Abstract

Focusing on the issue of psychological portrayal, this essay examines two early twentieth-century rebuttals of Liaozhai's Records of the Strange published in newly founded Chinese fiction magazines. Although the two rebuttals lend themselves easily to a didactic interpretation, the essay argues that their demystification of the supernatural is equally in service of literary representation of individualized subjectivity endowed with interiority. Besides aligning itself with the ongoing efforts to recover alternative forms of modernity repressed by the May Fourth discourse, this essay endeavors to contribute to a fuller understanding of the diversity of ideologies, forms, and styles in so-called new fiction.

Introduction

Against the backdrop of increasing pressure for political reform, the unprecedented rise of urban readership, an outpouring of new theories of fiction, and the rapid growth of the periodical and popular press, China in the early twentieth century saw the efflorescence of what literary critics today label as fanxin xiaoshuo 翻新小說 (make-over fiction).1 The term fanxin, commonly used today in the sense of “refurbishing” or “renovating” something, refers here to the act of creating new fiction (xiaoshuo) from old masterworks. Long before 1900, there already existed in China a tradition of writing xushu 續書. Glossed by scholar Martin W. Huang as “ensuing narratives,” xushu encompasses a broader range of rewriting practices than the English concept of “sequel,” from continuations and supplements to imitations and parodies (2004: 4). As early as the seventeenth century, this tradition had already produced sophisticated works of fiction like A Continuation of The Plum in the Golden Vase (Xu Jin Ping Mei 續金瓶梅), A Supplement to The Journey to the West (Xiyou bu 西游補), and The Later Water Margin (Shuihu houzhuan 水滸後傳), all based on earlier vernacular novels that, in this period, began to be regularly advertised as “amazing works” (qishu 奇書) (Plaks 1987: 5). Like these earlier ensuring narratives, early twentieth-century fanxin xiaoshuo–appropriate characters, motifs, narrative threads, and language styles from precursory masterworks; in this respect, they may be subsumed under the broad category of xushu.

Nonetheless, fanxin xiaoshuo are remarkably different from earlier xushu in two key ways. First, fanxin xiaoshuo are products of a burgeoning “literary public sphere” consisting primarily of journalism and fiction (Lee 2001: 293; see also Mittler 2004: 1–39; Boittout 2019). Most fanxin xiaoshuo originally appeared in modern-style newspapers and literary journals produced by nascent Chinese “print capitalism,” a “commercialized, secularized, non-governmental, and non-philanthropic” printing industry that emerged in Chinese treaty-port cities during the late nineteenth century (Reed 2004: 9). Notably, several trailblazing works of fanxin xiaoshuo appeared in two of the earliest Chinese fiction magazines, namely, Xin xiaoshuo 新小說 (New Fiction; founded in 1902) and Yueyue xiaoshuo 月月小說 (All-Story Monthly; founded in 1906) (see Wu Zequan 2016: 12–24). The simultaneous emergence of fiction magazines and fanxin xiaoshuo is highly indicative of the latter's intertwined relationship with new print mediums that, in retrospect, contributed significantly to the modernization of Chinese literature.

Second, authors of fanxin xiaoshuo actively participated in the “new fiction” (xin xiaoshuo 新小說) movement spearheaded by early twentieth-century literary reformers, who bemoaned China's “old fiction” (jiu xiaoshuo 舊小說) as an inadequate vehicle for the imperative of national enlightenment. To signal their categorical difference from old fiction, authors of fanxin xiaoshuo typically name their works by adding terms such as xin 新 (new), fan 反 (antithetical), and gailiang 改良 (improved) to the titles of the canonical works they rewrite; therefore, whereas xushu works can entertain a wide range of relationships with their source texts, fanxin xiaoshuo particularly valorize the modes of criticism and revisionism.

