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Chinese Stories

*A few stories are reproduced or slightly modified from other sources and for copyright reasons are password-protected and available for use only by students in my current classes.

Background: In recent years I have made more and more use of popular stories in some of my China-related classes. For class purposes, the issue is not literary value. Instead, the fact that some stories are virtually universally known in China suggests that they awaken interest in people raised in Chinese culture, and therefore are important artifacts for our understanding of Chinese life, especially the worldview and values of dynastic China.

National Palace Museum, Taipei
Qīng Dynasty Puppet Show.
Storytellers, puppet shows, and theatricals supplemented written versions in making certain stories known to a huge public. Today TV, films, and children's books also play such a role.
(National Palace Museum, Taipei)

One of my more popular freshman seminars was composed of eight sessions, each focused on the theme of a block of stories (love stories, detective stories, ghost stories, war stories, &c.). Students selected as they pleased from among the ones for that week's theme and we discussed what made an archetypal "Chinese" story of that genre. I always started with filial piety stories because modern Chinese and American (including Asian-American) students find them slightly shocking, and they can be depended upon to break the ice by provoking interesting first-session discussion.

Over the years some students drew illustrations for stories, and those have been added here when I received permission to do so. (If you or your students would like to add some pictures, I'd be delighted to consider adding them too.)

Street Theatre. Most popular dramas were performed under makeshift theatre "awnings" (xìpéng 戏棚) out of doors.
(Hand-colored postcard of street theatrical, North China, 1920s)

The present collection contains tales I have gradually assembled for class use. As folk tales, virtually all of them naturally exist in multiple forms. In most cases I have taken the liberty to retell them in my own words, but, since about half of my students over the years were studying or had studied Chinese, I have included the (simplified) Chinese characters for proper names and occasional other terms.

Retelling rather than translating the stories frees them from any single Chinese source. It also makes it possible to provide explanations useful to English speakers. (In most cases I have added a dramatis personae list for the same reason.) In these retellings I have tried to assume the tone of a Chinese storyteller, but I admit that there is a distinctly American twang to it. Most students, in my experience, actually prefer that.

Street Theatre in Lìshuǐ, Zhèjiāng 浙江省丽水县 in 1934. The pressure lamp and one actress’ simple skirt were modern elements, the latter possibly the result of local poverty.
(W. Eberhard 1967 Settlement and Social Change in Asia, plate XIII.24)
Portable Stage
Street Theatre in Hong Kong, 2007. An ample stage, electricity, and a sun awning awning over the audience modernize a traditional theatrical.
Hung Shing Temple in Hong Kong’s Kau Sai District (Mandarin: Jiàoxī Zhōu Hóngshèng Miào 滘西洲洪聖廟)

In a few cases I have provided a full translation of a written version that is so widely circulated that most people treat it as the "real" version. The extract from the "Platform Sutra" is one example. One well-known zombie tale appears bilingually in its late XVIIth-century “original” but also in an early XXth-century retelling elicited from Chinese in North America. The famous 24 Filial Exemplars are here represented both in a translation of the Yuán dynasty "canonical" version and in retellings that include other folkloric elements.

Portable Stage
Portable Theatre. It took a relatively small amount of capital to set up in the puppet theatre business.
(Puppet Museum, Taipei)

Sometimes I have provided a translation or retelling of a less common text, one that most Chinese probably have not heard before, because I wanted to use it in class. An example is “Who's a Fox Demon?” one of the tales of transformed foxes. Another is “The Buddhist & the Butcher.”

Most of the retold stories are in a single data base that produces a common format when they are displayed. However in a few cases, including the bilingual items and translations by other people, they are on separate pages, linked here, but often with separate tables of contents, introductions, &c.

The stories overlap to some extent with some of the most famous Chinese novels, since the two genres have always borrowed liberally from each other, novels often being compilations of folk traditions on the one hand, and folk tales (and theatricals) being extracted stories from novels on the other, until it is difficult to be sure which came first. For most people, it makes no difference.

