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Chinese Myths and Fantasies (1)

 

History of Chinese Mythology

The writing of such stories began in the Wei and Jin Dynasties (220-420), when various writers, influenced by the alchemist's ideas and Taoist and Buddhist superstitions, were interested in inventing stories about gods and ghosts. Some of them show their unusual imagination and mastery of the written language. This practice was continued in the next period, the period of Southern and Northern Dynasties.

But the dawn of fiction, in the true sense of the term, came much later, in the middle of the Tang Dynasty, when many well-known writers and poets went in for story-writing. Their stories have a wide range of subject matter and themes, reflecting various aspects of human nature, human relations and social life. In form they are not short notes or anecdotes like the tales produced before them, but well-structured stories with interesting plots and vivid characters, often several thousand words in length. Among them are many tales whose main characters are gods, ghosts, or foxes.

Mythical stories of the Song Dynasty show strong influence of Tang fiction, but hardly attain the Tang level. One achievement in the field of fiction worthy of special mention is the compilation of the great Taiping Guangji or Extensive Records Compiled in the Taiping Years (976-983), which is a collection of about seven thousand stories published before and in the first years of the Song Dynasty. The stories were selected from over three hundred books, many of which have long been lost to us. A large portion of the seven thousand stories are about gods, deities, fairies, and ghosts.

In Song times there were stories written in the vernacular, called "notes for story-tellers". In the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties that followed the best-known works of fiction were novels in the vernacular, such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms,Water Margin, Pilgrimage to the West, The Scholars, and Dream of the Red Mansions.

In the early period of the Qing Dynasty there appeared an anthology of short mythical stories written in the classical style-- Strange Stories from Happiness Studio by Pu Songling. For some time it was a most popular book, praised and liked by many people. After Pu, Ji Yun, who presided over the compilation of the Siku Quanshu (Complete Collection of Written Works Divided into Four Stores), wrote a book entitled Notes from a Thatched House, which includes anecdotes, rumours and tales about gods, foxes and ghosts.

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