Interesting thoughts on the differences between the rise of the Western novel vs the Eastern, from Franco Moretti’s Distant Reading.
Chinese critics have identified over 600 characters in The Scholars, 800 in The Water Margin and the Jin Ping Mei, 975 in The Story of the Stone. And since size is seldom just size—a story with a thousand characters is not like a story with fifty characters, only twenty times bigger; it’s a different story—all this ends up generating a structure which is very unlike the one we are used to in Europe. . . . Preventing developments: that’s the key. Minimizing narrativity. The Story of the Stone is often described as a Chinese Buddenbrooks, and they are certainly both stories of the decline of a great family, but Buddenbrooks covers a half century in five hundred pages, and Stone a dozen years in two thousand pages: and it’s not just a matter of rhythm, here (although that is obviously the case), but of the hierarchy between synchrony and diachrony: Stone has a “horizontal” dominant, where what really matters is not what lies “ahead” of a given event, as in “forward-looking” European prose, but what lies “to the side” of it: all the vibrations that ripple across this immense narrative system—and all the counter-vibrations that try to keep it stable.