Narrative Variation and Motif Adaptation in Ancient Anecdotal Lore
A Perspective on the Bird-gift Story in Early and Early Medieval Chinese Sources
This article examines a string of stories collected from different kinds of sources: the Hanshi waizhuan 韓詩外傳 (2nd century BC), the Shuiyuan 說苑 (late-first century BC), the Lu Lianzi 魯連子 (? third century BC), the Shiji 史記 (first century BC), the Yinwenzi 尹文子 (fourth century BC), and the Xiaolin 笑林 (third century AD). It aims to illustrate how a single story, defined as a tale-type, was adapted in six similar versions and how specific variations in its narrative served to convey different political or rhetorical agendas. In particular, this study aims to highlight how stories which were part of the traditional anecdotal lore and, in historical texts and works of the Masters, were used to substantiate an argument, once changed their reading context, could change their reading paradigm and become entertaining pieces of literature.
Keywords: narrative variations, collection of anecdotes, tale-type, Early Medieval Chinese literature