Zhang Chao

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Zhang Chao
She County, Anhui, China
Pen nameSan Zai Dao Ren (三再道人) Shanlai (山来) Xinzhai (心斋)
Occupationlitterateur, novelist, poet, engraving calligrapher
PeriodQing dynasty
Notable worksYou Meng Ying, Yu Chu Xin Zhi

Zhang Chao (simplified Chinese: 张潮; traditional Chinese: 張潮; pinyin: Zhāng Cháo) was a Chinese litterateur and fiction writer from Anhui Province, China. He was born in 1650 during the Qing dynasty. Zhang had extensive knowledge in the field of Confucianism,[1] Taoism[1] and Buddhism.[1] He liked chess, calligraphy and painting and was good at various kinds of poetry. He was also interested in flowers, birds, fishes and insects. His works are rich in imagination and associated with the features of the Qing dynasty. Quiet Dream Shadows[2] and Yu Chu Xin Zhi[3] are the representative works. There are some other works too, such as Hua Ying Ci 花影词 ( Poems of Flower Shadows), Xi Nang Cun Jin 奚囊寸锦, and Yin Zhong Ba Xian Ling 饮中八仙令.


Zhang Chao was born in 1650 in She County, Anhui. One year before he was born, his father Zhang Xikong (张习孔) became a jinshi and went to work in Shandong as an educational inspector. After only a few months, Zhang Xikong's mother died and he resigned his position to go home as a merchant. Zhang Chao grew up in a wealthy family and his education was very strict. Under his father's influence, Zhang Chao studied diligently from his childhood. He devoted himself to the imperial examination for some time and he started to write eightlegged essay when he was 13 years old. Between the ages of 12 and 26, he failed the imperial examinations four times,[4] in 1663, 1666, 1669 and 1672 during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor. He worked as a bureaucrat in the early Kangxi era, but his rank was low and he became disillusioned.

Disappointed with his career, he traveled many places and lived in Rugao and Yangzhou, Jiangsu, China for long periods. From 1675, he lived in Yangzhou and made engraving. He made a lot of friends who were famous scholars or litterateurs at that time. Such as Yu Huai (余怀), Kong Shangren (孔尚任), Mei Wending (梅文鼎), Shitao (石涛). When he finished Quiet Dream Shadows (幽梦影), there were almost 100 friends who made comments about his book.

In 1699, he fell victim to a conspiracy, he was sent into prison, which was a serious blow to him.

In 1707, he compiled Xi Nang Cun Jin (奚囊寸锦). From that point, there is no further information on him and no reliable research in terms of the date of his death.[5] He was familiar with Dai Mingshi (戴名世), the writer of Nan Shan Ji (南山集) and spoke highly of him. In 1711, Dai Mingshi was sent to prison, where he was killed, an affair that entangled many others. If Zhang Chao was still alive, he would certain have been involved in that case, so it is inferred that he was no longer alive by 1711.


Zhang Chao was born in a time of transition from slavery to feudalism. Zhang Chao was in the era which experienced varying degrees of impact and shock of the humanist Enlightenment thoughts. Zhang Chao admired Yuan Hongdao (袁宏道), Chen Jiru (陈继儒), Tang Xianzu (汤显祖), and carried on their diastolic personality, the pursuit of freedom of thoughts, and precipitated the formation of his thought " Romantic of the Jin Dynasty " (晋代之风流).[6] Zhang Chao remained free spirit in his inner heart and expressed his various desires. It is noticeable that Zhang Chao's thoughts did not deviate from the spirits of Confusianism. Like those elder generations of Confucianism, he also stood for controlling lusts with morals, and leading personal desires into social moral standards. Zhang Chao's aesthetic psychological structure had the cultural function of regulating the different value systems. He was not on the road to the learning of the pedant, also not the rebellious. His mind was caved with independent insight and interest in life, while ultimately apply to society's standard value.[7] Zhang Chao's thoughts showed different values on literature and arts, which was also reflected by his works and theories.

