Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio

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Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio
Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio.jpg
Cover of the translated version from Tuttle Publishing
Author Pu Songling
Original title 聊齋誌異
Translator Herbert A. Giles, John Minford, etc.
Country China
Language Classical Chinese
Genre Fantasy short stories
Publication date
Published in English
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; Wade–Giles: Liao²chai¹ chi⁴yi⁴) is a collection of nearly 500 mostly supernatural tales written by Pu Songling in Classical Chinese during the early Qing dynasty.

The stories differ broadly in length, with the shortest under a page long. Many are classified as Chuanqi, or Zhiguai, sometimes translated as "marvel tales",[1] that is, stories written in classical Chinese starting in the Tang dynasty. Pu borrows from a tradition of oral storytelling where the boundary between reality and the odd or fantastic is blurred. The stories are filled with magical foxes, ghosts, scholars, jiangshi, court officials, Taoist exorcists and beasts.

Publication history[edit]

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 focused on the everyday life of commoners. He used the supernatural and the unexplainable to illustrate his ideas of society and government. He criticized the corruption and injustice in society and sympathized with the poor. Four main themes are present in Strange Stories.

The first is a complaint about the skewed feudal system. The author argued that many officers and rich people committed crimes without 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 revealed the corrupt examination system at the time. Pu had taken imperial exams and 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’ minds and ruined their creativity, as 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’ lives 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 sought to educate them through Strange Stories. He embedded Confucian-styled moral standards and Taoist principles into parables; some examples are “Painted Skin” and “The Taoist of Lao Mountain”.


The book was translated into Manchu as Möllendorff: Sonjofi ubaliyambuha Liyoo jai jy i bithe.[2]


  • 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.[3] ISBN 1-4212-4855-7.

Martin Buber made the first German translation of the work, included within his Chinesische Geister- und Liebesgeschichten.[4] 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."[5] The Chinesische Geister- und Liebesgeschichten was translated into English by Alex Page, published in 1991 by the Humanities Press.[4]

Herbert Giles translation[edit]

John Minford and Tong Man describe Herbert Giles's translation as "prudish",[6] 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."[7] 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."[7] They added that "the widely distributed Commercial Press (HK) edition of the stories makes many of the same prudish cuts as Giles."[8]

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...."[6] Lydia Chiang, describes Minford and Tong Man's essay as a "post-Saidian re-evaluation" that compares the Giles translation to Chinese representations of the story from pre-modern and modern eras.[5]


Franz Kafka admired some of the tales in translation; in a letter to Felice Bauer (January 16, 1913) he described them as "exquisite". Jorge Luis Borges also strongly admired the story "Mr. Miao" (苗生), writing a prologue for it to appear in his Library of Babel, a collection of writings on his favourite books.[citation needed]


See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Pu Songling". Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. 1995. ISBN 0-87779-042-6. 
  2. ^ Crossley, Pamela Kyle; Rawski, Evelyn S. (Jun 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. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  3. ^ Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. p. 126. 
  4. ^ a b Chiang, Lydia, p. 62.
  5. ^ a b Chiang, Lydia, p. 72.
  6. ^ a b Minford and Tong Man, p. 1.
  7. ^ a b Minford and Tong Man, p. 11.
  8. ^ Minford and Tong Man, p. 12.
  9. ^ Nepstad, Peter (September 1, 2000). "Ghost Lovers and Fox Spirits". The Illuminated Lantern. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]