Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio
Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, also known as Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio or Strange Tales of Liaozhai, is a collection of nearly five hundred tales written by Pu Songling in Classical Chinese during the early Qing Dynasty.
Pu derived these captivating, colorful stories from the folk stories of oral storytelling, where the boundary between reality and the odd or fantastic is blurred. Although the main characters of this book apparently are ghosts, foxes, immortals and demons, the author actually focused on people’s real lives. Ghosts and spirits are often bold and trustworthy, while humans are often weak, indecisive and easily manipulated. The author used those oddities to illustrate his ideas of the society and the government. He criticized the corruption and unjustness in the society and sympathized on those poor people. There are four main themes in this collection.
First is to complain the feudal system where everyone is not equal. The author exposed that many officers and rich people committed crime without punishment just because they had privilege. This theme can be found in these stories, such as “the Cricket”, “Xi Fangping”, and “Shang Sanguan” The author was angry with the unfairness of the feudal government.
Secondly, the author disclosed the corrupt examination system at same time. Because Pu Songling had taken imperial exams had real experience and found that the exams were unfair. Many students cheated and bribed examiners or the officers who graded their paper. In addition, this education system has destroyed the scholars’ mind and ruined their creativity. Stories, such as “Kao San Sheng”, “Ya Tou”, and “Scholar Wang Zi-an”, contain this theme.
The third theme is to admire the pure and faithful love between the poor scholars and powerless women. Pu Songling wrote many stories about the love between beautiful and kind female ghosts and poor students. He highly praised those women who helped their lovers or husbands to achieve success and took care of their husbands’ life. Readers can find those good-looking and kind-hearted female ghosts or foxes in the stories like “Lian Xiang”, “Yingning” and “Nie Xiaoqian”.
Fourth is to criticize people’s immoral behavior and to educate people by those stories. The author embedded some moral standards and Taoist principles into the stories, so they are like parables, such as “Painted Skin” and “The Taoist of Lao Mountain”.
Pu is believed to have completed the majority of the tales sometime in 1679 and 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 Songling's grandson in 1740. However, the earliest surviving print version was printed in 1766 in Hangzhou.