Major works[edit]

Quiet Dream Shadows 幽梦影[edit]

This is a collection of Zhang Chao's short and aesthetic essays (清言小品).[8] In 1936, Zhang Yiping, a litterateur, managed to purchase the transcript of You Meng Ying, which was read by Lin Yutang (林语堂)who thought highly of it. So Lin Yutang translated it into Chinese Vernacular and English.[9] It was included in Zhao Dai Cong Shu 昭代丛书. The content is quite abundant and the style of writing is elegant. This book talks about rain, flowers, beauties, mountains, rivers, etc. All of these are composed in a new way with full of witty remarks.Ling Yutang classified the content into 6 parts: human life, personal character, women and friends, nature, the house and home, reading and literature.[10] This book aroused a strong resonance from past dynasties' literati.According to the existing source, the works took about 10 years from conception to accomplishment ay the age of 48.


The ancients enjoy the sight of natural landscape on its outside shape first. Zhang Chao is proficient in integrating his mind and body into the beautiful nature based on his personal experience and knowledge. So that, he achieved the transcience of life finally.

Zhang Chao places his feelings about life in his landscape essays (写景小品). He pursues the freedom and individuality liberation, so he always endows nature with human emotion.[11]


The book has obvious characteristics of time and leisure. Literature was popular at the end of the Ming dynasty and the start of the Qing dynasty. Political change and the revolution of era brought about the liberation of literature. Many writers didn't work on theory and history, and neither did Zhang Chao. He seemed to be an outsider of the society and observed the busy society calmly. Quiet Dream Shadows reflects the life and thoughts of those people like Zhang Chao. The common life was always denied in the book, but on the contrary, the easy life in the forests was spoken highly in the book.

Compared with other books of the same period, this one did not have serious criticism, only the right and wild irony. It was also full of imagination.

Evaluation and Influence[edit]

The masters in literature in the contemporary era like Lu Xun, Lin Yutang, Liang Shiqiu, Zhu Ziqing, etc. have appreciated the Quiet Dream Shadows, and later generations have published it several times. Just as many people say: It is a brilliant and wonderful Qing dynasty[12] work.

The publication ofQuiet Dream Shadows 幽梦影 had a deep effect on literature at that time. Not only did the beautiful language express the profound meaning, but also matured the system of the short aesthetic essays and start a new writing style of comments among the text.This works has 219 articles in total and each of that has 8 words at least and 200 words at most, using a lot of couplets. It also records 130 people's comments among the text. It is really concise but deep inside.

Lin Yutang wrote a book in English named The Art of Life (生活的艺术) which has one chapter on Zhang Chao's aphorisms.[13] Since the Art of Life (生活的艺术) was published, Zhang Chao's Quiet Dream Shadows has been recommended to the west and regarded as the "wisdom of the Orient".

The works was translated into Japanese in 1977.[13]

Yu Chu Xin Zhi 虞初新志[edit]

This is a collection of the early Qing dynasty's short fictions, compiled by Zhang Chao, containing 20 chapters. The contents are true stories. It is also a book which helps the research on some litterateurs and shows the new features of Yuchu Novels in the Qing dynasty.

Yuchu Novels (虞初小说)[edit]

Yuchu Novels is the general term of classical Chinese novels styled as "Yuchu" from the Han dynasty to modern times. The appearance of Yu Chu Xin Zhi marks the maturity of Yuchu Novels.

Yu Chu (虞初) was the name of an alchemist in the Han dynasty, who was called the earliest ancestor of novelists. Born in Luoyang, Henan, Yu Chu wrote a book called Yu Chu Zhou Shuo 虞初周说, with which Yu Chu could respond to Emperor Wu's questions. And the person who associated "Yuchu" and "novel" was Ban Gu (32-92 A.D.) and he classified Yu Chu Zhou Shuo 虞初周说 as a novel. From Records of the Historian 史记, New Theory 新论 to Book of Han 汉书, Xi Jing Fu 西京赋, "Yu Chu" became associated with novels and the representative of the novels in the Han dynasty. The development of ghost stories in Six Dynasties and legends in Tang dynasty are related to the concept of Yuchu Novels. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, novel writing became relatively popular. People's understanding and the status of novels improved obviously. Hu Yinglin (胡应麟) divided novels into six categories and on that basis, he did a preliminary research on Yu Chu Xin Zhi. He regarded the book as a ghost story but not the origin of ghost stories. In Siku Quanshu 四库全书, the writer thought that the appearance of Yu Chu Xin Zhi marked the popularity of weird fiction.

From the above, although the definition of "Yu Chu" changed as time went on, but as a pronoun of novels, it has always been recognized by people. Generally speaking, before the appearance of Yu Chu Xin Zhi, "Yu Chu" meant Yu Chu Zhou Shuo 虞初周说 ; after the appearance of Yu Chu Xin Zhi, "Yu Chu" tended to mean Yu Chu Zhi 虞初志 or a form of collection of classical Chinese novels.

