The initial impetus for compilation of this collection of sinological essays has been the 100th anniversary of the birth of professor Jaroslav Průšek (1906–1980), the founder of Czechoslovak sinology and the leading figure in the field of Modern Chinese literature studies. In autumn 2006 two sinological events were held in Prague to commemorate the anniversary: The national – predominantly memorial – conference, “Jaroslav Průšek – 100 Years of the Founder of Czechoslovak Sinology,” and the international scholarly conference, “Paths toward Modernity – Conference on the Occasion of the Centenary of Jaroslav Průšek.” This collection follows the above mentioned commemorative events by presenting a series of essays, two by members of the older generation – former students of professor Průšek – and eight by mostly junior Czech and Slovak sinologists.
Eva Müller who pursued part of her doctoral research during the 1960s under Jaroslav Průšek’s supervision and who served between 1983 and 1998 as professor of sinology at Humboldt University in Berlin, offers an overview of Průšek’s pedagogic activities in the former German Democratic Republic and his scholarly impact on GDR sinology from the post war years till the end of 1960s. Her account combines facts with her own memories and reminiscences of her German colleagues who felt enriched by personal and professional contacts with Jaroslav Průšek. To sinologists from Leipzig and Berlin, who were at one phase of their study guided by Průšek, belong Fritz Gruner, Erich A. Klien, Irma Peters, Werner Bettin, Wolfgang Schlee, Irmtraud Fessen Henjes and Eva Müller. Even though not all Průšek’s German students were unreservedly devoted to the study of Chinese literature, in the time of supremacy of dogmatic ideology in humanities, most of them highly esteemed Průšek’s uncompromisingly scholarly approach to the literature studies. Eva Müller’s contribution sheds more light on the less known side of Průšek’s professional life and it offers a valuable complement to the overall picture of his personality.
Zbigniew Sŀupski, one of the most outstanding Průšek’s students and a longtime professor of sinology at Warsaw University, in his essay examining the literary structure of the Records of the Great Scribe
elaborates on his former teacher’s observations about a peculiar way of linking discontinuous narrative material in the early masterpiece of Chinese historiography. Fie renders the juxtaposition of narrative sections as the key source of both the structural unity and the originality of the work. From readers’ viewpoint, argues Zbigniew Sŀupski, proper understanding of the work requires constant rereading of the narrative (epical) passages interrelated via the complex web of juxtapositional (lyrical) relationships. Seen from this viewpoint, the peculiar literary structure of the Records of the Great Scribe
is inseparably related to the markedly symbolic value of the stories that represent the core of the work by the ancient Chinese historian. Jaroslav Průšek regarded highly Zbigniew Sŀupski’s early monograph on Lao She for its author’s ability to point out traditional influences as important formative aspects of the work of one of the most prominent representatives of modern Chinese literature. In his later career – besides showing unceasing interest in modern Chinese literature – Zbigniew Sŀupski has devoted himself also to the study of the traditional literature and literary thought. His perceptive essay on the Records of the Great Scribe
may thus be seen as a testimony of a lasting influence of Jaroslav Průšek who used to stress the necessity of studying issues of traditional Chinese literature as prerequisite for a proper understanding of literary works by modern Chinese writers.
In his essay on the work of the republican era writer Shi Tuo, Dušan Andrš (Charles University in Prague) attempts at exploration of the structural unity in the Records from Orchard Town,
a collection of short stories from the late 1930s and early 1940s. As it appears from his account, the individual stories share – to a greater or lesser degree – a set of specific configurations of characters, time and space. As a next step in the search for the structural unity of the collection as an artistic whole, Dušan Andrš examines distribution, layering, development and interaction of recurrent motivic patterns. Being aware of the predilection of Chinese fiction writers of the day for experiments with diverse narrative strategies, the author of the essay examines peculiar characteristics of Shi Tuo’s narrative voice as another important unifying aspect of the collection. The observed individuality of the narrator is viewed not only as a major unifying aspect but also as a source of the collection’s generic ambiguity.
The essay by Kamila Hladíková (Charles University in Prague) focuses on the novel Maqiao Dictionary
by contemporary writer Han Shaogong, The aim of her scrutiny of the semantic structure of the dictionary-like novel is to point out the writer’s unique vision of language as an embodiment of extreme ambiguity, changeability, and subjectivity of human perception of the world. Kamila Hladíková’s inventory of the meanings and connotations of selected individual entries that form the body of the novel draws oui attention to the artistry with which Han Shaogong creates his "Maqiao dialect" as s point of intersection of collective and individual consciousnesses, public and private fates and experiences, as an indirect but powerful testimony of the vicissitudes anc turbulences of China’s recent history.
