EALC 2740: The Supernatural in East Asian Cultures
Final Essay Topics
The final essay will constitute 40% of your grade for the course, split between two assignments.
November 25, 2019—Proposal and Annotated Bibliography—15%
December 13, 2019—Final Essay—25%
Your proposal should be one and a half to two pages, double-spaced, 12pt Times New Roman
font, one-inch margins. The proposal should summarize the direction and content of your
argument. You may hold back your final conclusions, but you should have carefully considered
the directions your argument might take based on a careful consideration of the evidence you
have gathered. Be sure that your proposal does not simply repeat or introduce the topic.
Delineate what examples you intend to use, and where. Try also to show the progression of your
The annotated bibliography should be a list of references that includes an explanation of how
each source figures into your essay.
Your argument should be based on internal evidence from within the primary sources you choose
to interpret (the films, stories and plays). Contextualizing your argument within the historical
background with secondary sources gives it weight, but be sure to use secondary sources in
support of your own argument, not in lieu of your own argument.
The topics below are meant to guide your initial inquiry. You will need to develop an argument
within the topic. I suggest that you begin by choosing the texts you would like to analyze, and
then choosing what sorts of questions you would like to ask of those texts. I advise against using
less than two, or more than four primary texts. Make sure that your argument is focused enough
to be provable within the space allotted.
1. Self-regulation: Analyze the ethic of self-discipline as prescribed in depictions of encounters
between humans and supernatural beings. How does the story, through its structure and/or
content, advise audiences against indulgence? How does the story simultaneously allow
audiences to indulge in transgression through identification with primary characters? How does
the structure of the story exemplify the discipline being prescribed in the story’s content? How is
the prescription for self-regulation different across gender, age and social status?
2. Gender roles: Discuss representations of masculinity and femininity in one or more of the
stories. You may choose to compare an original pre-modern text with a film adaptation, or to
compare characters across a couple of stories. Whichever texts you choose, consider the
intersection of supernatural beings and gender representation. For instance, what does the trope
of the spirit enchantress say about gender relations? If you are considering a film adaptation—
how does the modern version depict pre-modern gender roles?
3. Adaptation: Choose one of the literary text and film pairs. Consider one or more of the
following questions in constructing your argument. How does the film version depict the past? Is
the past meant to be an unfamiliar place where ordinary rules do not apply? Is the past depicted
as being backward socially or culturally? How are gender relations depicted between the original
and film adaptation? How does the medium of representation affect the story’s messages? If you
are taking audience reception into account when analyzing the film, include information on ticket
sales and distribution. Do not present a comparison of a story and film pair. Instead, focus in on a
specific theme or character as the point of departure for your comparison.
4. Cross-Cultural Comparison: Use caution when considering this topic. It can easily lead into
the pitfall of sweeping generalizations about national cultures that lack in-depth analysis and
textual support. Remember that without doing extensive research, you cannot draw any
conclusions about the cultures that produced the literature we have read. Instead, you may
compare the representations of supernatural beings (fox spirits, snake spirits) within our course
readings to analyze what similarities and differences in their portrayal and interactions with
humans says about their intended audiences.
by Pu Sungling
3rd edition, 1916
Scanned by Todd
The Demons of Blackwater River Carry
Away the Master
Art from E.T. C.
Werner, Myths and
Legends of China
Preface by Todd Compton
Introduction by Hebert Giles
Section 1: Stories 1-25
Section 2: Stories 26-57
Section 3: Stories 58-103
Section 4: Stories 104-164 and Appendices
The Flying Umbrellas
Following is a web-publication of the 3rd edition of Herbert Giles’ translation of P’u
Sung-ling’s Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, published in 1916. I read ghost
stories in the Halloween season every year, and last year decided I would read P’u
Sung-ling’s Strange Stories, and then, since it wasn’t available on the web (as far as I
could see), thought I would scan it as I read it, and put it on my website. I include
Giles’ notes, introduction and appendices. The notes for each story are found after the
No scan is ever perfect, so if readers catch typos, please contact me at toddmagos [at]
yahoo [dot] com.
I have tried to follow Giles’ text exactly, including diacritical marks. In proper names,
the apostrophe sometimes is ‘ and sometimes ’. Since accent marks in Giles’
transliteration system always refer to the letter before, it actually makes no difference
whether the apostrophe is “forward” or “backward”-looking. (In Giles’ text, the
apostrophe is always ‘.)