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Chinese Opera Plots & Love Stories

photo by DKJ
Chinese Theatrical. It was a rare story that did not eventually become a theatrical, performed at temple fairs and other festive occasions.
(Zǔmiào 祖庙 Temple, Fóshān 佛山, Guǎngdōng 广东 Province, 2007)

This section contains the plots of some commonly performed traditional Chinese operas, which nearly always also turn out to be love stories. Most of the stories, which come from many different periods and sources, are widely circulated outside of the world of theatre, and the operatic versions, like modern film adaptations of famous stories, obviously seek to optimize opportunities for theatrical moments —mourning, battling, scheming, and so on— a process which often involves small modifications to the stories. Only a couple of love stories listed here do not, to my knowledge, have theatrical versions.

This is not a complete catalog of classical opera plots, of course. But all of them are quite famous, and indeed many of the characters in them are so well known that Microsoft's Chinese character input system correctly identified many of the names as I was typing them in, producing the correct characters with no need of further editing.

I have completely retold the stories here, based largely on their theatrical versions. In the interest of being concise and coherent, I have freely modified potential contradictions and have added to the list from time to time, but my earliest and still main source was:

LǏ Hǎiyàn 李海燕
2001 Zhōngguó gǔdài xìqǔ gùshì. 中国古代戏曲故事。 (Ancient Chinese stories on traditional operas.) Beijing: Beijing University Press.

For theatrical purposes, most of these stories have standard Chinese titles, which are given here after the links.

Click here for a list of widely read full-length novels related to love & romance. Click here and scroll down for to view a range of video opera selections performed at San Francisco's Red Bean Cantonese Opera House

  1. Chronicle of the West Wing (Xīxiāng Jì 西厢记)
  2. The Butterfly Lovers (LIÁNG Shānbó yǔ ZHŪ Yīngtái 梁山伯与祝英台)
    = Three Years As Schoolmates (Sān Zǎi Tóngchuāng 三载同窗)
  3. Tale of the White Snake (Bái Shé Zhuàn 白蛇传)
  4. The Peony Pavilion (Mǔdān tíng 牡丹亭)
  5. True Love Brings Down the Great Wall
    (Mèng-Jiāng Nǚ Kūdǎo Chángchéng 孟姜女哭倒长城)

  6. Snow in June (Liùyuè Xuě 六月雪) or
    The Wrong Done to Dòu É (Dòu É Yuān 窦娥冤)
  7. Traversing the Zhāo Pass (Wén Zhāo Guān 文昭关)
  8. The Cosmos Sword (Yǔzhòu Fēng 宇宙锋)
  9. Lànkē Mountain (Lànkē Shān 烂柯山)
  10. The Tale of Xiè Yáohuán 谢瑶环

  11. A Spirited Horse With a Red Mane (Hóngzōng Lièmǎ 红鬃烈马)
  12. Láng Four Makes a Visit to His Mother (Sìláng Tàn mǔ 四郎探母)
  13. Swapping the Prince for a Leopard (Límāo Huàn Tàizǐ 狸猫换太子)
  14. The Magic Lotus Lantern (Bǎolián Dēng 宝莲灯)

  15. How Mùlián Saved His Mother (Mùlián Jiù Mǔ 目连救母)
  16. The River View Pavilion (Wàngjiāng Tíng 望江亭)
  17. Fifteen Strings of Coins (Shíwǔ Guàn 十五贯)
  18. Four Received Scholars (Sì Jìnshì 四进士)
    (Also listed under magistrates, below.)
  19. How Third Wife Taught the Son (Sānniáng Jiào Zǐ 三娘教子)
  20. Zhōu Rén Offers his Sister-in-Law (Zhōu Rén Xiàn Sǎo 周仁献嫂)

  21. The Imperial Stele Pavilion (Yùbēi Tíng 御碑亭)
  22. The Unicorn Bag (Suǒlín Náng 锁麟囊)
  23. Mùlán, the Woman Warrior (Mùlán Cí 木兰辞)
    Retelling, Bilingual "original". (Also listed under war stories.)
  24. Zither Terrace: the Tale of Yú Bóyá 俞伯牙 & Zhōng Zǐqí 钟子期
    (Gǔqín Taí 古琴台)
  25. Zhōng Kuí Marries Off His Sister (Zhōng Kuí Jià Mèi 钟馗嫁妹)

  26. Lín Chōng Climbs Mount Liáng on a Snowy Night
    (Lín Chōng Xuěyè Shàng Liángshān 林冲雪夜上梁山)
  27. The Three Smiles (Sān Xiào 三笑)
  28. Zhāojūn Goes Abroad (Zhāojūn Chū Sài 昭君出塞)
  29. The Tale of Orphan Zhào (Zhào Shì Gū'ér 赵氏孤儿)
  30. Tale of Concubine Yáng (YÁNG Guìfēi 杨贵妃)

