Moral Instruction Carried Out with Emotion
The educational function of a literary work is best fulfilled through discreet emotional influence, based on the belief that a literary work can affect and purify the reader’s soul through descriptions of love between men and women and of true feeling available in the world to finally influence and transform social morality. This term was first used by Feng Menglong (1574-1646), a lateMing writer of popular fiction. Feng emphasized that “feeling” is an instinct or natural inclination of humans, starting with affection between man and woman and then spreading to relationships between monarch and ministers, father and son, or brothers and friends. Without true feeling, a literary work cannot touch the heart and morally edify people. In imbuing moral instruction with true feeling, Feng did not intend to do away with ethical reasoning. In fact, he held that true feeling is far more fundamental and authentic, adhering more closely to human nature. The theory of imbuing moral education with true feeling arose from a general respect for sincerity and authenticity which burgeoned around the middle period of the Ming Dynasty, reflecting also Feng’s literary view and outlook on life. He spent decades compiling and writing popular fictions, thus bringing his ideas to fruition.
If no true feeling existed between heaven and earth, creatures could not have multiplied. If creatures have no true feeling, the cycle of life will not continue forever. Life goes on solely because true feeling dies hard… I want to advocate the edification of true feeling to guide my fellow humans towards a meaningful life. (Feng Menglong: Tales of Romantic Love)
Love can be aroused unconsciously and deepen over time. Because of love, the living can embrace death and the dead be brought back to life. (Tang Xianzu: A Preamble to The Peony Pavilion)