Yijian zhi, the massive collection of supernatural tales compiled by Hong Mai (1123–1202) in the twelfth century, gives considerable attention to merchant figures and even members of more lowly walks of life (e.g., soldiers, butchers, waiters, and singing girls). This is unexpected since Hong Mai himself was not just an imperial official but a particularly eminent one, whose appointments included Hanlin academician and court historian. Appearing in the tales, sometimes even as protagonists, are members of society whom the superelite like Hong Mai seldom even mention in their conventional literary and scholarly writings. These Yijian zhi stories thus provide a glimpse of the ways that members of the socially and politically elite perceived persons of lowly social backgrounds. The fact that Hong Mai did not compose his stories from his own imagination but, rather, recorded tales told to him by informants, most of whom were also members of the elite, as well as his conviction that the tales narrate events that actually happened, however uncanny or “marvelous” they were, makes the collection even more valuable as a source for general upper-class perceptions. Once identified and examined, those perceptions by socially elite persons of contemporaries who did not have a classical education contain elements we might expect as well as those that may surprise us.

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