My editing is minimal. However, Giles uses very big paragraphs, and I thought the
book would be more readable if these were broken up into smaller paragraphs. Very
occasionally, I add a footnote, for which I use capital letters (e.g., [A], [B]), to
distinguish it from Giles’ footnotes.
Giles was a great sinologist, but published the first edition of Strange Stories from a
Chinese Studio in 1880, during the Victorian era.1 Thus, he left out many stories
that were erotic or which were viewed as offensive, and he excised erotic or offensive
passages from the stories he did translate. Two fine modern translations of P’u SungLing will give the reader a much more “complete” view of P’u: Denis C. & Victor H.
Mair’s Strange Tales from Make-do Studio (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1989)
and John Minford’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio (Penguin Classics 2006).2
For examples of passages excised from stories, see “The Painted Wall” and “The
Painted Skin” below, in which I have included some of the excised passages, as
translated by the Mairs and Minford, in footnotes.
Nevertheless, Giles, for all his Victorian reserve, is a great translator, and his notes are
superb, offering us an erudite, sometimes practical (as Giles lived for many years in
China), and always fascinating introduction to Chinese culture, literature, philosophy,
folklore and history.
Of course, the translator’s notes are secondary to the Strange Stories themselves.
These stories are almost all fantastic, but nevertheless offer a panoramic and almost
realistic view of Chinese culture, from government hierarchy to the examination
1 Incidentally, this early edition is available at
2 See also Pu Sung-ling, Strange Tales from the Liaozhai Studio, 3 vols. (Beijing:
People’s China Publishing House, 1997), which includes 194 tales.
system to religion and ceremonial actions to favorite methods of relaxation (drinking
bouts through the night, often with supernatural visitants, are common) to typical
patterns of family life.
For example, P’u offers considerable insight into the marriage customs of China. As
readers of my website will know, I have written about nineteenth-century Mormon
polygamy. Polygamy was widespread in China, and P’u Sung-ling’s Strange Stories
often give penetrating insight into what this marriage system was like. In story LXI.,
“The Husband Punished,” a man named Ching has a liaison with a mysterious
beautiful young woman, A-hsia. At one point, she demands marriage, and Ching is
agreeable to the idea, but thinks that his first wife will be a problem:
Then Ching began to reflect that if he married her [A-hsia] she
would have to take her place in the family, and that would
make his first wife jealous; so he determined to get rid of the
latter, and when she came in he began to abuse her right and
left. His wife bore it as long as she could, but at length cried
out it were better she should die; upon which Ching advised
her not to bring trouble on them all like that, but to go back to
her own home. He then drove her away, his wife asking all the
time what she had done to be sent away like this after ten
years of blameless life with him. Ching, however, paid no heed
to her entreaties, and when he had got rid of her he set to work
at once to get the house whitewashed and made generally clean,
himself being on the tip-toe of expectation for the arrival of
Ching expects problems, serious tensions between the wives, in polygamy, so
gets rid of the first wife.
Concubines were an established part of the Chinese marriage system. In a note to
story LVI, “Dr. Tsêng’s Dream,” Giles writes, “It is not considered quite correct to
take a concubine unless the wife is childless, in which case it is held that the
proposition to do so, and thus secure the much-desired posterity, should emanate from
the wife herself.” However, the concubine lacked the status and legal safeguards of a
full wife. In “Dr. Tsêng’s Dream,” the male protagonist has been reborn as a female
(and the narrator continues to call him “he” even though he had become a “she”!):
At fourteen years of age he was sold to a gentleman as
concubine; and then, though food and clothes were not
wanting, he had to put up with the scoldings and floggings of
the wife, who one day burnt him with a hot iron.
Later, the wife falsely accuses him/her of murder, and he/she is tortured to
Story XLI., “Ta-Nan In Search Of His Father,” begins with these sentences:
HSI CH‘ANG-LIEH was a Ch‘êng-tu man. He had a wife and a
concubine, the latter named Ho Chao-jung. His wife dying, he
took a second by name Shên, who bullied the concubine
dreadfully, and by her constant wrangling made his life
perfectly unbearable, so that one day in a fit of anger he ran
away and left them. Shortly afterwards Ho gave birth to a son,
and called him Ta-nan; but as Hsi did not return, the wife
Shên turned them out of the house, making them a daily
allowance of food.
