Zhiguai xiaoshuo (Chinese: 志怪小說), translated as "tales of the miraculous", "tales of the strange", or "records of anomalies", is a type of Chinese literature which appeared in the Han dynasty and developed after the fall of the dynasty in 220 CE and in the Tang dynasty in 618 CE. They were among the first examples of Chinese fiction and deal with the existence of the supernatural, rebirth and reincarnation, gods, ghosts, and spirits.
Robert Ford Campany sees the genre loosely characterized in its early examples by relatively brief form, often only a list of narrations or description, written in non-rhyming classical prose with a "clear and primary" focus on things which are anomalous, with a Buddhist or Taoist moral. Campany, however, does not see the stories as "fiction," since the literati authors believed that their accounts were factual. Lydia Sing-Chen Chiang suggests that one function of the stories in this genre was to provide a "context by which the unknown may be ascribed names and meanings and therefore become 'known,' controlled, and used."
History and examples
The early 4th century anthology Soushen Ji edited by Gan Bao is the most prominent early source, and contains the earliest versions of a number of Chinese folk legends. Tales of Indian origins were included and used for spreading Buddhist concepts, such as reincarnation. Another of the richest early collections is You Ming Lu, edited by Liu Yiqing (Chinese: 劉義慶, 403-444), who also compiled A New Account of the Tales of the World. In the Tang dynasty, distinction between the zhiguai and chuanqi (strange stories) became increasingly blurred, and there is disagreement over the boundary between the two. Many stories of both types were preserved in the 10th century anthology, Taiping guangji (Extensive Records of the Taiping Era).
By the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, the collections of zhiguai and chuanqi materials had been widely reprinted and supplemented by contemporary works. Judith Zeitlin suggests that the accounts of the strange "inevitably began to lose their sense of novelty and to seem stereotype..." and such writers as Pu Songling therefore needed to renew the category of "strange." His anomalous collection of short pieces, Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, which amalgamated zhiguai features with other styles, was left unfinished at his death in 1715
In the 21st century, zhiguai stories continue to appear in print and on screen. A recent collection, for example, Zhiguai: Chinese True Tales of the Paranormal and Glitches in the Matrix, edited by Yi Izzy Yu and John Yu Branscum, offers examples of the creative nonfiction stream of zhiguai and connects them to the more-recent genre of glitch-in-the-matrix tales.
- Campany, Robert Ford (1996). Strange Writing: Anomaly Accounts in Early Medieval China. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0585042748.
- Chiang, Sing-chen Lydia (2005). Collecting the Self: Body and Identity in Strange Tale Collections of Late Imperial China. Leiden; Boston: Brill. ISBN 9004142037.
- Idema, Wilt and Lloyd Haft (1997). A Guide to Chinese Literature. Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, The University of Michigan. ISBN 0892641231.
- Kao, Karl S. Y. (Gao, Xinyong) (1985). Classical Chinese Tales of the Supernatural and the Fantastic: Selections from the Third to the Tenth Century. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253313759. Thirty-six Tang tales and sixty zhiguai, with an extensive Introduction.
- Zeitlin, Judith T. (1997). Historian of the Strange: Pu Songling and the Chinese Classical Tale. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-2968-0.
- Zhang, Zhenjun (2014). Buddhism and Tales of the Supernatural in Early Medieval China: A Study of Liu Yiqing's (403-444) Youming Lu. ISBN 9789004277274.