Taking the polemic nature of fanxin xiaoshuo as a point of departure, this essay examines two series of installments that position themselves as revisionist rewritings of Pu Songling's 蒲松齡 (1640–1715) Liaozhai's Records of the Strange (Liaozhai zhiyi 聊齋志異; henceforth Liaozhai), a seventeenth-century collection of nearly five hundred tales about ghosts, fox spirits, abnormal human experiences, and many other things the author considers “strange” (Zeitlin 1993: 1–3). Written by forgotten authors Po Mi 破迷 and Wu Qiyuan 吳琦緣, respectively, the two series—identically titled A Rebuttal to Liaozhai (Fan Liaozhai 反聊齋)—adopt the format of the “classical tale” to demystify the supernatural (see Zeitlin 1993: 4–5). Permeated by the discourse of national enlightenment, both series appear to spring from a mainly didactic impulse; nonetheless, this essay argues that their demystification of the supernatural is driven in equal measure by a rising literary interest in character interiority, individualized subjectivity, and modern notions of the self, which, paradoxically, contributes to an enchanted view of the human psyche.

In advancing this argument, this essay will discuss new narrative techniques and prose styles incorporated by the two authors into stories that, on the surface, appear conventional in form. By reconfiguring the late Qing and early Republican era as a period of significant literary innovation, my study follows a line of thinking pioneered by scholars such as Milena Doleželová-Velingerová (1980), David Der-wei Wang (1997), and Patrick Hanan (2004). Moreover, similarly to Denise Gimpel (2001), Haiyan Lee (2001), Edward Gunn (2002), Michel Hockx (2003: 118–57), and Joachim Boittout (2019), I explore the diversity and modernity of new fiction through an approach that places particular emphasis on integrating texts into emerging literary infrastructures: this means I study the two series as deeply embedded in an ever-expanding network of publishing venues and literary groups, where a wide variety of discourses, genres, and styles collide, compete, and negotiate with each other.

I structure my essay in the following order: starting with a review of the political and social concerns of new fiction, I move on to a close reading of the two Fan Liaozhai series, comparing two ways of portraying inexplicable experiences of the supernatural: one relatively negative and the other relatively positive. I go on to discuss new techniques of characterization and plot construction used by the two authors; I then end my examination with a reflection on the two authors’ respective prose styles and a paradox inherent in their demystifying narratives.

New Fiction as a Vehicle for National Enlightenment

The political reformer Liang Qichao 梁啓超 (1873–1929) played an instrumental role in the development of new fiction in China. In 1902, he published an influential essay titled “On the Relationship between Fiction and Social Governance” (Lun xiaoshuo yu qunzhi zhi guanxi 論小說與群治之關係) in the first issue of Xin xiaoshuo.2 This essay justified the urgency for “a revolution in the realm of fiction” 小說界革命 by faulting traditional Chinese fiction for its complicity in spreading wrongheaded ideas hindering the nation's civil progress ([1902] 1989a: 37). The “Chinese belief in prodigies, witches, fox spirits, and ghosts” is among the entrenched fallacies lambasted by Liang ([1902] 1989a: 36). The phrasing here expresses a modern notion of “superstition,” which had been imported into China from Japan through the neologism mixin 迷信 (Japanese: meishin; literally “errant belief”) during the late Qing antisuperstition campaign—a movement initiated by political elites who sought to reform popular beliefs and establish a state religion.3

Some of the new fiction works articulate a similarly strong antisuperstition sentiment (see Wang X. 2017). An illustrative example is Zhuangzhe's 壯者 (pen name; literally “man of strength”) twenty-four-chapter vernacular novel Sao mi zhou 掃迷帚 (The Broom to Sweep Away Superstitions; henceforth Broom), originally serialized in the literary magazine Xiuxiang xiaoshuo 繡像小說 (Illustrated Fiction) in 1905. In the words of scholars Vincent Goossaert and David Palmer, Broom is “the first comprehensive catalogue and attack on Chinese superstition in the modern sense” (2011: 52). The novel begins with the alarming observation that the Chinese population, still fearful of “supernatural authority” (shenquan 神權), has been unable to keep pace with modern progress in other parts of the world. It then records a series of prolonged and animated discussions between its scientifically minded protagonist, Zi Sheng, and his ghost-fearing cousin Xin Zhai, about the pernicious falsity and influence of geomancy, fortune-telling, seances, ghost quelling, worship of fox spirits, and so on, all of which are placed in the new category mixin. In the end, Zi Sheng proposes that the government confiscate temple properties nationwide and convert them to schools, which would employ modern scientific education in their curriculum; his proposal mirrors the real-life program of dismantling the temple, which was advocated by antisuperstition elites and implemented by the Qing government as early as 1898 (see Katz 2014: 17–36).

