Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (March 2012)|
|Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio|
Cover of the translated version from Tuttle Publishing
|Translator||Herbert A. Giles, John Minford, etc.|
|Genre(s)||Fantasy short stories|
|Published in English||1880|
|Media type||Scribal copies/Print|
Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio or Liaozhai Zhiyi (also Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio or Strange Tales of Liaozhai, simplified Chinese: 聊斋志异; traditional Chinese: 聊齋誌異; pinyin: Liáozhāi zhìyì) is a collection of nearly five hundred mostly supernatural tales written by Pu Songling in Classical Chinese during the early Qing Dynasty.
Pu borrows from a folk tradition of oral storytelling to put to paper a series of captivating, colorful stories, where the boundary between reality and the odd or fantastic is blurred. The cast of characters include magical foxes, ghosts, scholars, court officials, Taoist exorcists and beasts. Moral purposes are often inverted between humans and the supposedly degenerate ghosts or spirits, resulting in a satirical edge to some of the stories. Ghosts and spirits are often bold and trustworthy, while humans are on the other hand weak, indecisive and easily manipulated, reflecting the author's own disillusionment with his society.
The stories differ broadly in length. Conciseness is the key, with the shortest stories under a page in length.
Publication history 
The compilation was first circulated in manuscript form before it was published posthumously. Sources differ in their account of the year of publication. One source claims the Strange Tales were published by Pu's grandson in 1740. However, the earliest surviving print version was printed in 1766 in Hangzhou.
Pu is believed to have completed the majority of the tales sometime in 1679, though he could have added entries as late as 1707.
The main characters of this book apparently are ghosts, foxes, immortals and demons, but the author actually focused on the real life of commoners at the time. He made use of the supernatural and unexplainable to illustrate his ideas of society and government during his time. He criticized the corruption and unjustness in the society, and sympathized on the poor. Four main themes are present in Strange Stories.
The first is a complaint about the skewed feudal system during his time. The author argued that many officers and rich people committed crime without ever being punished, because they enjoyed privilege and power, granted to them by the government, purely by their status and/or their wealth. This theme can be found in short stories such as “the Cricket”, “Xi Fangping”, and “Shang Sanguan”. It is fairly clear that the author resents the feudal government, skewed and unfair as it was.
Secondly, the author disclosed the corrupt examination system at that time. Pu had taken imperial exams and subsequently discovered that the exams were unfairly graded. He postulated that many students cheated and bribed examiners or the grading officers. The education system, thus, became pointless in Pu's eyes, as it had destroyed the scholars’ mind and ruined their creativity, as were illustrated in such stories as “Kao San Sheng”, “Ya Tou” (The Maid), and “Scholar Wang Zi-an”.
Pu's third theme was a clear admiration of pure, faithful love between poor scholars and powerless women, writing many stories about the love between beautiful and kind female ghosts and poor students to illustrate the allegory. The author highly praised women who took care of their husbands’ life and helped them achieve success, as can be found in chapters such as “Lian Xiang”, “Yingning” and “Nie Xiaoqian”.
Lastly, Pu criticized the people’s immoral behavior, and thus sought to educate people through Strange Stories. Pu embedded Confucian-styled moral standards and Taoist principles into parables; some examples are “Painted Skin” and “The Taoist of Lao Mountain”.
- Strange Tales from Liaozhai (tr. Sidney L. Sondergard). Jain Pub Co., 2008. ISBN 978-0-89581-001-4.
- Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio (tr. John Minford). London: Penguin, 2006. 562 pages. ISBN 0-14-044740-7.
- Strange Tales from the Liaozhai Studio (Zhang Qingnian, Zhang Ciyun and Yang Yi). Beijing: People's China Publishing, 1997. ISBN 7-80065-599-7.
- Strange Tales from Make-do Studio (Denis C. & Victor H. Mair). Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1989.
- Strange Tales of Liaozhai (Lu Yunzhong, Chen Tifang, Yang Liyi, and Yang Zhihong). Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1982.
- Strange Stories from the Lodge of Leisure (George Soulie). London: Constable, 1913.
- Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (tr. Herbert A. Giles). London: T. De La Rue, 1880. ISBN 1-4212-4855-7.
Franz Kafka admired some of the tales in translation; in a letter to Felice Bauer (Jan 16, 1913) he described them as "exquisite". Jorge Luis Borges also strongly admired the story "The Tiger Guest", writing a prologue for it to appear in his Library of Babel, a collection of writings on his favourite books.
- Liaozhai Zhiyi has inspired many Chinese film adaptations, including those by King Hu (Painted Skin, A Touch of Zen), Gordon Chan * (Painted Skin), Ching Siu-tung (A Chinese Ghost Story series) and the Taiwanese director Li Han-Hsiang.
- Jonathan D. Spence. The Death of Woman Wang. (New York: Viking Press, 1978). ISBN 0670262323. Uses material from Liaozhai Zhiyi to set the background.
See also 
Further reading 
- Chang, Chun-shu and Shelley Hsueh-lun Chang (1998) Redefining History: Ghosts, Spirits, and Human Society in P'u Sung-ling's World, 1640-1715. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-10822-0
- Zeitlin, Judith T. (1993). Historian of the Strange: Pu Songling and the Chinese Classical Tale. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, xii, 332p. ISBN 0-8047-2085-1.
- However, the language is influenced by Shandong topolects of early Mandarin Chinese. http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1452.
- Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. p. 126.
- Nepstad, Peter (September 1, 2000). "Ghost Lovers and Fox Spirits". The Illuminated Lantern.
- Selection of stories as translated by Herbert Giles, 1916 from Google Books
- Strange stories from a Chinese Studio, 1880, translated and annotated by Herbert A. Giles at Internet Archive
- Pu Songling at the Internet Movie Database
- Pu Songling at the Chinese Movie Database