Record of the Listener: Selected Stories from Hong Mai's Yijian Zhi

Category: World Literature
Author: Cong Ellen Zhang
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by thaumasiotes   2019-08-19
Unbridgeable cultural gaps, as a general matter, are very real. I recently read Record of the Listener ( ), which is a collection of stories published in China in the 12th century. And far and away my most common takeaway from any of the stories was "wow, I have no idea what I'm supposed to think about this". And these stories were published for their entertainment value!

Similarly, immigrant groups tend not to integrate, critics from foreign countries really are usually misunderstanding a large number of important points, and so on.

Between any two cultures, there is a huge amount of overlap. But nothing quite coincides, and the differences end up mattering a lot.

by thaumasiotes   2019-06-30
> The loss of books and other written works was almost total prior to the printing press. A small number of durable tablets

Mesopotamian clay tablets are incredibly robust. We have many times more than we have the manpower to translate, not to speak of the ones still buried in more or less unknown locations.

Funnily enough, they survived much better in cities that were destroyed -- and burned, firing the tablets -- than in cities that weren't, where the tablets might eventually fall below the water table and dissolve.

But anyway, we don't have "a small number" of durable tablets; we have an extremely large number, including some entire royal libraries.

> Your link says "A manuscript copy was commissioned by Jiajing Emperor in 1562 and completed in 1567.[8] The original copy was lost afterwards. " That doesn't often happen when you can produce 10,000 copies.

This is not the case; China had extensive markets in printed popular works for centuries beforehand. Most of that work doesn't survive because of lack of interest. The fate of almost all printed material is total disappearance, because we can only maintain so much material, and printed material is a subset of all material.

From the introduction to Record of the Listener ( ):

> At the time of Hong Mai's death in 1202, the Record [夷坚志] had grown to a massive collection of 420 chapters, totaling over four thousand entries. Although it was not clear whether any complete editions were ever published by any Song publisher, we do know that multiple editions of varying sizes and qualities were made available by commercial publishing houses in different parts of the country. Much of the Record was nonetheless lost as early as the Yuan Dynasty [less than 100 years later], an indication of the traumatic effects of the Song-Yuan transition. The current 207-chapter editions are based on post-Song redactions and later manuscripts by traditional and modern scholars.

Note that this is a famous work considered relevant today. Contrast the countless printed popular works that nobody thought were worth preserving in the first place.

The ability to make copies is not relevant in the slightest. The number of copies made is relevant, but only weakly. Information is preserved when people devote effort to preserving it, and lost otherwise.