Broom exemplifies the kind of new fiction Liang Qichao believed would benefit China the most. In his 1898 essay “A Foreword to the Translation and Publication of Political Novels” (“Yiyin zhengzhi xiaoshuo xu” 譯印政治小說序), Liang introduced the concept of the “political novel,” arguing that it “should be given the highest credit for being instrumental in the steady progress made in the political sphere” in the leading nations ([1898] 1989b: 22).4 To put theory into practice, Liang himself translated two Japanese political novels and wrote one of his own, namely An Account of the Future of New China (Xin Zhongguo weilai ji 新中國未來記), published in installments in Xin xiaoshuo between 1902 and 1903 (see Wong 1998). Relying exclusively on lengthy speeches typically found in political treatises, all three works attest to Xiaobing Tang's observation that the overemphasis on didacticism led new fiction to become “increasingly abstruse and unpalatable to actual readers” (2000: 14). Broom, similarly disguising extensive social commentary within its abundant dialogues, has the same shortcomings as the political novels Liang translated and wrote. In its format, Broom belongs to those works of new fiction that seek to break away completely from the established conventions of China's own narrative tradition.

On the surface, Po Mi and Wu Qiyuan took a radically different path from Zhuangzhe, given that both of their series were pointedly written in the vein of the Chinese classical tale.5 As this essay will show, however, neither writer modeled his stories entirely on the Liaozhai tales; instead, both incorporated narrative techniques and prose styles that, at the time, were newly developed. In their presentation of inner thoughts and individualized subjectivity, Po Mi and Wu Qiyuan are actually more modern and experimental than Zhuangzhe.

Phantasms, Illness, and Delusions in Po Mi's Series

Po Mi's series, alternately titled The Demon-Revealing Mirror (Zhao yaojing 照妖鏡; henceforth Mirror), was originally published in the aforementioned Xin xiaoshuo magazine from 1904 to 1905. Consisting of eight accounts of putatively real events, the series is roughly contemporaneous to Broom, with some of the installments appearing a few months earlier. The author's pen name, literally meaning “dispelling superstitions,” draws a clear connection between Mirror's revisionist position and the early twentieth-century antisuperstition movement. Indeed, Po Mi's installments denounce a wide range of popular Chinese beliefs and practices labeled by contemporary intellectual elites as superstitions, including shamanism, adoration of wutong 五通 gods, astrology, tree worship, and fox spirits, among others. In a coda attached to the last story, Po Mi claims that he previously wrote several pieces addressing numerous other superstitions: but these have all been lost. This spurious claim is meant to characterize his series as a comprehensive attack on superstitions.

In the Xin xiaoshuo magazine, the Mirror series is labeled “fiction of sundry notes” (zaji xiaoshuo 劄記小說). This neologist label corresponds to one of the twelve different types of fiction cataloged in Liang Qichao's 1902 announcement titled “China's One and Only Literary Periodical New Fiction” (Zhonggguo weiyi zhi wenxue bao Xin xiaoshuo 中國唯一之文學報新小說), where it is worded slightly differently as “fiction in the form of sundry notes” (zaji ti xiaoshuo 劄記體小說) (Liang [1902] 1989c: 46).6 According to this announcement, “fiction in the form of sundry notes” consists of “notes on various things, similar to Liaozhai and Yuewei caotang biji, that were casually jotted down” (46).7 Although subject matter appears to be the sole criterion invoked by this definition, there is another implicit standard, namely, ti 體, or “normative style, generic form, and other aspects of normative form” (Owen 1992: 5; see also 123). Among the twelve types, “fiction speaking of the weird” (yuguai xiaoshuo 語怪小說) is equally devoted to the investigation of mysterious things: Liang Qichao's announcement describes this category as fiction about phenomena within the scope of “monsterology” (yaoguai xue 妖怪學; Japanese: yōkaigaku), a field of study founded by prominent Japanese occult researcher Inoue Enryō 井上円了 (1858–1919).8 In Inoue's usage, yōkai does not specifically refer to “prodigious” or “demonic beings,” as is the case in its traditional connotation; rather, his monsterology covers abnormal or supernormal phenomena in general, many of which can be demystified as subjective experiences or illusions.9 In terms of subject matter, the tales in the Liaozhai and Yuewei caotang biji would also fall within the purview of monsterology, but in the Xin xiaoshuo magazine, the label “fiction speaking of the weird” is reserved exclusively for translations of foreign works. Therefore, the application of the label “fiction of sundry notes” to Mirror has the implication that Po Mi's tales conform to a fundamentally Chinese normative form.