  31. The Peach-Blossom Fan (Táohuā Shàn 桃花扇)
    (For a longer but more amusing synopsis and a sense of what it is like to see this on stage, click here. Class login-in and password required.)
  32. The Rabbit Spirit: Patron of Gay Lovers (Tù’ér Shén 兔儿神)
    (Qīng Dynasty, Optionally bilingual)
  33. The Cowherd and the Weaving Maid (Niúláng Zhīnǚ 牛郎织女) (YÁNG Guìfēi 杨贵妃)
    (Also listed under festival tales for 07m07d.)

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Stories Associated With Festivals

China is famous for its calendrical festivals, most of which have stories associated with them. Sometimes the stories have to do with the origin of a festival; sometimes they link to themes of the event (such as love, or the moon); and sometimes they are set at festival time and come to be associated for that reason.

Lunar dates are here given as a month number followed by a day number. For example 01m15d refers to the first month, fifteenth day. Solar festival stories are blocked at the end of the list.

Festival Stories
Preparation for Lunar New Year
Lunar New Year
(Chūn Jié 春节)
Just Past New Year
(01m03d maybe)
Lantern Festival
(Yuánxiāo Jié 元宵节 = Shàngyuán Jié 上元节) )
Dragon Head Festival (02m02d)
(Lóngtóu Jié 龙头节)
Qīngmíng 清明 or Grave-Sweeping Festival
(April 5, a Solar Festival)
(Qīngmíng Jié 清明节)
Dragon-Boat Festival
(Duānwǔ Jié 端午节)
Lovers' Day
(Qīxī Jié 七夕节)
Mid-Autumn Festival
(Zhōngqiū Jié 中秋节)
and other moon-lore
Double-Nine (Double-Yang) Festival
(Chóngyáng Jié 重阳节)
The Là 腊八 Festival
(Làbā Jié 腊八节)
Winter Solstice
(December 21-22, a Solar Festival)
(Dōngzhì Jié 冬至节

Military & Civil Gods of Wealth
(Woodblock New Year Poster, Early XXIst-Century)

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Chinese Myths

It is in the nature of myths that they are told and retold through the ages, and that they therefore do not necessarily have a definitive form, and the earliest known version is not necessarily the most widely told. Many versions contradict each other, and sometimes characters appear in more than one myth in ways that are difficult to weave into a unified story.

Nǚwā, Creator of Humans
(E.T.C. Werner 1922 Myths & Legends of China, p. 80)

In these retellings I have tried to follow the most broadly told version, to keep the stories reasonably coherent, and to note major variations. They are listed more or less in the order in which the incidents in them are imagined to have taken place.

  1. The Creation of the World & Its People
    1. The Tale of Pángǔ 盘古 the Giant
    2. The Giant Without a Head
      (Duànshǒu Jùrén 断首巨人)
    3. Nǚwā 女娲 Creates People
    4. How Flint Man (Suìrén Shì 燧人氏) Tamed Fire
    5. The Tale of Fúxī 伏羲
    6. The Invention of Marriage & Taxes
    7. The Tale of Hòujì 后稷
    8. Imperfect Mountain (Bùzhōu Shān 不周山) & the Rebel Gòng Gōng 共工
    9. Nǚwā Repairs the World (Nǚwā Bǔ Tiān 女娲补天)
  2. Emperor Shénnóng
    1. The Divine Farmer Shénnóng 神农
    2. How the Jīngwèi Bird Filled the Sea (Jīngwèi Tiān Hǎi 精卫填海)
  3. The Yellow Emperor
    1. The Yellow Emperor (Huángdì 黄帝)
    2. The Yellow Emperor's Compass
    3. Línglún 伶伦 Creates Music
    4. Cāngjié 仓颉 Creates Writing
    5. The Tale of Péngzǔ 彭祖, Who Lived 800 Years
  4. Emperor Dìkù
    1. The Horse-Headed Goddess (Mǎtóu Shén 马头神)
  5. Emperors Yáo & Yǔ
    1. Emperor Yáo
    2. How Yǔ the Great Tamed the Waters (Dàyǔ Zhìshuǐ 大禹治水)
    3. The Odd People of Guàn Xiōng 贯胸
    4. The Birth of Xiè , Ancestor of the Shāng Dynasty
  6. Gods of Drunkenness
    1. Sīmǎ Xiāngrú 司马相如: The Patron God of Beer Merchants
    2. Yí Dí 仪狄: The Patron God of Brewers
    3. Dù Kāng 杜康: The Patron God of Distillers

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Stories of War & Strategy

Click here for a summary of Periods of Chinese History.

