In the west, most of our thoughts on storytelling seem to originate and be influenced by Aristotle's Poetics, in one form or another.

However, it seems that in other cultures storytelling is often very different. For example, Aristotle focused a lot on the importance of character, but Kishōtenketsu (a common storytelling structure used in Japan, originating in China) does not necessarily require a character at all.

When looking up Kishōtenketsu on the internet, I get a few blog posts, a wikipedia article, etc, but nothing on the actual history of this structure or first hand sources from the people who originally came up with the idea.

My thought would be that there were probably philosophers from non-western cultures (such as China, India, the Middle East, Africa) throughout history who developed ideas on storytelling independently from Aristotle, based on the storytelling traditions in those cultures. But I can't seem to find anything about this online.

So I am looking for references on philosophical works on storytelling from non-western traditions. Do these references exist? Were there other philosophers or thinkers who attempted to put into written word what stories are for and how they should be told?

Edit I just wanted to make it clear: I am not just restricted to learning more about Kishōtenketsu here (although definitely bonus points for that). I am interested in any references on philosophers who developed ideas on storytelling independently of Aristotle and his contemporaries (i.e. not part of the traditional western storytelling tradition).

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    The wiki article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kish%C5%8Dtenketsu seems to indicate there can be characters, and that the form and thrust is similar to Aesop's fables.
    – BillOnne
    Jan 2, 2023 at 5:17
  • @BillOnne My point was that it doesn't require characters, or more to the point, that characters aren't emphasized as a cornerstone of storytelling (might be argued that Poetics didn't quite do this either, but hopefully you get my point). Not that there can't be characters at all. I also don't see how it being similar to Aesop's fables is too related. The kinds of classical poems and stories that seem to use this structure are very different from Aesop's fables (I mean, look at the examples on that page. They don't seem very Aesop-like to me) Jan 2, 2023 at 15:55
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    @WilliamOliver you may want to consider posting your question on either the Chinese language, Japanese language, Korean language, or perhaps the anime stacks. You might find someone more familiar the exact concepts you’re inquiring about. Jan 4, 2023 at 3:10
  • @EliotGYork thats a good idea. Although, I just want to make it clear, I am not limited to specifically the philosophical development of Kishōtenketsu here, but anyone who developed the philosophy of aesthetics of storytelling independently of Aristotle and his contemporaries. I edited my question to make that clear Jan 4, 2023 at 4:01
  • @WilliamOliver. Perhaps you could expand on the basic framework you are ascribing to Aristotle? A more concrete understanding of the Aristotelian framework, might clarify what the core of the comparison and contrasts are. Jan 4, 2023 at 4:21

3 Answers 3


I would describe the Poetics not as a work on the philosophy of storytelling, but as our earliest surviving example of literary theory.

Ancient Greece had an especially vibrant literary culture, in an era when few could afford books, because of the role of Dionysia, which through open competition in public, pushed the form and content of what could be expressed in theatre, as a religious sacrament. That dynamic creative competative literary culture, was a natural fit to literary theory.

The most comparable in stature and influence, is going to be the literary theory of Confucius. See for instance Confucius and Ancient Chinese Literary- Criticism. Along with Socrates, Abraham and Buddha he is seen as a key figure in the emergence of the proposed Axial Age, where religiousity shifted from focus on spectacle and feasting of sacrifices, into philosophical and theological ethical frameworks. Note the role of the Imperial Examination, in formalising Chinese literary theory and poetry, also.

The Sanskrit Natya Shastra includes literary criticism on ancient Indian literature and Sanskrit drama (consider the Arthashastra, for another example of how crucial historical vicissitudes are to what texts we have now - or the 100+ lost works by Aristotle).

Pre-Islamic Persian literature was voluminous, but little has survived, mainly what travelled with the Parsis to India. No single text devoted to literary criticism has survived from pre-Islamic Persia. However, some essays in Pahlavi, such as 'Ayin-e name nebeshtan' (Principles of Writing Books) and "Bab-e edteda’I-ye" (Kalileh o Demneh), have been considered as literary criticism.

Literary criticism was also employed in other forms of medieval Arabic literature and Arabic poetry from the 9th century, notably by Al-Jahiz in his al-Bayan wa-'l-tabyin and al-Hayawan, and by Abdullah ibn al-Mu'tazz in his Kitab al-Badi.

Literary theory does not I think generally help writers. But instead, educates audiences, who will then support more complex and challenging works in their cultural discourse (or not). The texts that an educated person within a culture is expected to know constantly shift, now more than ever. But where the literary knowledge of 'many educated people' overlap, there is still a cultural 'canon', and that is what creators create work within and against (ie, the domain of philosophy of art and creativity), just as they acknowledged and often played against Classics of the past, changing the space of creativity, as art must seek to do. Literary theory can be a crib-sheet for those who aren't going to read and make sense of the canon, to understand perspectives of those who do.