Indeed, tales in Mirror were written in the vein of zhiguai 志怪 (records of the anomalous), that is, “brief prose entries, primarily but not exclusively narrative in nature, that discuss out-of-the-ordinary people and events” (DeWoskin 1986: 280; see also Campany 1996: 21–32). Except for “Discussion of Fortune” (Shuoming 說命), each of the remaining seven accounts is followed by an added comment in the voice of Po Mi Zi 破迷子 (The Master of Dispelling Superstitions). This device imitates the commentary of the “Historian of the Strange” (Yishi shi 異史氏) appended to many Liaozhai tales, which are in turn modeled on the Grand Historian's postscript comments in Sima Qian's 司馬遷 (145–86? BCE) Shiji 史記 (Records of the Grand Historian) (see Barr 2007: 138–42). In some of Po Mi's tales, the end comment may exceed the account preceding it in terms of length.

In what follows, I will use two tales in Mirror to show how Po Mi upends familiar motifs in traditional zhiguai writings. As I demonstrate, a discourse of pathology is prevalent in both stories. This discourse provides a rational explanation of the supernatural, but it enables the author to experiment with individual narrative voice and direct representation of the interior space, both innovations in late Qing literature (see Egan 1980; Hanan 2004: 165; Huters 2005a).

The Deranged Spirit in “Bewitching Fox”

“Bewitching Fox” (Humei 狐魅), the second tale in the series, serves as an excellent example to illustrate how Po Mi associates the “weird” with the human psyche (1904a). According to the I-narrator, he heard this story from “a certain scholar from Suzhou” (Suzhou mousheng 蘇州某生).10 The protagonist in this story is an unnamed family tutor—a Mr. so-and-so (moujia 某甲)—plagued by nocturnal visits from a young scholar he suspects to be a fox spirit. Terrified at first, the tutor gradually accepts the scholar as a friend. One evening, as he asks the young man to take him to the land of immortals, the latter picks up a ruler from the desk and throws it out the window.

[The ruler] instantly transformed into a bridge so broad that four horses abreast could cross it easily. Pointing at the bridge, [the young scholar] said to the tutor: “Once you cross this bridge, you will reach fairyland.” [Seeing that] the tutor was very hesitant, he added, “Since you are still unsure and frightened, please allow me to walk in front of you.” By the time he finished his words, he was already standing on the bridge, as if floating in the air. The tutor bowed and exited through the window. Whoosh! The second he lifted his foot, he fell hard into the courtyard. . . . It took the tutor half a year to recover [from the injuries], but after that evening, the young man stopped appearing. (167)

All our knowledge of the young scholar comes from the unnamed tutor; though his guest's apparent mind-reading ability strikes him as solid proof of his being a fox spirit, the young scholar himself never confirms this conviction.11 In addition, no other character has ever seen the scholar, nor does he leave behind any material evidence. Due to the “hesitation of the reader” as to whether the young scholar is a fox spirit or a hallucination, the tale displays defining characteristics of literature of the “fantastic” (Todorov 1975: 157).

