Author: Translated by Gladys Yang
This collection contains some of the best Chinese tales from the
third to the sixth century.
They fall into two main categories: stories of the supernatural and
anecdotes about historical figures. The former, which clearly
predominate, evolved from earlier myths and legends.
Lu Hsun said in his Brief History of Chinese Fiction: “When
primitive men were puzzled by the ever-changing phenomena of nature,
they made stories to explain them. And so myths started.” As society
developed, myths changed into legends. The chief characters in myths
are gods, while in legends they are men with semi-divine qualities. The
ancient myths and legends of China have not been preserved because the
ruling class neglected them; but occasional examples can be found in
old works of philosophy or history. Thus the Book of Mountains and
Seas has preserved many myths and legends of bygone heroes. Another
work of the Warring States Period, the Travels of King Mu,
records how this Chou dynasty king journeyed in a carriage drawn by
eight divine horses to the Queen Mother of the West. The ghost and
fairy stories of the third to the sixth century were inspired by the
spirit we find in those early myths and legends.
Since the old myths and legends were closely linked with ancient
history, the earliest historical records often include them as
authentic facts. Later legends parted company with myths and became
more like modern stories. This collection also includes anecdotes about
real men — another type of early Chinese fiction.
Though the tales about the supernatural originated in myths and
legends, they possess a distinctive social content and a fair degree of
When Tsung Ting-po of Nanyang was young, he met a ghost one night as
he was walking.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“A ghost, sir. Who are you?”
“A ghost like yourself,” lied Tsung.
“Where are you going?”
“To the city.”
“So am I.”
They went on together for a mile or so.
“Walking is most exhausting. Why not carry each other in turn?”
suggested the ghost.
“A good idea,” agreed Tsung.
First the ghost carried him for some distance.
“How heavy you are!” said the ghost. “Are you really a spectre?”
“I am a new ghost,” answered Tsung. “That is why I am heavier than
Then he carried the ghost, who was no weight at all. And so they went
on, changing several times.
“As I am a new ghost,” said Tsung presently, “I don't know what we
spectres are most afraid of.”
“Being spat at by men — that is all.”
They went on in company till they came to a stream. Tsung told the
ghost to cross first, which it did without a sound. But Tsung made
quite a splash.
“Why do you make such a noise?” inquired the ghost.
“I only died recently. I am not used to fording streams. You must
As they approached the city, Tsung threw the ghost over his shoulder
and held it tight. The ghost gave a screech and begged to be put down,
but Tsung would not listen and made straight for the market. When he
set the ghost down it had turned into a goat. He promptly sold it,
having first spat at it to prevent it changing its form again. Then he
left, the richer by one thousand five hundred coins. So the saying
Tsung Ting-po did better than most— He made money by selling a