This is the most comprehensive study of pien-wen (“transformation texts” i.e., tales of metamorphosis) in any language since the manuscripts were discovered at the beginning of this century in a remote cave complex in northwest China. They are the earliest written vernacular narratives in China and are thus extremely important in the history of Chinese language and literature.
Numerous scholarly controversies have surrounded the study of the texts in the last three quarters of a century; this volume seeks to resolve some of them—the extent, origins, and formal characteristics of the texts, the meaning of pien wen, the identity of the authors who composed these popular narratives and the scribes who copied them, the relationship of the texts to oral performance, and the reasons for the apparently sudden demise of the genre around the beginning of the Sung dynasty.
This is a multi-disciplinary study that integrates findings from religious, literary, linguistic, sociological, and historical materials, carried out with intellectual rigor. It includes an extensive bibliography of relevant sources in many languages.