The contrast between the two equal interpretations is mapped onto the ideological opposition between the story's informant (the Suzhou scholar) and its recorder-commentator (Po Mi Zi), a contrast analogous to that between the two dramatis personae of the Broom. In the end comment, Po Mi Zi recalls in a mocking tone that the Suzhou scholar, as if “an eye-witness of the whole thing,” tries to convince him that the young man must be a fox-spirit (Po Mi 1904a: 167). While conceding that the mystery is indeed puzzling, he contends that the visitor and the magical bridge must exist merely in the tutor's mind. In his words, “Whenever one believes one has seen something [weird], it is nothing but the result of a deranged spirit [shenluan 神亂]. It is analogous to the derangement of a drunk person” (167). To defend his rational explanation, he further highlights the inconsistency of the eyewitness accounts: “If person A sees fox-spirits and ghosts, but person B does not see them. . . . Is it then the case that the fox spirits and ghosts possess the marvelous capacity to make themselves visible to some people and not others? Or is it not that those [seeing them], when their minds are unclear and their eyes are dazzled, claim with confidence that what they see truly exists, and that onlookers then follow them by embellishing their claims?” (167–68). For Po Mi Zi, this inconsistency is sufficient to prove that the supernatural is purely psychological; his explanation is very similar to that of Inoue, who “situates the weird and mysterious inside the body and the mind of the experiencer” (Foster 2008: 83).

In “Bewitching Fox,” the suppression of the supernatural explanation is contingent on the fact that the rational voice happens to be identical with the authorial voice conferring judgment in the end comment; within the tale proper, however, this voice remains silent. The well-demarcated boundary between the main text and the paratext thus distributes two conflicting ideologies onto two distinct voices that dominate the tale proper and the end comment in turns. This clear-cut demarcation is broken, however, in the next tale, in which the superstitious voice temporarily merges with that of the I-narrator.

“Losing the Po-Soul” and the Uncanny

“Losing the Po-Soul” (Shi po 失魄) amplifies horror by using first-person narrative to draw the reader into a truly “uncanny” experience (Po 1904c).12 That the narrator is also the implied author deserves some attention. As discussed earlier, Po Mi Zi represents the most rationalistic voice in Mirror. Since the witness of the strange in “Losing the Po-Soul” is none other than the authorial persona, the tale gives the impression that even the rational mind is susceptible to belief in the supernatural.

At the outset of the tale, the narrator relates that he vomited a significant amount of blood due to a serious illness in 1895. Having lost consciousness for a long while, he beheld a very strange sight upon awakening:

Above the chair in front of the bed, it looked as if there were two little men dressed like infernal lictors, each about six or seven inches tall, capering about in the air and making various menacing faces at me. Suspecting that I was fooled by delusions, I rubbed my eyes and looked again. There was nothing. But in a short while, there—the little men appeared again! When they revealed themselves the fourth time, I grabbed a pillow and threw it at them. The little men instantly disappeared, but the other people in the room were exceptionally surprised by my behavior. . . . I then felt dizzy again and fell back asleep. As I was resting with eyes shut, I thought I caught a glimpse of something; I immediately opened my eyes and saw an expanding bubble on the drapery over my head. It grew bigger and bigger, until it burst open, revealing a hideous human face inside—a horrible sight. Then another bubble appeared and revealed a different, though equally hideous face. Suddenly, faces appeared all over the walls in the room. Some were old, others young, with various expressions. “I never believed in ghosts. Could it be true that ghosts are humiliating me?” I pondered. (165)

The tale recalls a typical scenario in several Liaozhai tales in which a character, while lying in bed, sees tiny figures appear in front of his eyes. Representative examples include “The Haunted House” (Zhaiyao 宅妖), “Little Mandarins” (Xiao guanren 小官人), “The Midget Hound” (Xiao liequan 小獵犬), and “Liang Yan” 梁彦 (Zhang 1962: 1.25; 2.200; 4.529–31; 5.716). In these tales, Pu Songling invariably uses a third-person narrative; by contrast, Po Mi uses the first-person narrative, thus compelling the reader to share the narrator's emotional reaction to the horrifying apparitions.

