Ming and Qing Wu
The diachronic study of written Ming and Qing Wu, the time when the dialects began to take on wholly unique features, can be placed into three stages: the Early Period, the Middle Period, and the Late Period.
- The Early Period (Chinese: 早期; pinyin: zǎoqī begins at the end of the Ming dynasty to the beginning of the Qing in the 17th century, when the first documents showing distinctly Wu characteristics appear. The representative work from this period is the collection of folk songs gathered by Feng Menglong entitled "Shan Ge" 山歌. The majority of early period documents record the Wu varieties of southern Jiangsu and northern Zhejiang, so any discussion in this section is primarily relevant to Northern Wu or the Taihu division. Along with some other legends and works, the following list contains many of the documents which are either written in Wu or contain parts where dialects are used.
- San Yan 三言, a novella recorded by Feng Menglong
- Er Pai 二拍, a novella recorded by Ling Mengchu 凌濛初
- Xing Shi Yan 型世言, a novella recorded by Lu Renlong 陸人龍
- Huan Sha Ji 浣紗記, an opera by Liang Chenyu 梁辰魚
- Mo Hanzhai dingben chuanqi 墨憨齋定本傳奇, Feng Menglong
- Qing zhong pu 清忠譜
- Doupeng xianhua 豆棚閒話, early Qing baihua novel
- Guzhang jue chen 鼓掌絕塵, late Ming novel collection
- Bo zhong lian 缽中蓮
These works contain a small handful of unique grammatical features some of which are not found in contemporary Mandarin, classical Chinese, or in contemporary Wu dialects. They do contain many of the unique features present in contemporary Wu such as pronouns, but clearly indicate that not all of the earlier unique features of these Wu dialects were carried into the present. These works also possess a number of characters uniquely formed to express features not found in the classical language as well as used some common characters used as phonetic loans (see Chinese character classification) to express other uniquely Wu vocabulary.
- The Middle Period (Chinese: 中期; pinyin: zhōngqī) took place in the middle of the Qing dynasty in the 18th century. Representative works from this section include the operas (especially kunqu operas) by Qian Decang (錢德蒼) in the collection 綴白裘, and the legends written by Shen Qifeng (沈起鳳) or what are known as 沈氏四種, as well as huge numbers of tanci (彈詞) ballads. Many of the common phenomena found in the Shan Ge are not present in works from this period, but we see the production of many new words and new means of using words.
- The Late Period (Chinese: 晚期; pinyin: wǎnqī) is the period from late Qing to Republican China, in the 19th and 20th centuries. The representative works from this period are Wu vernacular novels called 蘇白小說 or 吳語小說 such as 海上花列傳 and 九尾龜. Other works include:
Wu-speaking writers who wrote in vernacular Mandarin often left traces of their native varieties in their works, as for example can be found in 官場現形記 and 负曝闲谈.
Another source from this period is from the work of the missionary Joseph Edkins who gathered prolific amounts of data and published several educational works on Shanghainese as well as a bible in Shanghainese and a few other major Wu varieties.
Works in this period also saw an explosion of new vocabulary in Wu dialects to describe their ever changing world. This clearly reflects the great social changes which were occurring during the time.
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