Clearly, in medieval China, the concubine was often treated badly by the full
wife or wives.
There is a happy polygamous family in story LXVI, “The Tipsy Turtle.” Fêng, the
hero, is thrown in jail by a Prince Su and is released because one of Su’s daughters
has fallen in love with him. In a western fairy tale, he might now marry the Princess,
end of story; but in this Chinese fairy tale, there is a complication: he is already
married, and he refuses to become a polygamist out of consideration for the first wife:
Fêng was accordingly liberated, and was also informed of the
determination of the Princess, which, however, he declined to
fall in with, saying that he was not going thus to sacrifice the
wife of his days of poverty, and would rather die than carry out
such an order. He added that if His Highness would consent,
he would purchase his liberty at the price of everything he had.
So Fêng must be arrested once again, and one of the palace concubines
prepares to murder the first wife:
The Prince was exceedingly angry at this, and seized Fêng
again; and meanwhile one of the concubines got Fêng’s wife
into the palace, intending to poison her. Fêng’s wife, however,
brought her a beautiful present of a coral stand for a lookingglass, and was so agreeable in her conversation, that the
concubine took a great fancy to her, and presented her to the
Princess, who was equally pleased, and forthwith determined
that they would both be Fêng’s wives.
Giles notes that this kind of happy resolution often occurs in Chinese fiction,
but rarely in real life.
For another perspective on Chinese polygamy, see Zhang Yimou’s 1991 film Raise
the Red Lantern, which is based on the novel Wives and Concubines (1990) by Su
Tong. This provides a profoundly bleak view of relations between wives in plural
But the Strange Stories are above all a wild phantasmagoria of ghosts, were-foxes,
were-tigers (even one were-turtle), demons, sorcerors (often, in P’u, Taoist priests),
psychic transmigrations, and journeys into the underworld and other levels of reality
(as in the famous “Painted Wall”). These kinds of stories were very popular in China,
and had been so for centuries, perhaps millennia.3 The literary tradition goes back
to the early A.D. centuries, but the popular tradition probably goes back much earlier.
3 See Anthony C. Yu, “‘Rest, Rest, Perturbed Spirit!’ Ghosts in Traditional
Chinese Prose Fiction,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 47, No. 2 (Dec. 1987):
397-434; Michael Loewe, Chinese Ideas of Life and Death: Faith, Myth and Reason
P’u Sung-ling’s tales are the culmination of this tradition of supernatural and strange
tales. P’u’s “strange stories from a leisure studio” are told beautifully, with great
concision and elegance. The heroes and heroines spring to life in just a few
paragraphs. The Western reader will be continually surprised both by fantastic turns
of plot and by unexpected elements of Chinese culture that often serve as the basis for
the development of the fantastic situation.
The heroes of the Western tradition of fantasy are often kings or warriors (or
adventurous peasants or hobbits). But many of the heroes of P’u Sung-ling’s tales are
scholars down on their luck, who have not risen to prestige through the examination
system, often because the system is corrupt. (For example, see story XCII. “Smelling
Essays.”) It is refreshing to see scholars who can cap a verse in a drinking bout or
write a brilliant essay at the drop of a hat as dashing protagonists. As something of a
scholar down on my luck myself (entirely due to the failings of our present academic
system, of course), I am very fond of these scholars who are driven to tutoring or
fortune-telling to survive financially.
The reader of Western ghost stories will find many ghosts and (were)foxes and
malevolent supernatural beings in these tales; but he or she will undoubtedly be
surprised at how often P’u combined the ghost story with romance (an ancient
Chinese theme). Our scholar heroes often marry the beautiful revenants who visit
them as they are trying to study (Chinese ghosts are usually quite corporeal, not seethrough wraiths at all). And these ghost-brides often make good wives, who work
hard and are dutiful daughters-in-law to their husbands’ mothers. They also bear fine
Hopefully, this scan of the Strange Tales will help introduce readers to the endlessly
entertaining and enlightening world of P’u Sung-ling.4
in the Han Period (202 B.C.-A.D. 220) (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1982);
Karl S.Y. Kao, ed. Classical Chinese Tales of the Supernatural and the Fantastic:
Selections form the Third to the Tenth Century (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1985); Y.W. Ma and Joseph S. M. Lau, Traditional Chinese Stores: Themes
and Variations (Boston: Cheng & Tsui Co., 1986); Alvin P. Cohen, Tales of Vengeful
Souls: A Sixth Century Collection of Chinese Avenging Ghost Stories (Taipei-ParisHongkong: Institut Ricci, 1982); and Kenneth J. DeWoskin and J.I. Crump, Jr., In
Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record (Stanford: Stanford University Press,
1996), a translation of a book written by Kan Pao in approximately 335-345 A.D.