Click here for a list of full-length novels related to war & martial arts.

Ambulatory Shadow-Puppet Theatre/Costume, Late 1800s.
In all puppet shows, fight scenes simply meant banging puppets into each other. They were easy to perform, although hard on the puppets.

Chinese war stories tend to be set in the distant past and to glorify clever acts of deception over brute force or even bravery. Perhaps consonant with this, and in contrast to much European tradition, Chinese as represented in these stories believe it is better to live to fight another day than to die to avoid compromising one's principles. There is also an unrelenting drumbeat on the theme of loyalty. In subtler retellings than the short versions here, conflicting loyalties can potentially be a significant source of psychological character development.

The stories here are arranged in historical order, more or less, and correspond with periods cathected by Chinese in recent centuries as times of great derring-do.

Most of these stories have a locus classicus. The tale of the Banquet at Swan's Gate, for example (listed below under "Qín & Hàn Dynasties"), is found in the Xiàngyǔ 项羽chapter of the Book of History (Shǐjì 史记), part of the Confucian Canon.

Few people read it there, however. Throughout history most people have heard this story told orally, seen it as a play, or read it in a potted retelling. Most modern Chinese have probably read it in a version for children. The goal of this page being folklore rather than history, and recognizing the variation in retellings that therefore occurs, in most cases I have completely retold the stories here, using multiple sources. For several stories, my initial and main source was:

XIĀO Hào 萧浩
2001 Zhōngguó gǔdài jūnshì gùshì. 中国古代军事故事。 (Ancient Chinese military stories.) Beijing: Beijing University Press.

The Earliest Dynasties (Periods 01-04, 2207-222 BC)

Reserving the number 1 for a legendary period that Chinese historians traditionally regarded as prehistoric, the Xià (Period 2), Shāng (Period 3), and Zhōu (period 4) dynasties are remembered by Chinese historians as the first three of the historical dynasties.

The Xià and Zhōu dynasties each ended with a vicious tyrant of a monarch, generating folklore for centuries thereafter explaining how he brought the dynasty to its end. (Click here for a quick and useful overview of Most Ancient China.)

  1. The Tale of Mad King Zhòu of the Shāng Dynasty
  2. Romance of Canonizations (Fēng Shén Yǎnyì 封神演义)
    (Summary of the famous novel about the fall of the Shāng.)

The Zhōu Period (Period 4, 1121-222 BC)

Three Actors
Actors, Late 1800s.
(Smith 1894 Chinese Characteristics, p.55)

The Zhōu Dynasty is divided into a "peaceful" Western feudal period (Period 4b) and a tumultuous Eastern period (Period 4c), when, from about 770 BC to 256 BC, the feudal order was breaking down and local warlords fought for dominance.

The Eastern Zhōu itself is again divided into two parts. Roughly the first half of the Eastern Zhōu (722-481) is referred to as the "Spring & Autumn" (Chūn-Qiū 春秋) Period, which sounds a lot more poetic than it was. The last two hundred years (403-222) of the Eastern Zhōu were the "Warring States" (Zhàn Guó 战国) Period, one of the darkest times in Chinese history, at least for anyone hoping to die a natural death.

The Spring & Autumn Period (Period 4d, 772-481 BC)

The Spring & Autumn Period ( Chūnqiū 春秋) is the time when the old feudal order of the Zhōu dynasty is breaking up, and wannabe successor states are squabbling for supremacy.

