Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio

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Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio
CADAL02111693 聊齋誌異(一).djvu
AuthorPu Songling
Original title聊齋誌異
LanguageClassical Chinese
Publication date
Liaozhai zhiyi
Traditional Chinese聊齋誌異
Simplified Chinese聊斋志异
Literal meaningtalk studio strange tales

Liaozhai zhiyi, sometimes shortened to Liaozhai, known in English as Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio or Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, is a collection of Classical Chinese stories by Qing dynasty writer Pu Songling, comprising close to 500 stories or "marvel tales"[1] in the zhiguai and chuanqi styles, which served to implicitly criticise societal problems. Written in the late 1600s, its earliest publication date is given as 1740. Since then, many of the critically lauded stories have been adapted for other media such as film and television.

Publication history[edit]

Pu is believed to have completed the majority of the tales sometime in 1679, when he wrote the preface to the anthology, though he could have added entries as late as 1707. However, according to Chinese scholar Zhang Peiheng (章培恒), the original Liaozhai comprised eight volumes, the earliest and latest of which were completed around 1681 and 1707 to 1714 respectively.[2]

The compilation was first circulated in scribal copies but it was not published until after the author's death in 1715. Shandong financial commissioner Yu Chenglong reportedly offered Pu a thousand taels circa 1693 in exchange for his Liaozhai manuscript, but Pu declined his offer.[3] The final manuscript was "carefully preserved" by the Pu family after his death, with many different individuals, including the local magistrate, requesting to make copies of it. The earliest surviving print version of Liaozhai was printed in 1766 in Hangzhou by publisher Zhao Qigao (趙起杲),[4] who claimed that Pu originally intended for his anthology to be titled Tales of Ghosts and Foxes鬼狐傳).[5] Although Zhao also alleged that his publication was based on the "original manuscript" as was copied by a friend,[6] it did not contain all the stories found in the original manuscript;[3] in the preface to his publication, he writes, "I have expunged simple and brief notes which are dull and commonplace, forty-eight in all."[7] Moreover, Zhao censored stories that had "brief references to sensitive topics".[7] Nonetheless, the Zhao edition was well-received and was first republished by scholar Li Shixian (李時憲) in 1767.[8]

At some point after 1871, Pu Jieren (普价人), a seventh-generation descendant of Pu Songling, had the original manuscript, which was reportedly made up of twenty volumes, rebound in eight volumes. They were then kept in two boxes, one of which disappeared "under circumstances which are still obscure".[9] In 1950, the Pu family donated the surviving four volumes, which contained some 237 short stories, to the Liaoning Provincial Library.[9]

Literary significance[edit]

Early commentary on Liaozhai zhiyi regarded it as a "superior but typical example" of the zhiguai genre.[10] Subsequent writers disagreed with such a view, choosing to focus on the allegorical nature of the stories instead;[11] for instance, Yu Ji, who was Zhao Qigao's secretary, wrote in his preface to Zhao's edition of Liaozhai: "... saying that it differs little from collections of rare phenomena or strange tales is a very shallow view and one that greatly contradicts the author's intent."[12] Pu's grandson, Pu Lide (蒲立德), viewed the work as "an act of serious self-expression".[13] Still later critics in the nineteenth-century focused on the "literary style and narrative technique" of Liaozhai. Qing dynasty critic Dan Minglun (但明倫) writes in the preface to his 1842 interlinear commentary of Liaozhai: "From Liaozhai, I also gained insight into literary methods."[14]

Select translations[edit]

The Scholar Meets the Fairy (秀才遇仙記), a Yue opera based on "Zhang Hongjian", Nanjing, 5 May 2019
Capturing Shi Huaiyu Alive (活捉石懷玉), a Sichuan opera based on "Wu Xiaolian" (武孝廉), Shanghai, 10 June 2016


  • 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. ISBN 7-119-00977-X.
  • 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.[15] ISBN 1-4212-4855-7.