4 For further on P’u Sung-ling, see Chun-shu Chang and Shelley Hsueh-lun Chang,
Redefining History: Ghosts, Spirits, and Human Society in P’u Sung-ling’s World,
1640-1715 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998); Judith T. Zeitlin,
Historian of the Strange: Pu Songling and the Chinese Classical Tale (Palo Alto:
Stanford University Press, 1997); H. C. Chang, tr., Tales of the Supernatural, 3rd
volume in the series Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press,
1984), which has a valuable introduction.
INTRODUCTION by Herbert Giles [p. xi]
THE barest skeleton of a biography is all that can be formed front the very scanty
materials which remain to mark the career of a writer whose work has been for the
best part of two centuries as familiar throughout the length and breadth of China as
are the tales of the “Arabian Nights” in all English-speaking communities. The author
of “Strange Stories” was a native of Tzŭ-ch’uan, in the province of Shantung. His
family name was P’u; his particular name was Sung-ling, and the designation or
literary epithet by which, in accordance with Chinese usage, he was commonly known
among his friends, was Liu-hsien, or “Last of the Immortals.” A further fancy name,
given to him probably by some enthusiastic admirer, was Liu-ch’üan, or “Willow
Spring”, but he is now familiarly spoken of simply as P’u Sung-ling. We are
unacquainted with the years of his birth or death; however, by the aid of a meagre
entry in the History of Tzŭ-ch’uan it is possiblee to make a pretty good guess at the
date of the former event. For we are there told that Pu Sung-ling successfully
competed for the lowest or bachelor’s degree before he had reached the age of twenty;
and that in 1651 he was in the position of a graduate of ten years’ standing, having
failed in the interim to take the second, or master’s, degree. To this [p. xii] failure, due,
as we are informed in the history above quoted, to his neglect of the beaten track of
academic study, we owe the existence of his great work; not, indeed, his only
production, though the one; by which, as Confucius said of his own “Spring and
Autumn,”1 men will know him. All else that we have on record of P’u Sung-ling,
besides the fact that he lived in close companionship with several eminent scholars of
the day, is gathered from his own words, written when, in 1679, he laid down his pen
upon the completion of a task which was to raise him within a short period to a
foremost rank in the Chinese world of letters. Of that record I here append a close
translation, accompanied by such notes as are absolutely necessary to make it
intelligible to non-students of Chinese.
AUTHOR’S OWN RECORD
“Clad in wistaria, girdled with ivy”;2 thus sang Ch’ü-P’ing in his Falling into
Trouble.4 Of ox-headed devils and serpent Gods,5 he of the long-nails never
wearied to tell. Each interprets in his own way the music of heaven and whether it
be discord or not, depends upon, antecedent
1 Annals of the Lu State.
2 Said of the bogies of the hills, in allusion to their clothes. Here quoted with
reference to the official classes, in ridicule of the title under which they hold posts
which, from a literary point of view, they are totally unfit to occupy.
3 A celebrated statesman (B.C. 332-295) who, having lost his master’s favour by the
intrigues of a rival; finally drowned himself in despair. The annual Dragon Festival is
said by some to be a “Search” for his body. The term San Lü used here was the name
of an office held by Ch’ü-P’ing.
4 A-poem addressed by Ch’ü-P’ing to his Prince, after his disgrace. Its non-success
was the immediate cause of his death.
5 That is, of the supernatural generally.
6 A poet of the Tang dynasty whose eyebrows met, whose nails were very long, and
who could write very fast.
7 “You know the music of earth,” said Chuang Tzŭ; “but you hav ...
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