According to the narrator, the little men and the hideous faces remain invisible to other characters sitting by his side. With this observation, he comes to the “sudden revelation that the faces were . . . nothing but blurred visions” (Po Mi 1904c: 166). Like the inconsistent accounts in “Bewitching Fox,” the incongruity of visions here points to individualized subjectivity, or “deranged spirit” to be more precise, as the source of the weird. This mental state is further explained in medical terms at the end of the tale. According to a respected Chinese doctor, the faces are nothing but fragments of the narrator's own po-soul: “Liver stores [cang 藏; literally “to conceal”] the hun-soul; the lung stores the po-soul. When a person throws up blood, the exhausted lung loses the strength to hold its contents, causing the po-soul to escape and effuse” (166).13 As it reorients the object of fear to the fearing subject, this explanation is strongly reminiscent of Freud's characterization of the uncanny as “something which ought to have been concealed but which has nevertheless come to light” (2001: 394; emphasis added).

Through the two tales discussed above, we can see that Po Mi's exploration of the supernatural ventures into the territory of the human psyche. This area had been left mostly untouched by the late Qing antisuperstition campaign against “supernatural authority” and its human exponents. Compared to Broom, which holds quacks, charlatans, shamans, priests, fortune tellers, and other deceitful agents responsible for the spread of superstitions, the two tales in Mirror connect the beliefs of the supernatural to diseases of the mind. In the next section, I will discuss a different method for demystifying the supernatural, one that is divorced from the pathological discourse. As I will show, Wu Qiyuan, while similarly resituating the supernatural in the psyche, associates talk of ghosts and spirits with genuine love and authentic feelings, thus portraying the supernatural in a much more positive light than many of his contemporaries, including Po Mi.

The Explained Supernatural in Wu Qiyuan's Series

Wu Qiyuan's series was originally published between 1916 and 1917 in the magazine Xiaoshuo congbao 小說叢報 (Thicket of Fiction) edited by Xu Zhenya 徐枕亞 (1889–after 1930), a prominent writer of the so-called Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies School (see Link 1981; Gimpel 2001: 222–37). When the series was reprinted in book format, Xu contributed a preface in which, noting that the modern era is “[leading to] the gradual eradication of superstition,” urges a new generation of writers to eschew the “cumulative [bad] habits [jixi 積習]” of Chinese fiction (1918: 1).14 While echoing Liang Qichao's call for a revolution in the realm of fiction, Xu is more appreciative of the literary values of the old school of fiction. He argues that the old school falls short in terms of content but not form; as long as writers endow the traditional form with progressive ideas, their emulations will “inherit the merits [of the old school] while doing away with its flaws, thus creating a connection between old and new” (1). In his assessment, Wu's Fan Liaozhai successfully “emulates the normative pattern [geju 格局] of [Liaozhai] while injecting novel ideas into it” (1).

The normative pattern Xu Zhenya refers to is chuanqi 傳奇 (marvel tale), exemplified by Tang dynasty (618–907) classical tales, which Pu Songling employed (unconsciously) to create complex narratives in Liaozhai (see Huntington 2003: 17–20). An average story in Wu Qiyuan's series contains about three thousand words, roughly six or seven times the length of the zhiguai-style narratives in Po Mi's Mirror. In the tales, we find elaborate plots, lifelike characters, detailed settings, and abundant genteel repartee and poems; such prominent chuanqi features are highlighted by commentators representing Wu's immediate circle.15 In a comment appended to “Zhenzhen in the Painting” (Huali Zhenzhen 畫裡真真)—the longest tale in the series—a reader, self-styled as the “Pear-Dream Female Scribe” (Mengli nüshi 夢梨女史), makes the following remark: “This tale is especially remarkable for its plot construction. If someone could set it to music and adapt it into a romance play, so that the ‘disciples of the pear garden’ [referring to actors] could put it on the [stage] and try out new tunes, then it would be no less successful than the Romance of the West Chamber [Xixiang ji 西廂記] or the Peony Pavilion [Mudan ting 牡丹亭] before it” (102).16 The two plays she cites here were both originally adapted from famous Tang chuanqi tales about love romance; by suggesting that “Zhenzhen in the Painting” is equally suited to adaptation as a romance play, the female scribe affirms Wu's success in giving new life to an old form of writing.

