.
Weihua Li is a professor in the College of Chinese Language and Literature, Hebei Normal University. She does her main research on comparative poetics, and has published 3 books and more than 40 papers in this field. Her recent research focuses on the study of “The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons” (《文心雕龙》) the most important work in ancient Chinese literary theory. In her works, she employs the theories of contemporary narratology and semiotics to explore the interactions between Chinese ancient canons and Western contemporary theories, with the goal of fostering cross-cultural understanding and mutual illumination between Eastern and Western cultures.