There are there kinds of Yuchu Novels in the Ming dynasty: Yu Chu Zhi 虞初志, Continued Yu Chu Zhi 续虞初志 and Extensive Yu Chu Zhi 广虞初志 . They are mainly the tales of the Tang dynasty and also a few of ghost stories.

In the Qing dynasty, Zhang Chao compiled Yu Chu Xin Zhi, influenced by Yu Chu Zhi. Also, there are some other Yuchu novels: Yu Chu Xu Zhi 虞初续志, Extensive Yu Chu Xin Zhi 广虞初新志, Yu Chu Xu Xin Zhi 虞初续新志, Yu Chu Zhi Zhi Jia Bian 虞初支志甲编, Yu Chu Jin Zhi 虞初近志, Re-edition of Extensive Yu Chu Zhi 重订虞初广志 .


The appearance of Yu Chu Xin Zhi is the product of the times. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, people's living standards reached a relatively high level and as a result, they demanded more popular books. After the fall of the Ming dynasty, innovators of the landlord class and the new public sectors converged. Western culture was introduced to China and cultural communication began at that time. Moreover, people were fond of hunting for novelty, which was reflected in Zhang Chao's works. Apart from that, the copncept of fiction in that period laid particular stress on the sense of reality. Zhang Chao selected more than 150 works, including the Biography of Xu Xiake (徐霞客传), written by Wang Siren (王思任), Biography of Liu Jingting (柳敬亭传), written by Wu Weiye (吴伟业), etc. The book was full of the editor himself's expectancy of a fair and peaceful world.


The edition and inscription of Yu Chu Xin Zhi lasted more than 20 years. The first eight chapters were finished in 1684 and the others were accomplished in 1704.


Yu Chu Xin Zhi depicted the scholars' life in the early Qing dynasty. They had different characteristics and varieties of the era. To sum up, there were three types: solitary scholars, heroes who withdrew from the society and gigmanity. Scholars regarded themselves as "heresy". Yu Chu Xin Zhi reflected the life, minds and sentiments of scholars, and reproduced their dissatisfaction about the current government. So it has high value for research.

Cultural heritage[edit]

Yu Chu Xin Zhi emphasizes personal feelings. It is a book about sense of social responsibility. As Zhang Chao said, "Water Marginis a book about indignation; Journey to the West is a book about comprehension; The Golden Lotus is a book about sorrow." Zhang Chao once said, "it is emotion that maintains the world." So he selected the works whose themes were love, cavalier, hermit, etc. Secondly, the writers were fond of sensual things and they held interest in underclass society. In addition, many works are about ghosts and monsters, which are significant aesthetic features of Chinese classical novels. Besides, the works share a common characteristic which is the gallant spirit. Ancient Chinese litterateurs' realm of life was to unify the academy and military, and Zhang Chao shared the same opinion.


Yu Chu Xin Zhi initiated the genre of Yuchu Novels marked the appearance of Yuchu Novels. It also enriched the contents of classical Chinese novels and facilitated the development of classical novels.

Contributions on philology[edit]

In addition to the influences on novels and essays, Zhang Chao also had a great effect on philology, such as Zhao Dai Cong Shu (昭代丛书).

Editing thoughts[edit]

Thoughts of being beneficial to daily life[edit]

The edit and publishment of books aim at the spread of culture. Business benefits and social responsibilities are basic elements which should be taken into account by people who undertook woodblock printings. During Ming and Qing dynasties, most of the carvers only paid attention to business benefits and published some books without value, but Zhang Chao was different from them. He devoted himself to editing and choosing books which were useful to the whole society. In his opinion, books on history and culture had the same value as the books on love and religion. Therefore, he gathered and collected wonderful books all over the country and liked editing and carving books very much.[14]

Motives of leaving behind a good reputation[edit]

Although Zhang Chao had a lot of books at home, he still thought they were not enough and it was difficult to find good books. During his life, he gathered many books all around and left many valuable works in the world, especially some short passages which could not be edited into one book alone. At the same time, he paid special attention to someone unknown who did not have the power to publish books. The goal was not the business benefits, but the spread of culture and classics. In Zhao Dai Cong Shu (昭代丛书)[15] and Yu Chu Xin Zhi (虞初新志),[15] some rare and amazing works were successfully saved. All these works reacted on the research of some craft and the study of legendary figures in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Due to the burgeoning and development of capitalism,[16] many carvers pursued profit with the exception of Zhang Chao. He wanted to conserve the classics, not to make money, so he was respected and supported by people in the same period. He held on straight to the end of his life, even when he was very poor in old age.

