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 Northern and Southern 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 WeiJin 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. Virtuous Conduct 德行第一
  2. Speech and Conversation 言語第二
  3. Affairs of State 政事第三
  4. Letters and Scholarship 文學第四
  5. The Square and the Proper 方正第五
  6. Cultivated Tolerance 雅量第六
  7. Insight and Judgment 識鑑第七
  8. Appreciation and Praise 賞譽第八
  9. Grading Excellence 品藻第九
  10. Admonitions and Warnings 規箴第十
  11. Quick Perception 捷悟第十一
  12. Precocious Intelligence 夙惠第十二
  13. Virility and Boldness 豪爽第十三
  14. Appearance and Manner 容止第十四
  15. Self-renewal 自新第十五
  16. Admiration and Emulation 企羨第十六
  17. Grieving for the Departed 傷逝第十七
  18. Reclusion and Disengagement 栖逸第十八
  19. Worthy Beauties 賢媛第十九
  20. Technical Understanding 術解第二十
  21. Skill and Art 巧藝第二十一
  22. Favor and Veneration 寵禮第二十二
  23. The Free and Unrestrained 任誕第二十三
  24. Rudeness and Arrogance 簡傲第二十四
  25. Taunting and Teasing 排調第二十五
  26. Contempt and Insults 輕詆第二十六
  27. Guile and Chicanery 假譎第二十七
  28. Dismissal from Office 黜免第二十八
  29. Stinginess and Meanness 儉嗇第二十九
  30. Extravagance and Ostentation 汰侈第三十
  31. Anger and Irascibility 忿狷第三十一
  32. Slander and Treachery 讒險第三十二
  33. Blameworthiness and Remorse 尤悔第三十三
  34. Crudities and Slips of the Tongue 紕漏第三十四
  35. Delusion and Infatuation 惑溺第三十五
  36. Hostility and Alienation 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.