The interconnected body of stories about Ch'un-ch'iu-Warring States times, known to most Chinese and embodied in a wide variety of verbal forms both oral and written, was a secular mythology—secular because it concerned men acting in the datable past, mythology because it was invested with a special authority for the culture at large. In my study of the sources and transmission of one small part of this mythology, the matter of Wu Tzu-hsii, I conclude that in the period down to the Former Han regional epics and hero stories were important vehicles for the transmission of Wu Tzu-hsü's story and of other stories like it. This part of Chinese verbal culture underwent a profound transformation during the imposition of centralized national rule in Ch'in and Han times. The epic tradition gradually disappeared and the old stories that survived were infused with a new meaning by historians who were driven by what can only be called a didactic imperative. Thus, epic was overwhelmed by history—China's secular scripture. The early literary versions of the matter of Wu Tzu-hsü provide compelling evidence of this.

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