I think the formal difference may be related to the evolution of Asian written characters. These character are different than Latin in that they are not the a string of phonetic letters. They are instead more closely derived from a form of glyphs, “whose components may depict objects or represent abstract notions. Occasionally a character consists of only one component; more commonly two or more components are combined to form more complex characters, using a variety of different principles.“ Wikipedia, Written Chinese

These concepts and language dictates are very different than Latin based languages. This changes how a sentence is developed, abstract ideas are a component of the language itself. This difference may be a significant factor in the difference in how you can tell a story, because a single symbol may convey what would take a whole sentence or even paragraph of Latin translation to confer. An example of this complex combination of specific definitions also contain components of other words:

會意/会意 huìyì: Logical aggregates, in which two or more parts are used for their meaning. This yields a composite meaning, which is then applied to the new character. E.g., 東/东 dōng "east", which represents a sun rising in the trees.

All of these aspects of several eastern languages lend themselves to a vastly different writing style and even extends to a different perspective on how concepts are understood versus Latin derived languages. I often find it conveys many interesting layers of meaning, that take a vast amount of explanation to those who don’t understand the language itself.

To note, some variation such as Haiku do somewhat translate. As well as abstract western poetry (Allen Ginsberg, and other “Beat-poets”) which can somewhat capture an aspect of the spirit of what Chinese or Japanese may more regularly do.

  • Interesting thought!
    – J D
    Jan 4, 2023 at 20:37

I am from Pakistan. The whole region, called South Asia, has many folk stories in common.

The folk stories usually have main character that can be anybody really. Unlike western stories the main character don't really have any special qualities. Either he/she is how anybody should be or his/her actions are what any average person's actions would be given the situations in the story.

Who the main character deal with have very special and unique characteristics. For example in a fisherman's dealing with a king the king acts like a king, have behavior typical to a king, the fisherman act like any sane person.

When a prince goes on an adventure, he act like how any man with character would act like. Don't lie, don't steal, fill his promises. Don't really have any special skills or anything unique in him. He can very well be a farmer with same normal character everybody should have.

He also don't take any special equipment or knowledge with him that only a prince have access to. The servants he take with him are always lost before the action.

The prince meet typical characters on the way. An old man who ask for some help. Any good man would help him so the prince help him. Then the old man who is now shown to be very wise give the prince valuable advices and some special equipments. The point is, anybody could have get those advices and those equipments by virtue of good character and good deeds.

A giant, a witch, a fairy act like nobody else other than a giant, a witch and a fairy. A giant will always fight, a witch will always trick, a fairy will always take a test first then if passed help. They don't act like anybody else.

Rare Character Development

Neither the main character nor anybody else have character development, almost always. Its very rare that somebody change attitude because of experiences.

There are occassional attitude changes, for example there is a story of a son of a wealthy trader that do change attitude towards spending money once he experienced poverty because of his extravagant life style. However, this is rare.

A prince is how he is since start of story and remains how he is. Kings never change. Women never change, unless they are a witch, a fairy or a princess they are stupid and remain stupid. Old wise man that meet the prince on his quest, witch, fairy and princess remain what they are.

Authority of People In Power Is Not Challenged By The Hero

The hero never challenge authority of a king. There is no Hercules who openly disrespect his king.

The hero go on his quest, do whats necessary for the quest and when returned successfully get some benefit for himself and people of country or just the town or village he lives in. The underlying structure of government is never fought against. Removal of a corrupt wazeer is the most change the system is going to get. Disposing an unjust king is never done unless he is a foreign king and the disposer is of royal blood himself.

Brothers Are Not Like Real Life Brothers

Either they always fight and not mind killing each other, or are very loyal to each other.

Sisters Don't Have Jealousy and Don't Fight

Sisters either don't mind each others business or help each others. There is never sister-to-sister rivalry. There is no theme like cinderalla in east.

Common Folks Are Not Directly Dealt With

Unlike the story of pied piper, in eastern stories the dealing is always with ruler. Every village has a ruler and deal is made with him, not directly with village folks.

Kings Are Not Cheap

Kings are always generous. They give more price for a task than anybody else do, many times more, and happily.

Once a task is done kings never even delay giving the reward. Hero is not repeatedly sent on new tasks unless old one is rewarded, he has rested for a good few years and insist on going. Still, repeated tasks are a rarity.

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