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A short history of written Wu, Part I

Written Suzhounese

Don Snow / Zhou Xiayun / Shen Senyao
Published Online: 2018-03-28 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/glochi-2018-0007


In two articles published in the 1920s, Hu Shi argued that China’s vernacular literature movement should encompass not only literature written in Mandarin but also other regional languages in China, and suggested that Wu, particularly Suzhounese, was the regional language most likely to achieve what he described as “independence” (独立) as a literary language. Beginning in the late Ming dynasty with Feng Menglong’s Mountain Songs collection, this study traces the literary journey of Suzhounese as used in various types of written texts such as Kun opera scripts, tanci novels, fiction, and Wu song texts into the early 20th century. This study argues that while written Suzhounese never achieved full independence as a literary language, and could now be said to have gone into decline, its more than 300-year history deserves more attention than it normally receives in histories of the Chinese literary tradition. This is not only because of the scale of its use and its degree of social influence, but also because the memory of this substantial literary tradition lives on and gives greater legitimacy to use of written Wu – particularly Shanghainese – in contemporary print culture in China.


胡适在 19 世纪 20 年代出版的两篇文章中提到,中国的白话运动不应该仅仅围绕用白话书写的文学作品,也应该关注用其他地域方言完成的文学。同时,胡适也特别指出,苏州方言是最有可能成为他所描述的 “独立” 文学语言的一种方言。本研究从晚明时期冯梦龙的《山歌》开始,追述不同书面文学文本中苏州方言的发展过程,例如昆曲、弹词、小说以及 20 世纪初的吴歌。本文认为虽然书面苏州方言作为一种文学语言,并没有真正独立过,现在甚至可以说它已经进入衰退时期,但是其本身 300 多年的发展历史,在中国文学传统中是值得得到更多的关注的。这不仅是因为苏州方言使用范围的广度和对社会影响的深度,也是因为人们依然记得这种文学传统。同时,它也为当代中国印刷文化中使用吴方言,特别是上海方言提供了合理性。

Keywords: Suzhounese; Wu; literature; dialect; topolect

关键词: 苏州话; 吴语; 文学; 方言


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About the article

Published Online: 2018-03-28

Published in Print: 2018-03-26

Citation Information: Global Chinese, Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 143–166, ISSN (Online) 2199-4382, ISSN (Print) 2199-4374, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/glochi-2018-0007.

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