To perceive more fully the particular meaning and aesthetic power of the Hsi-yu chi, it is necessary to examine more closely certain of its features hitherto ignored in criticism. One such feature is the vast amount of poetic “insertions” within the narrative. Though the mixture of prose and poetry is common in classic Chinese fiction, and has its antecedents in the pien-wen texts and in the popular stories and dramas of earlier periods, the poetry of the Hsi-yu chi has its own significant function. By its descriptive realism, its encyclopedic range, and its peculiar technique of versification, the poems serve to heighten both scenic situations and character developments. The narrative effect thus achieved may best be appreciated when it is compared with epic songs and heroic sagas of other cultures. Another means with which the novel is endowed with epic magnitude is the greatness of its theme, the sacred mission of Tripitaka. To understand the crucial importance of this mission, it is necessary to discern how it functions to create in both plot and characters a sense of heroic grandeur and epic immensity.

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