Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio

Liaozhai Zhiyi (Liaozhai; Chinese: 聊齋誌異), called in English Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio or Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, is a collection of Classical Chinese stories by Pu Songling, comprising close to five hundred "marvel tales"[1] in the zhiguai and chuanqi styles, which serve to implicitly criticise societal problems then. Dating back to the Qing dynasty, its earliest publication date is given as 1740. Since then, many of the critically lauded stories have been adapted for other media such as film and television.

Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio
AuthorPu Songling
Original title聊齋誌異
LanguageClassical Chinese
Publication date
Liaozhai Zhiyi
Traditional Chinese聊齋誌異
Simplified Chinese聊斋志异
Literal meaningtalk studio strange tales


The compilation was first circulated in scribal copies but it was not published until after the author's death. According to Zhao Qigao, Pu originally intended for his anthology to be titled Tales of Ghosts and Foxes. Sources differ in their account of the year of publication. One source claims Liaozhai was published by Pu's grandson in 1740. Pu is believed to have completed the majority of the tales sometime in 1679, though he could have added entries as late as 1707.

The earliest surviving print version of Liaozhai was printed in 1766 in Hangzhou. The Martin Bodmer Foundation Library houses a 19th-century Liaozhai manuscript, silk-printed and bound leporello-style, that contains three tales including "The Bookworm", "The Great Sage, Heaven's Equal", and "The Frog God".[2]



The main characters of this book apparently are ghosts, foxes, immortals and demons, but the author focused on the everyday life of commoners. He used the supernatural and the unexplainable to illustrate his ideas of society and government. He criticized the corruption and injustice in society and sympathized with the poor. Four main themes are present in Strange Stories.

The first is a complaint about the skewed feudal system. The author argued that many officers and rich people committed crimes without being punished, because they enjoyed privilege and power granted to them by the government, purely by their status and/or their wealth. This theme can be found in short stories such as “The Cricket”, “Xi Fangping”, and “Shang Sanguan”. It is fairly clear that the author resents the feudal government, skewed and unfair as it was.

Secondly, the author revealed the corrupt examination system at the time. Pu had taken imperial exams and discovered that the exams were unfairly graded. He postulated that many students cheated and bribed examiners or the grading officers. The education system, thus, became pointless in Pu's eyes, as it had destroyed the scholars’ minds and ruined their creativity, as illustrated in such stories as “Kao San Sheng”, “Ya Tou” (The Maid), and “Scholar Wang Zi-an”.

Pu's third theme was a clear admiration of pure, faithful love between poor scholars and powerless women, writing many stories about the love between beautiful and kind female ghosts and poor students to illustrate the allegory. The author highly praised women who took care of their husbands’ lives and helped them achieve success, as can be found in chapters such as “Lian Xiang”, “Yingning” and “Nie Xiaoqian”.

Lastly, Pu criticized the people’s immoral behavior and sought to educate them through Strange Stories. He embedded Confucian-styled moral standards and Taoist principles into parables; some examples are “Painted Skin” and “The Taoist of Lao Mountain”.

Select translationsEdit

The Scholar Meets the Fairy (秀才遇仙记), a Yue opera based on "Zhang Hongjian", Nanjing, 5 May 2019
Capturing Shi Huaiyu Alive (活捉石怀玉), a Sichuan opera based on "Wu Xiaolian" (武孝廉), Shanghai, 10 June 2016


  • Strange Tales from Liaozhai (tr. Sidney L. Sondergard). Jain Pub Co., 2008. ISBN 978-0-89581-001-4.
  • Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio (tr. John Minford). London: Penguin, 2006. 562 pages. ISBN 0-14-044740-7.[1]
  • Strange Tales from the Liaozhai Studio (Zhang Qingnian, Zhang Ciyun and Yang Yi). Beijing: People's China Publishing, 1997. ISBN 7-80065-599-7.
  • Strange Tales from Make-do Studio (Denis C. & Victor H. Mair). Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1989. ISBN 7-119-00977-X.
  • Strange Tales of Liaozhai (Lu Yunzhong, Chen Tifang, Yang Liyi, and Yang Zhihong). Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1982.
  • Strange Stories from the Lodge of Leisure (George Soulie). London: Constable, 1913.
  • Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (tr. Herbert A. Giles). London: T. De La Rue, 1880.[3] ISBN 1-4212-4855-7.

Re-evaluation of the Giles translationEdit

John Minford and Tong Man describe Herbert Giles's translation as "prudish",[4] because he chose not to translate "anything connected with sex, procreation, blood, sometimes indeed the human body in any of its aspects" and often made "extraordinary lengths to cover up his traces, showing considerable craft and cunning."[5] In the Giles translation fox spirits wish to chat and share tea with people rather than trying to seduce and engage in sexual intercourse, and romantic partners at most exchange kisses. They wrote that "Giles was a creature of his time" since he was required to follow Victorian Era morality, and urged readers to "not get Giles' bowdlerising of Liao-chai out of proportion."[5] They added that "the widely distributed Commercial Press (HK) edition of the stories makes many of the same prudish cuts as Giles."[6]

Minford and Tong Man write that people have continued reading Giles's translations even though they "have been at best quietly tolerated, more often derided, and dismissed as orientalist bowdlerisations..."[4] Lydia Chiang describes Minford and Tong Man's essay as a "post-Saidian re-evaluation" that compares the Giles translation to Chinese representations of the story from pre-modern and modern eras.[7]


Martin Buber made the first German translation of the work, included within his Chinesische Geister- und Liebesgeschichten.[8] Buber had assistance from a person named Wang Jingdao. Buber stated in the preface of his translation that his translation had portions previously untranslated in Giles work because Giles, according to the "English custom" had "omitted or paraphrased all passages which seemed to him indecorous."[7] The Chinesische Geister- und Liebesgeschichten was translated into English by Alex Page, published in 1991 by the Humanities Press.[8]

Other translationsEdit

Vasily Mikhaylovich Alekseyev has published an acclaimed translation of Pu Songling's stories in Russian in two volumes, Fox's Wiles (1922) and The Wizard Monks (1923). It has been cited as the most accomplished translation of the book into a foreign language.[9]

The book was translated into Manchu as Möllendorff: Sonjofi ubaliyambuha Liyoo jai jy i bithe.[10]


Franz Kafka admired some of the tales in translation; in a letter to Felice Bauer (16 January 1913) he described them as "exquisite". Jorge Luis Borges also strongly admired the story "Mr. Miao" (苗生, translated by Herbert A. Giles as "The Tiger Guest"), writing a prologue for it to appear in his Library of Babel, a collection of writings on his favourite books.[11]


See alsoEdit



  1. ^ "Pu Songling". Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. 1995. ISBN 0-87779-042-6.
  2. ^ "The Far East". Fondation Martin Bodmer. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
  3. ^ Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. p. 126.
  4. ^ a b Minford and Tong Man, p. 1.
  5. ^ a b Minford and Tong Man, p. 11.
  6. ^ MinfordTong (1999), p. 34.
  7. ^ a b Chiang, Lydia, p. 72.
  8. ^ a b Chiang, Lydia, p. 62.
  9. ^ Этнокультурное взаимодействие в Евразии. Том 2. Москва: Наука, 2006. ISBN 9785020343726. C. 159.
  10. ^ Crossley, Pamela Kyle; Rawski, Evelyn S. (June 1993). "A Profile of The Manchu Language in Ch'ing History". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. Harvard-Yenching Institute. 53 (1): 94. doi:10.2307/2719468. JSTOR 2719468.
  11. ^ SUNG-LING, P'U El invitado tigre. Prólogo de Jorge Luis Borges (ps. 9-12). Traducción de Jorge Luis Borges e Isabel Cardona. // Los prólogos de Borges. FAS, 1998. ISBN 9789879245101.
  12. ^ Nepstad, Peter (1 September 2000). "Ghost Lovers and Fox Spirits". The Illuminated Lantern.



1.^ Later abridged as Wailing Ghosts (ISBN 9780141398167)

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