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Background Note on Pú Sōnglíng

And His Stories of Magic and the Supernatural

Example Stories

Easily the best known collection of ghostly and supernatural tales in China comes from the hand of Pú Sōnglíng 蒲松龄 (1640-1715). This page is intended to serve as a general background note about him and his collection.

Pú Sōnglíng 蒲松龄 was born to a merchant-landlord family in Shāndōng 山东 province. His father had aspired to an official career, but had failed to attain it. He encouraged his son Sōnglíng to continue the efforts. Pú Sōnglíng placed first in a series of regional examinations at the tender age of nineteen, but was rejected in higher level ones. (There is more about the civil service system elsewhere on this web site. Link)

Pú did in fact serve as an assistant to a magistrate for a few months, but otherwise spent his career as a country teacher. Over the years he was the author of a volume on agriculture and one on popular medicine, both intended for use in his home district. But his greatest contribution has been an odd volume called Liáozhāi Zhìyì 聊斋志异. A zhāi is a small study or schoolroom, and the title has been rendered into English as "Strange Stories From a Chinese Studio" and as "Strange Tales From Make-Do Studio." In Chinese, the 500 or so short stories are simply referred to as the Liáozhāi stories.

picture
A surprising number of Chinese ghost stories in dynastic times involved young scholars being seduced by monsters disguised as seductive women. (Picture from a rafter in Summer Palace Colonade, Běijīng.)

The stories contain a wealth of detail about early Qīng dynasty (period 21) life, in addition to the vivid imaginativeness of the stories. It is not clear how much Pú collected the stories and how much he created them, but their continuing popularity in a wide range of media have made them so well known that there is hardly any collection of ghost stories or supernatural tales in later centuries that does not reflect their influence.

For present purposes, I have tried to select stories that are reasonably short, but also are among the most popular and widely reprinted. I have used a number of different translations, and have sometimes modified them slightly where they seemed inaccurate or too literal. (An example is the use of the word "necromancer" for a diviner who does not use necromancy in the story entitled "Magical Arts.") When I have modified the translations, this is indicated in the attribution notes at the end of each story. When possible I have added tone marks and Chinese characters. Stories under copyright are available to students in my current class only and require the class password.

The stories available here from from Pú's huge collection include:

National Museum of China
Pú Sōnglíng in His Studio
(from a Late Qīng Dynasty album of paintings for his stories)

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