  1. CÁO Guì 曹刿 Awaits a Third Attack
  2. The Duke of Qín Ignores Good Advice

The Warring States Period (Period 4e, 403-222 BC)

Fearless Warrior from Chǔ Slaying a Tiger
(Detail from Bronze Mirror Back, 450-550 BC)

By the Warring States (Zhànguó 战国) Period many of the smaller states of south China have been consolidated into the state of Chǔ . The state players are therefore fewer than during the Spring & Autumn Period. The Warring States Period ends with the conquest of all of China by the state of Qín , the end of feudalism, and the creation of the imperial system. Sīmǎ Qiān's 司马迁 remarkable Hàn period biography of the First Emperor of Qín is available on this web site. (Link) Not surprisingly, stories about this period tend to feature both military cunning and macho assertiveness.

  1. How Chùlóng 触龙 Persuaded the Empress of Zhào
  2. The Merchant of Zhèng Defeats the Army of Qí
  3. SŪN Bīn 孙膑 Defeats the Army of Wèi With Mere Campfires
    (Original version translated as number 4 in item 6, below.)
  4. The Vengeance of Méijiānchǐ 眉间尺
  5. Huáinán Zǐ (淮南子): The Thief of Chǔ
    (Tr. by DKJ. Optionally bilingual. Also listed with Daoist texts.)
  6. Sīmǎ Qiān: Masters Sūn Wǔ & Sūn Bìn
    (Tr. by DKJ. Optionally bilingual)
    This translated selection from Sīmǎ Qiān includes the following stories:
    1. Master Sūn Wǔ 孙武 Drills China’s First Female Soldiers
    2. Páng Juān 庞涓 Betrays Master Sūn Bìn Out of Envy
    3. Master Sūn Bìn 孙膑 Advises Tián Jì 田忌 in Chariot Racing
    4. Besieges Wèi to Rescue Zhào
    5. Master Sūn Bìn 孙膑 Takes Revenge on Páng Juān 庞涓
    6. Master Wú Qǐ 吴起 Kills His Wife (Summary)

Qín & Hàn Dynasties (Periods 05 & 06, 221 BC- AD 220)

The period of the short-lived Qín and long-lived Hàn dynasties still generate war stories, for there was not only the dynastic transition, but rebellion as well.

  1. The Banquet at Swan's Gate (Hóngmén Yàn 鸿门宴)
  2. LIÚ Bāng 刘邦 Escapes from Xíngyáng 荥阳
  3. HUÒ Qùbìng 霍去病 Attacks by Surprise
  4. LIÚ Xiù 刘秀 Escapes to Fight Another Day
  5. How a Town Was Saved by Archery Practice

The Three Kingdoms Period (Period 7, AD 220-280)

The collapse of the Hàn dynasty (period 6), like the collapse of most states throughout history, produced an era of powerful warlords competing for power, as well as loyalists to the old regime struggling to save or restore it. Themes of military ingenuity are prominent in these stories, but so are themes of loyalty, whether to military and political superiors, or to friends and family.

Nameless Warriors
(Detail from Carved Chest in a Rural House, Mid-XXth Century, private collection)

This brief period is far and away the most popular subject of war stories that captured the imagination of generation after generation. Much of the saga of this era was captured in an influential novel, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sānguó Yǎnyì 三国演义), and there is probably no Chinese born later than 1300 who does not know the names of at least a dozen of the principal characters from this book and hence this period.

Click here for a quick and useful Background to the Three Kingdoms, including a brief outline of some of the most picturesque events and personalities remembered from this era.

  1. The Night Raid
  2. Attracting Arrows with Straw Men (Cǎochuán Jiè Jiàn 草船借箭)
  3. The Burning of Red Cliff (Huǒshāo Chìbì 火烧赤壁)
  4. Losing Both a Wife and a Battle
  5. Feigning Defeat
  6. Wooden Cows & Running Horses (Mùniú-Liúmǎ 木牛流马)

The Sòng Dynasty (Period 15, AD 960-1279)

The Sòng dynasty is remembered, like the Hàn (period 6) and the Táng (period 12), as one of the apogees of Chinese civilization.

However it was also characterized by constant conflict with the restless and expansionist pastoral populations to the north, whose successful occupation of most of North China finally forced the court to move south for refuge. Many of the stories of this period center on YUÈ Fēi 岳飞 and his family of remarkable military heroes in their battles against the expansion of these nothern states.