Giles's translation[edit]

John Minford and Tong Man describe Herbert Giles's translation as "prudish",[16] because he chose not to translate "anything connected with sex, procreation, blood, sometimes indeed the human body in any of its aspects" and often made "extraordinary lengths to cover up his traces, showing considerable craft and cunning."[17] In the Giles translation fox spirits wish to chat and share tea with people rather than trying to seduce and engage in sexual intercourse, and romantic partners at most exchange kisses. They wrote that "Giles was a creature of his time" since he was required to follow Victorian Era morality, and urged readers to "not get Giles' bowdlerising of Liao-chai out of proportion."[17] They added that "the widely distributed Commercial Press (HK) edition of the stories makes many of the same prudish cuts as Giles."[18]

Minford and Tong Man write that people have continued reading Giles's translations even though they "have been at best quietly tolerated, more often derided, and dismissed as orientalist bowdlerisations..."[16] Lydia Chiang describes Minford and Tong Man's essay as a "post-Saidian re-evaluation" that compares the Giles translation to traditional and modern Chinese representations of the story.[19]


Martin Buber made the first German translation of the work, included within his Chinesische Geister- und Liebesgeschichten.[20] Buber had assistance from a person named Wang Jingdao. Buber stated in the preface of his translation that his translation had portions previously untranslated in Giles work because Giles, according to the "English custom", had "omitted or paraphrased all passages which seemed to him indecorous".[19] The Chinesische Geister- und Liebesgeschichten was translated into English by Alex Page, published in 1991 by the Humanities Press.[20]

Other translations[edit]

Vasily Mikhaylovich Alekseyev published an acclaimed translation of Pu Songling's stories in Russian in two volumes, Fox's Wiles (1922) and The Wizard Monks (1923). It has been cited as the most accomplished translation of the book into a foreign language.[21] The book was translated into Manchu as Sonjofi ubaliyambuha Liyoo jai jy i bithe.[22] Lodovico Nicola di Giura (1868–1947) produced a complete Italian translation of the 1766 edition.[23]




  1. ^ "Pu Songling". Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. 1995. ISBN 0-87779-042-6.
  2. ^ Barr 1984, p. 516.
  3. ^ a b Barr 1984, p. 518.
  4. ^ Barr 1984, p. 517.
  5. ^ Barr 1984, p. 540.
  6. ^ Barr 1984, p. 530.
  7. ^ a b Barr 1984, p. 533.
  8. ^ Barr 1984, p. 534.
  9. ^ a b Barr 1984, p. 519.
  10. ^ Zeitlin 1993, p. 25.
  11. ^ Zeitlin 1993, p. 31.
  12. ^ Zeitlin 1993, p. 26.
  13. ^ Zeitlin 1993, p. 27.
  14. ^ Zeitlin 1993, p. 35.
  15. ^ Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. p. 126.
  16. ^ a b Minford and Tong Man, p. 1.
  17. ^ a b Minford and Tong Man, p. 11.
  18. ^ MinfordTong (1999), p. 34.
  19. ^ a b Chiang, Lydia, p. 72.
  20. ^ a b Chiang, Lydia, p. 62.
  21. ^ Этнокультурное взаимодействие в Евразии. Том 2. Москва: Наука, 2006. ISBN 9785020343726. C. 159.
  22. ^ Crossley, Pamela Kyle; Rawski, Evelyn S. (June 1993). "A Profile of The Manchu Language in Ch'ing History". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. Harvard-Yenching Institute. 53 (1): 94. doi:10.2307/2719468. JSTOR 2719468.
  23. ^ Lévy, André (2003). "The Liaozhai zhiyi and Honglou meng in French Translation". In Chan, Tak-hung Leo (ed.). One Into Many: Translation and the Dissemination of Classical Chinese Literature. Amsterdam: Rodopi. p. 83. ISBN 90-420-0815-6.
  24. ^ Nepstad, Peter (1 September 2000). "Ghost Lovers and Fox Spirits". The Illuminated Lantern.


External links[edit]