Zhuang, Cheng-yu (2018) Politeness phenomena in pre-modern Chinese: Invitations and gift-giving in Feng Menglong’s Sanyan vernacular stories. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.
Abstract

This research aims to shed fresh light on our understanding of how (im)politeness manifests itself as a discursive phenomenon by examining invitations and gift-giving (henceforth I&G) in pre-modern Chinese. To this end, a corpus of I&Gs from Feng Menglong’s (1574-1646) trilogy of vernacular stories was analysed using a pragmaphilological approach that emphasizes the contextual analysis of texts. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of the data show that the interactional elaboration and selection of the strategies of pre-offers, head acts, modifications and responses were highly context-dependent. Hence, the present study provides empirical evidence that I&Gs are far more complex than previously assumed and extends our understanding of them beyond the contemporary limit. In line with the discursive or post-modern approach to (im)politeness, I argue that it is essentially the interactants’ contextualized evaluations of the I&Gs that determined whether an offer counted as polite or impolite behaviour. By challenging the conceptual bias of the modern approach to (im)politeness towards speech production, its assumed link between indirectness and politeness and the empirical applicability of positive and negative politeness distinction and also the overemphasis in Chinese politeness scholarship on modesty and rituality, this research contributes to the possibility of developing alternative (im)politeness theories by explicating how I&Gs in Chinese, which have long been stereotyped as interactionally elaborate and intrinsically polite, were judged by participants in relation to (im)politeness.

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