  1. The Tattooing of YUÈ Fēi 岳飞 (Yuè Mǔ Jiào Zhōng 岳母教忠)
  2. Mùlán, the Woman Warrior (Mùlán Cí 木兰辞)
    Retelling, Bilingual "original". (Also listed under war stories.)
    (Probably originating hundreds of years earlier among northern tribes, the story became popular in Sòng times. The "original" ballad text here may or may not date from the Sòng.)
  3. The Black-Faced General
  4. The Victory in the Hills of Aìhuá 爱华
  5. The General Who Always Won

The Míng Dynasty (Period 20, AD 1368-1644)

The Míng dynasty reasserted Chinese independence after a longer period of Mongol administration in the preceding Yuán dynasty (period 19). Most of the stories from this period relate to problems with coastal piracy or to the invasion from Manchuria that brought the dynasty to its ignominious close.

  1. Brightness Cakes

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Stories of Filial Exemplars

China has a tradition of folk morality that centers importantly on filial piety and the subordination of genealogical juniors to genealogical seniors, a motif that pervades a large proportion of all Chinese popular stories.

Cow Boy
A Virtuous Cowherd
(Anonymous, XXIst century)

So pervasive is this value, that the fame of many celebrated historical figures rests mostly or even exclusively upon their filial piety. Far and away the most famous are enshrined in an extremely spare text called the "Twenty-Four Filial Exemplars" (Èrshí Sì Xiào 二十四孝). That famous collection of very brief stories has been reproduced and translated on this web site, but the web site also provides retellings (by me), incorporating some of the additional material that usually appears when the stories are actually told.

Obviously many filial children are not included in the collection of 24. Details will be found in the essay that heads the page of links. Here I list only one additional, quite different story, specifically linked to an afterlife and miracles attributed to the filial child.

  1. The Twenty-Four Filial Exemplars (GUŌ Jūjìng 郭居敬, ?-1354±)
    (Yuán dynasty. Bilingual versions of the original text, plus expanded, “storyteller” versions of all 24 tales and an introductory essay. Heavily illustrated.)
  2. A Filial Lad Becomes a God: The Story of Qú Gōng Zhēnrén 瞿公真人 (Also listed under immortals, below.)
  3. A Child’s Discourse (Xiǎo Ér Lùn 小儿论)
    (Tr. by DKJ. Bilingual. The possibly satirical tale of Confucius’ encounter with the precocious child XIÀNG Tuó 项橐)

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Stories About Matchmaking

  1. The Old Man in the Moonlight (Yuèxià Lǎorén 月下老人)
  2. Three People & Five Eyes (Sānrén Wǔmù 三人五目)
  3. Look Closely Before You Get Married
    (Kàn Qīngchǔ Cái Jiéhūn 看清楚才结婚)
  4. Chronicle of the West Wing (Xīxiāng Jì 西厢记)
    (Also listed above under Chinese Operas.)

Stories About Magistrates & Detectives

Most Chinese detective stories seem to focus on magistrates who get suspicious of the evidence presented in court cases. Here are some examples, mostly from literary sources.

  1. The Case in Wǔjìn (LÙ Chángchūn 陆长春 1800s)
    (Qīng Dynasty, Optionally bilingual)
  2. The Case The Case of the Arsenic Bun (Lǐ Yuándù 李元度 1821-1887)
    (Qīng Dynasty, Optionally bilingual)
  3. Some Uncles Need Beating (FÉNG Mènglóng 冯梦龙 1574-1646)
    (Míng Dynasty, Optionally bilingual)
  4. A Wrongly Identified Corpse (WÈI Dàn 魏澹 580-645)
    (Northern Qí Dynasty, Optionally bilingual)
  5. Making Gold Out of Clay (HÉ Níng 和凝 898-955)
    (Hòujìn Dynasty, Optionally bilingual)
  6. Four Received Scholars (SÌ Jìnshì 四进士)
    (Also listed opera plots, above.)
  7. The Nobility of Manager Wú Fèng 吴凤
    (Qīng dynasty Taiwan.)

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Stories of Daoists, Zombies, Demons, & Ghosts

Click here for a list of full-length novels related to religion & fantasy.

Great Writers of Weird Tales 蒲松龄

Bonze He)ad
Ragged Wanderer
(Anonymous, XXIst century)

China has a wonderfully rich tradition of tales related to the supernatural —or simply the all-fired peculiar. Many of the most widely read and told today derive directly or indirectly from a remakable collection compiled by Pú Sōnglíng 蒲松龄 (1640-1715) whose stories of wily priests and wandering Daoists have delighted Chinese for over three centuries. Some of the stories presented here are taken directly from his compilation, and are often presented in an optionally bilingual format. There were, of course, other writers who produced similar collections, both before and after Pú, although he is best known today.