The contribution by Michaela Pejčochová (National Gallery in Prague) scrutinizes one of the masterpieces from the National Gallery collection of the twentieth-centur> Chinese paintings, the Album of Insects and Plants
by Qi Baishi. The author of the essay recapitulates results of her meticulous investigation of the artifact’s history frorr the moment of its creation to its acquisition by the National Gallery in Prague. For the purpose of scrutiny of Qi Baishi’s paintings and inscriptions or inscriptions and seals by painter’s friends and possessors of the artifact, Michaela Pejčochová adds to the existing five leafs a lost but documented sixth leaf thus treating it as an integral part oJ the album. As a strong point of the essay, perceptive observations of artistic qualities of paintings as well as insightful comments on the connotations of inscriptions in the relation to individual paintings deserve to be mentioned.
Lukáš Zádrapa (Charles University in Prague) in his essay focuses on the recurrent but little studied construction in classical Chinese in which a preposition-less noun or nominal phrase modifies a verb. He chooses an innovative strategy by disregarding the traditional approaches toward language structures in classical Chinese and by putting forward a working assumption about nouns understood as a broad class encompassing both members prototypical and peripheral to the generally accepted notion of a noun. At the core of Lukáš Zádrapa’s perceptive discussion of the construction are observations about the exceptionally broad range of referentiality of nominal modifiers and the non-exclusive and hierarchic nature of the related conceptual categories. Even though different relations between the components of the construction under discussion can be categorized – as proved by a number of examples – the author of the essay draws attention to intricacy of any attempt at a theory-based description of the processes of forming individual composite semantic structures.
Jana Benická (Comenius University in Bratislava) in her essay endeavors to trace intellectual or speculative facets of the largely intuitive and partly esoteric teaching of Chan Buddhism in the three texts by Chan masters considered as the earliest disquisitions on the theory of "five positions," or speculations on various modes of discerning reality. Firstly, Jana Benická draws attention to correspondences between terms used by Chan masters and concepts central to non-Buddhist classical Chinese philosophy. Subsequently, close reading of selected passages serves as evidence that allows the author of the essay to confirm the validity of her assumption about speculative quality of the texts under scrutiny and to advance a tentative thesis about their philosophical implications.
The contribution by Martin Slobodník (Comenius University in Bratislava) investigates into the logic of PRC government policy towards Tibetan Buddhism during 1950s and early 1960s on the background of the state and party policy towards various religious groups in other parts of the country. An initial overview of earlier policies towards religions and religious groups exercised by Chinese imperial and republican authorities up to the founding of PRC is followed by a detailed explanation of motivations, goals and results of repeated attempts by communist authorities to infringe into religious life, to curb the power of monasteries and to reduce the number of monks in Tibet. Martin Slobodník in his essay draws an accurate picture of the processes which started with constitutional assurance of religious freedom and ended with a large scale destruction of the institutional web of Tibetan Buddhism and a drastic reduction of religious and human rights of Tibetans.
The essay by Vladimír Glomb (Charles University in Prague) offers a scrutiny of the critique of Wang Yangming’s unorthodox teaching by T’oegye Yi Hwang, the sixteenth century Korean Confucian. The author of the essay convincingly speculates about the possible impetus that prompted Korean scholar to compose his critical assessment of Wang Yangming’s philosophy. Subsequently, he proceeds to a meticulous scrutiny of the structure and content of T’oegye’s critique. As it follows from Vladimír Glomb’s reading, the implications of the text – despite its demonstrable critical tenor – cannot be reduced to a mere refusal of heretical and malign doctrine. An important aspect of the polemical text under scrutiny, as reminds us the author of the essay, may be seen in T’oegye’s lucid formulation of his own alternative to the influential teaching of the idealist Chinese Confucian.
Jakub Maršálek (Charles University in Prague) in his contribution to the study of the development of the late Neolithic social hierarchy, as reflected in archeological finds in the graves of Dawenkou and Longshan cultures, provides an extensive and meticulous account of distribution of specific ceramic vessels – goblets on a high foot – found in eleven individual burial sites. At the heart of Jakub Maršálek’s analysis of a large sample of vessels is an assessment of presence, amount, quality, and exact position of fine and crude high-foot goblets. The careful investigation of archeological data allows the author to advance a persuasive hypothesis about the changes in stability of the social status system and in the function of high-foot goblets as a special class of burial furnishing.
A limited number of contributions does not allow us to present this collection as a complete picture of the current state of Czech and Slovak sinological studies. Notwithstanding such limitation, the range of the topics included in the collection and their scholarly treatment are representative enough to attest the potentials and to adumbrate the future of the sinological work initiated more than a half century ago by Jaroslav Průšek.