A New Account of the Tales of the World

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Part of the oldest extant transcription of A New Account of the Tales of the World, 7th-8th century, now located in the Tokyo National Museum.

A New Account of the Tales of the World, also known as Shishuo Xinyu or Shih-shuo Hsin-yu (Chinese: 世說新語), was compiled and edited by Liu Yiqing (Liu I-ching; 劉義慶; 403–444) during the Liu Song dynasty (420–479) of the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420–589). The book contains some 1,130 historical anecdotes and character sketches of some 600 literati, musicians, and painters who lived in the Han and Wei–Jin periods, that is, the second through fourth centuries. Chapter 19, for instance, has 32 stories about outstanding women. It is thus both a biographical source and a record of colloquial language. The original text of the book was divided into eight volumes of juan ("scroll"), though current editions generally span ten volumes.[1][2]

Although most of the anecdotes and personalities are attested in other sources, traditional Chinese bibliographers did not classify Shishuo Xinyu as history but as "minor talk" (xiao shuo), a term that was later used to refer to fiction. Literary historian Victor Mair comments that the "bias against Tales of the World as legitimate work of history undoubtedly stemmed from its failure to subscribe to the sanctioned conventions of history enshrined in the dynastic histories and its use of lively and sometimes colloquial language."[3] The mixture of literary and vernacular styles set the scene for the later tradition of informal Chinese literature.[4] The 20th-century Chinese novelist Lu Xun also spoke highly of the book's aesthetic merits.

The text has been translated in full into English, with the Liang dynasty (502–557) commentary by Liu Xiaobiao (劉孝標), in Richard B. Mather, Shih-shuo Hsin-yü: A New Account of Tales of the World.[5]

Extant versions[edit]


  • Hand-written fragments from the Tang dynasty (618–907) (唐寫本殘卷)

Woodblock prints:

  • Dong Fen edition, 1138 (8th year of the Shaoxing reign of the Southern Song); original kept in Japan (南宋紹興八年董弅刊本,原本存於日本)
  • Edition by Lu You, 1188 (15th year of the Chunxi reign of the Southern Song) (南宋淳熙十五年陸游刻本)
  • Edition from Hunan, 1189 (16th year of Chunxi) (淳熙十六年湘中刻本)[6]


  1. Morality 德行第一
  2. Speech 言語第二
  3. Politics 政事第三
  4. Integrity 文學第四
  5. Generosity 方正第五
  6. Appreciation 雅量第六
  7. Identification 識鑑第七
  8. Appreciation 賞譽第八
  9. Evaluation 品藻第九
  10. Advice 規箴第十
  11. Comprehension 捷悟第十一
  12. Altklug 夙惠第十二
  13. Frankness and Straightforwardness 豪爽第十三
  14. Appearance and manner 容止第十四
  15. Amender 自新第十五
  16. Admiration 企羨第十六
  17. Lamentation 傷逝第十七
  18. Hermit and freedom 栖逸第十八
  19. Virtuous beauties 賢媛第十九
  20. Skills 術解第二十
  21. Exquisite craft 巧藝第二十一
  22. Rank honour 寵禮第二十二
  23. Willfulness and indulgence 任誕第二十三
  24. Arrogance 簡傲第二十四
  25. Tease and mock 排調第二十五
  26. Agreement and disagreement 輕詆第二十六
  27. Deceitfulness 假譎第二十七
  28. Dismissal 黜免第二十八
  29. Stinginess 儉嗇第二十九
  30. Sybaritism 汰侈第三十
  31. Resentment and irritability 忿狷第三十一
  32. Jesuitry 讒險第三十二
  33. Fault and regret 尤悔第三十三
  34. Careless mistakes 紕漏第三十四
  35. Indulgence 惑溺第三十五
  36. Feud 仇隙第三十六

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Endymion Wilkinson. Chinese History: A New Manual. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series New Edition; Second, Revised printing March 2013, ISBN 9780674067158), p. 732.
  2. ^ NJ Museum Archived October 9, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ Victor H. Mair. The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature. (New York: Columbia University Press, Translation from the Asian Classics, 1994. ISBN 023107428X), p. 768.
  4. ^ Victor H. Mair (ed.), The Columbia History of Chinese Literature. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. ISBN 9780231109840), pp. 580, 688, 888.
  5. ^ Yiqing Liu, Jun Liu and Richard B. Mather. A New Account of Tales of the World (Shih-Shuo Hsin-Yü). (Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, Michigan Monographs in Chinese Studies, 2002). ISBN 089264155X.
  6. ^ more

Further reading[edit]

  • Nanxiu Qian. Spirit and Self in Medieval China : The Shih-Shuo Hsin-Yü and Its Legacy. (Honolulu: University of Hawai*i Press, 2001). ISBN 0824823095.