Some stories, although found in the Pú corpus or other literary source and possibly originating there, are so widely retold, often with minor variations, that they have effectively evolved into folk tales. One example included in this section is “The Ghost Friend.”

  1. Background Note on Writer PÚ Sōnglíng 蒲松龄 (1640-1715)
  2. Background Note on Writer YUÁN Méi 袁枚, 1716-1797)
  3. Background Note on Writer HÓNG Mài 洪迈, (1123-1202))

Daoists & Their Magic

  1. The Daoist Priest of Láoshān (PÚ Sōnglíng)
    (Qīng Dynasty, optionally bilingual.)
  2. Magical Arts (PÚ Sōnglíng)
    (Qīng Dynasty, optionally bilingual.)
  3. Planting a Pear Tree (PÚ Sōnglíng) (Tr. by H. Giles)
  4. Who's a Fox Demon? (ZHĀNG Dú 张读, IXth Century)
    (Táng Dynasty, Optionally bilingual)

Zombie Tales

  1. (A Brief Note on Chinese Zombies.)
  2. The Transformed Corpse (PÚ Sōnglíng)
    (Qīng Dynasty, optionally bilingual.)
    (Although the story is probably much older, this text appears to be the source of the very similar story collected in San Francisco in the 1930s. See "Three Travelers & a Zombie," the next tale in the list.)
  3. Three Travelers & a Zombie
    (Story collected about 1935 in North America. This appears to be a retelling of "The Transformed Corpse" appearing in the works of Pú Sōnglíng. See the previous item.)
  4. The Zombie & the Bodhisattva (YUÁN Méi)
    (Qīng Dynasty, optionally bilingual.)
  5. The Greedy Zombie (YUÁN Méi)
    (Qīng Dynasty, Optionally bilingual.)

Tales of Ghosts, Foxes, & Exorcisms

  1. The Tale of Niè Xiǎoqiàn (PÚ Sōnglíng)
    (Qīng Dynasty, optionally bilingual.)
  2. Examination for the Post of City God (PÚ Sōnglíng)
    (Qīng Dynasty, optionally bilingual.)
  3. Zōng Dìngbó Sells a Ghost (CÁO Pī 曹丕, AD 187-226)
    (Hàn Dynasty, Optionally bilingual.)
  4. The Ghost Friend (retold)
  5. Dou the Demon-Slayer (NIU Su)
    (Táng Dynasty, Retranslated from anonymous translation)
  6. The Seduction of Young Master Wú (HÓNG Mài 洪迈, 1123-1202)
    (Sòng Dynasty, Optionally bilingual.)
  7. Inspector Jiǎng: A Demon’s Revenge (HÓNG Mài 洪迈, 1123-1202)
    (Sòng Dynasty, Optionally bilingual.)
  8. Daoist Ye Meets Four Ghosts (YUÁN Méi 袁枚, 1716-1797)
    (Qīng Dynasty, Optionally bilingual.)
  9. The Marriage Festival of the Ghosts
    (Story collected about 1935 in North America)
  10. The Water Gate & the River God
    (Exorcism story collected about 2000 along the Great Wall)
  11. The Haunted Thief
    (Ghost story collected about 2000 along the Great Wall)

Tales of Daoist Immortals

Cáo Guójiù Woodcut
The Immortal Cáo Guójiù
(Late Dynastic Woodcut)
  1. The Eight Immortals (Bā Xiān 八仙)
    (Illustrated introductions, stories, and oddly enjoyable review quizzes)
  2. Liú Hǎichán 刘海蟾 & the Three-footed Toad
  3. Two Immortals Hé-Hé (Hé-Hé Èr Xiān 和合二仙).
    (A story about bringers of wealth who didn't care about wealth.)
  4. Lords Seven & Eight
    (A tale of friendship, death, and even hell)
  5. Tale of the Two Generals Snorter Hēng & Blower Hā (Hēng-Hā Èr Jiàng 哼哈二将)
  6. A Filial Lad Becomes a God: The Story of Qú Gōng Zhēnrén 瞿公真人
    (Also listed under filial exemplars, above.)
  7. The Three Immortals of Mount Máo (Sān Máo Zhēnjūn 三茅真君)
    (The legendary origins of the Máoshān school of Daoism.)

