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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Room LG18, Law Faculty (Sidgwick Site)
Event date: 
Thursday, 9 March, 2023 - 14:00
Event organiser: 

China Research Seminar Series talk given by Professor Vincent Durand-Dastès, l’Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales, Paris

The full-length epical novel Journey to the West (Xiyou ji) is, admittedly, a trip to paradise: haven’t the Tang monk and his monstrous disciples been assigned as a mission to get to Buddha’s pure land to fetch the Buddhist scriptures? But, for this talk, we’ll be looking at the Journey from the depth of Hell.

The 1592 novel includes no fewer than three trips to the Netherworld: Sun Wukong’s short and tumultuous descent to Hell, then the long and dangerous stay of Emperor Tang Taizong and, eventually, the trip of Liu Quan to bring a gift of melons to the Kings of Hadès.

We’ll try to understand the reason why those Hell’s trips appear in the narrative and, going a step further, will ask a provocative question: cannot the whole Xiyou pilgrimage outside of the boundaries of the normal world, across haunted landscapes inhabited by monsters and demons be seen as a trip to Hell?

To answer this question, we won’t restrict our analysis to the late Ming novel but also question the role of the Xiyou story in late-imperial religious narratives and rituals.


Vincent Durand-Dastès is Professor of Pre-modern Chinese Literature at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (Inalco) in Paris. His research interests dwell on late-imperial narrative literature in its relationship with religion and the supernatural. He is the author of La Conversion de l’Orient : un périple didactique de Bodhidharma dans un roman chinois en langue vulgaire du XVIIe siècle (2008); A late Qing Blossoming of the Seven Lotus: Hagiographic Novels about the Qizhen 七真 (2013); Divination, Fate Manipulation and Protective Knowledge: around The Wedding of the Duke of Zhou and Peach Blossom Girl, a Popular Myth of Late Imperial China (2018); Une ardente alchimie ou l’immortalité par les cuisines ( 2019); Une matinée au théâtre des enfers : les incrustations narratives dans les rouleaux verticaux des Dix rois du monde des ténèbres de la Chine moderne (2022); and Corps impénétrables et nonnes entremetteuses : destins romanesques de la fille de pierre (shinü 石女) ( 2022). He has edited Empreintes du tantrisme en Chine et en Asie orientale : imaginaires, rituels, influences (2016) and co-edited Fantômes dans l’Extrême-Orient d’hier et d’aujourd’hui (2017 with Marie Laureillard) and Récits de rêve en Asie Orientale (2018, with Rainier Lanselle).

Professor Adam Yuet Chau: