Classical Chinese Supernatural Fiction

Author: Zhao, Xiaohuan
Winner of the Adele Mellen Prize for Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship

The present research is the first attempt ever made at a systematic analysis of classical Chinese supernatural fiction known as zhiguai under the morphological framework designed by Vladimir Propp (1928) and later developed by Alan Dundes (1964). Zhiguai has long been a focus of Chinese studies, but the studies have been generally confined either to exploration into the geographical-historical sources of zhiguai tales or to the recognition and reconstruction of society in ancient China through zhiguai literature. A systematic study of this genre from a structural-functional perspective will shed light on the rules governing the textual organisation of classical Chinese fiction of the supernatural and strange. While the focus of this work is on a synchronic presentation of textual features and structural patterns of zhiguai fiction, a general review of zhiguai literature is conducted before a morphological analysis is made of this genre. The main purpose for this diachronic exploration is to complement the synchronic analysis of tale texts so as to present a panoramic view of classical Chinese fiction of the supernatural and strange.


“ ... There has never been a lack of scholars familiar with Chinese zhiguai literature, nor has there ever been a lack of scholars familiar with Propp’s morphology, but very few are well versed in both of them ... such a cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary research project will result in an academic breakthrough ... As the first systematic use of Proppian morphological theory to study traditional Chinese fiction, this work comes in time to fill this gap. This book successfully breaks through the barriers between Western and Chinese cultures by building a strong bridge linking Western research methods with Chinese research materials ... this monograph deserves special attention by students of traditional Chinese culture (myths, legends, religions, and folklore) in general, and by students of classical Chinese supernatural fiction in particular.” – Ye Shuxian, Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing

“Supernatural fiction (zhiguai xiaoshuo), one of the most beguiling genres of traditional Chinese literature, has received an increasing amount of critical attention in recent years ... the author’s painstaking work in analysing the stories in such detail has produced a major contribution to the study of traditional Chinese literature. Because it is organised and presented in such exemplary fashion, this book transcends Chinese studies to constitute a valuable contribution to comparative literature studies.” – Julian Ward, Lecturer in Chinese, University of Edinburgh

“ ... The study of supernatural fiction in China is almost as ancient as the genre itself, but this book is pioneering in its application of western literary and folklore theory to a huge range of Chinese stories, with admirable attention to detail in many specific examples ... I eagerly await the publication of this volume, in the certainty that it will help to lead the way in sophisticated new work on classical and modern Chinese literature and folklore.” – Tommy McClellan, Convener for Chinese, University of Edinburgh

Table of Contents

List of Tables Abbreviations Acknowledgements Foreword by Ye Shuxian Part I: Zhiguai: Definition and Development Introduction
1. Xiaoshuo, and Zhiguai Xiaoshuo: A Generic Survey
2. Classical Chinese Supernatural Fiction of the Six Dynasties
3. Classical Chinese Supernatural Fiction of the Tang and Five Dynasties
4. Classical Chinese Supernatural Fiction during the Song, Jin, and Yuan Dynasties
5. Classical Chinese Supernatural Fiction of the Ming and Qing Dynasties
Part II: Classical Chinese Supernatural Fiction from a Proppian Perspective 6. Model and Method: A Review of Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale
7. A Morphological Analysis of Classical Chinese Supernatural Fiction
8. Data Analysis and Conclusion
Appendices I - V