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PSU McNair Scholars Online Journal

Article Title

Fact and Fiction: Liu E’s Treatment of Characters in The Travels of Lao Can

Abstract

In this paper, I will pay attention to characters in Travels and focus my discussion on their relationship to the author's life and thinking. My reasoning is that, as Wong points out, Liu E in his treatment of characters and plotlines “draws heavily on actual events and persons,” to finally “pull them together into the realm of fiction.”38 My reading of the characters in Travels essentially expands on this line of interpretation, but for the sake of clarity, I leave out Liu E's treatment of landscapes and technology in the novel. First, I examine the two officials in Travels, Yu Xian and Gang Bi, to explore Liu E’s attention to Chinese statecraft; second, I direct attention to the mountain recluse Liu Renfu and discuss Liu E’s awareness of military affairs and other specialized knowledge; third, I examine the protagonist Lao Can and Governor Zhuang to explore Liu E’s Daoist thinking and his involvement on the Yellow River; and finally, I look at the religio-philosophical characters Maiden Yu and Yellow Dragon in relation to the doctrine and members of the Taigu School. Liu E is at once a historian and a storyteller who writes xiaoshuo to “historicize” (lun qi shi 論其世), drawing inspiration from the people and environment around him in the portrayal of these characters, and therefore I suggest Liu E's thinking and treatment of characters in the novel reflect actual teachings and real people in his environment. After examining the relationship between the novel’s characters and people in Liu E’s environment who inspired them, I explore the historical and biographical factors that shape the author's ideas towards politics, society, and philosophy in Travels: to argue that Liu E, in crafting the novel's characters, blends fact and fiction to voice his distress at the dilapidated state of China and to establish his spiritual self. [From author's introduction.]

Faculty Mentor: Jonathan Pease