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Buddhist Stories
& Stories About Life After Death

Click here for a list of full-length novels related to religion & fantasy.

Bonze Head
Head of a Mendicant Buddhist
(Detail from Paper Morality Poster, XXIst Century)

Miracle Tales

  1. The Buddhist & the Butcher
    (A tale of salvation)
  2. The Bhikshu Bug
    (Other worlds)
  3. How an Evil Hairpin of Invisibility Had a Good Result
    (Temptations of heresy)
  4. The Great Power of the Lotus Sutra
    (Salvation through chanting)

Other Brief Tales

  1. Thousand Armed Guānyīn (Qiānshǒu Guānyīn 千手观音)
  2. An Imperial Visit to Hell
    (Linked story: The Door Gods of Temples)
  3. How Mùlián Saved His Mother (Mùlián Jiù Mǔ 目莲救母)
    (Also listed above under Chinese Operas.)
  4. Duke Mǐn 闵公 & Dàomíng 道明
    (Assistants to the bodhisattva Dìzàng)
  5. Consuming Medicinal Charms (Fú Fú 服符) (Tr. by DKJ. Bilingual)
    (A silly Daoist is shown by a Buddhist to be a superstitious fool.)
  6. Stopping Mother's Chanting (Bilingual format.)
    (A tale of a manipulative son and a superstitious mother)

Tales of the Arhats

  1. The Eighteen Arhats (Luóhàn 罗汉) (Disciples of the Buddha)

Longer Works

  1. The Life of the Buddha: A life of the Buddha retold in 29 chapters.
    (Proper names are transliterated from Sanskrit. An experimental version called The Life of the Buddha As Seen from China used Chinese rather than Indian names throughout in the hope that it would be more accessible for Classes focused on China. In practice, the Chinese transcriptions don't simplify the text even for Chinese religion classes. The Chinese-transcription version uses frames, clumsy on some browsers. Both versions have identical illustrations by former students.)
The Bodhisattva Dìzàng
(Detail from Paper Morality Poster, XXIst Century)
  1. Tales of the Living Buddha of Golden Mountain
    (English reworking of a comic book produced by a Taiwan monastery for the education of children and of lay beginners in Buddhist studies, with an introductory discussion of the "Living Buddha" tradition.)
  2. The Jade Guidebook: A Visitor's Guide to Hell (玉历宝钞)
    (The most widely circulated modern version of the famous pamphlet on the ten courts of hell, important background to many Chinese popular stories. Bilingual format plus extensive introduction.)
  3. The Tale of Huìnéng
    (First section of the Platform Scripture of the Sixth Patriarch [Liùzǔ Tán Jīng 六组坛经]. The portion included here contains Patriarch Huìnéng's autobiography. Optional bilingual format.)
  4. Two Tales of the Bodhisattva Dìzàng:
    "Shining Eye Mourns Her Mother" and "Tale of Two Kings"
    (Extract from the scripture Dìzàng Púsà Běnyuàn Jīng 地藏菩萨本愿经. Optional bilingual format.)
  5. A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms
    (An account by the Chinese monk Fǎxiǎn of his travels in India and Ceylon, AD 399-414, in search of the Buddhist books of discipline, Tr. by James Legge. Bilingual. With introduction by DKJ.)
  6. A Jataka Tale Retold: Prince Vessantara
    (The tale of Prince Vessantara, the last of the Siddhartha Gautama's pre-Buddha incarnations, based on southeast Asian folk sources, since such tales are more popular there than in China.)

Miscellaneous Stories

  1. Lièzǐ 列子: A Foolish Old Man Moves Mountains (Yú Gōng Yí Shān 愚公移山)
    (Tr. by DKJ. Optionally bilingual. A story of the long-term efficacy of persistence, even in a project that seems idiotic, a story frequently cited by Máo Zédōng and his admirers. This is the little-read original text.)
  2. Mother Mèng Moves Three Times
    (Mèng Mǔ Sān Qiān 孟母三迁)
    (How does a model mother manipulate her child’s destiny to make sure he delivers on his potential. Probably China’s most famous advice about parenting. It assumes children to be very malleable, and arguably encourages the “tiger mom” persona discussed in the 1990s.)
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