Purposes of conserving rare literatures[edit]

Because of manmade and natural damage, some Chinese ancient books and records were seriously destroyed especially during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Zhang Chao pursued the reorganization and edit of these books and records, so he attached importance to search and enquiry and keep cautious about the strange news and information. Thanks to his books on many scholars in the Kangxi era[17] and the evaluation of some works in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, many research and study depend on them today. On the other hand, some books compiling writings about Huizhou[17] people and things provided the research of Hui Culture[17] with rare and precious materials.

Creative editing style[edit]

In the Ming and Qing dynasties, literary criticism became a boom with the development of publishing industry. There were many new characteristics in the edit and publishment. You Meng Ying (幽梦影)[17] was a good example. In You Meng Ying (幽梦影), the comments appeared with the text. This kind of editing mode recorded the process of reading and the discussion with readers.

Methods to the Study of Philology[edit]


Textology is mainly about organization, emendation, exegesis and collection of ancient works. Zhang Chao kept close contact with famous textual criticism scholars, such as Zhang Erqi (张尔岐) and Yan Ruoqu (阎若璩), so he knew a lot about textology and showed extraordinary skills on it. He paid much attention to textual research. He not only had the abundant theory about textology, but also laid emphasis on books and material objects. When he was editing, he made objective comments on the books he referred to and explored the origin and development.[18]

Different thoughts[edit]

Different from other people, Zhang Chao was curious about everything and fond of exploring strange and curious things. With the help of this feature, he published many extraordinary books.[19]

Study Chinese culture through western learning[edit]

Western natural and social sciences spread around China mainly in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties as well as the late Qing era and the early Republican era. Zhang Chao was one of the scholars who accepted western learning relatively early. He was very interested in western people and language,[20] and did a lot of research on them. What was more, he took advantage of western learning to study Chinese culture. He held the view that western medicine,[20] law[20] and astronomy[20] should be introduced to China. He was good at both Chinese culture and western learning.[21]

Reasons of forming his thoughts[edit]

Affected by academic thoughts in Qing dynasty[edit]

In the late Ming dynasty and early Qing dynasty, a Confucian school of idealist philosophy of the Song and Ming dynasties exposed its empty talk on academic learning, so it was criticized by scholars. Under the circumstances, scholars promoted to worship Confucianism of the Han dynasty[22] and school of textology was formed at the same time.

On the other hand, the government of the Qing dynasty also depended on the culture of the Han Chinese and advocated to examine and correct the ancient books, which made a lot of scholars separate themselves from politics and social reality.[23]

Affected by Hui culture[edit]

Zhang Chao's hometown was Huizhou, which was a city full of academic atmosphere. It enjoyed the name of the county of literature works.[22] According to the statistics, there were 298[22] people in the Ming dynasty and 698[22] people in the Qing dynasty who became candidates in the imperial examinations at the provincial level in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Most of those people who were in contact with Zhang Chao were famous philologists.[22] When he got in touch with them, Zhang Chao learned a lot and accomplished his works.[24]


  1. ^ a b c Preface of Quiet Dream Shadows, Page 2
  2. ^ Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 中华书局, 2008. You Meng Ying 幽梦影 (Quiet Dream Shadows), Zhang Chao, (张潮)
  3. ^ "虞初新志 (豆瓣)". Book.douban.com. 2011-04-29. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  4. ^ Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 12
  5. ^ Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 13
  6. ^ Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 59
  7. ^ Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 58
  8. ^ Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 117
  9. ^ "博客來書籍館>林語堂中英對照/ 幽夢影". Books.com.tw. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  10. ^ Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 121
  11. ^ Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 130
  12. ^ Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 132
  13. ^ a b Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 138
  14. ^ Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 161-163
  15. ^ a b Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 163
  16. ^ Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 164
  17. ^ a b c d Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 165
  18. ^ Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 167-168
  19. ^ Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 170
  20. ^ a b c d Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 172
  21. ^ Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 171-172
  22. ^ a b c d e Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 174
  23. ^ Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 173-174
  24. ^ Research of Zhang Chao 张潮研究, the first edition in June, 2011, 安徽大学出版社 Page 174-175

External links[edit]