In an end comment appended to the last tale in Wu Qiyuan's series, a reader named Liyun 梨雲 (literally “Pear-Cloud”) gives the following remark: “While many of [the tales] have extremely intricate, enigmatic plots, it is not uncommon for them to resemble each other” (112). This comment underscores the highly formulaic nature of Wu's stories. A typical tale of his consists of a mystifying episode and a delayed exposition: in the first section, which takes up the main space of the tale, all elements in the narrative encourage the reader to believe that supernatural agency is involved; in the second section, constituting the ending of the tale, the mystery is explained as resulting from delusions and hallucinations. This plot pattern is generally known in the West as the “explained supernatural”;17 to my knowledge, Wu Qiyuan is the first Chinese author to use it consistently in a book-length text. What is interesting in his adoption of this model is that he combines it with a romantic storyline, which runs through the entire series. In this regard, he differs significantly from contemporaneous writers, who utilize the “explained supernatural” model mainly in stories about evil, crime, oppression, or anarchy.18

In addition to their common plot pattern, Wu Qiyuan's tales share similar character types. The typical male character is a naïve hero who plays a passive role in the love romance; he attests to Denise Gimpel's observation that Chinese male characters in literary magazines of the 1910s “usually appear . . . in a traditional scholarly mode, pale and unadventurous, clinging to the social status of examination degrees rather than developing self-initiative and a sense of responsibility for the community” (1999: 72). Compared to the gullible and sensitive hero, the typical heroine is cunning, deceptive, and transgressive; she often challenges the ethics of female subservience by impersonating fairies and spirits. Despite her greater degree of agency, however, she remains a relatively flat character with little psychological depth. This is because only the naïve hero in Wu's tales is endowed with what Dorrit Cohn calls “figural consciousness”—the voice of the character that absorbs “the emotional and intellectual energy formerly lodged in the expansive narrator” (1978: 25). Throughout Wu's series, the inner world of the female protagonist remains inaccessible to the reader, whereas the male characters’ psychological activities are made transparent.

An interesting aspect of Wu Qiyuan's tales is that they attribute belief in the supernatural as much to the cunning of the heroine as to the gullibility of the naïve hero, who voluntarily believes in ghosts and fox spirits. Ostensibly, the naive hero strongly resembles those Liaozhai characters embodying obsession, the childlike heart, and folly—all exalted values in the late imperial literature about qing 情 (sentiment, feeling, passion, etc.) (see Zeitlin 1993: 61–97; Lee 2007: 25–59). In what follows, however, I will use a close reading of “Plum Maid (Meibi 梅婢) to show that this resemblance is superficial—the qing in Wu Qiyuan's series is better understood in terms of the “sentimentalism” of early Republican romantic fiction, which is “all about tears and agony and bodily manifestations of a rich interiority” (Lee 2001: 304; emphasis added).

“Plum Maid” is one of the “flower fairy” tales in Wu Qiyuan's series. Its male protagonist, Lin Zihua, a private tutor for a prominent family, has such deep affection for flowers that he speaks to them daily. One night, in the midst of his conversation with the flowers, “there came a gust of the east wind. All the plums seemed to nod in response. Believing that the flowers truly understood his words, Lin was so elated that he acted like a mad person” (9). Soon after, a beautiful woman visits him, bringing with her Lin's poetry anthology, which had mysteriously disappeared the day before. When Lin inquires as to her name, she points to the plum, replying, “If you have feelings for me, then I have feelings for you” (10). Lin immediately falls in love with the girl, firmly believing that she is a plum fairy. The two spend a happy time together, during which the girl visits Lin every night; when attending a banquet at the house one day, however, Lin is surprised to find out that the girl is actually one of the housemaids. When the master learns about their affair, he arranges a marriage between Lin and the girl; from this point on, the two lovers live happily ever after.

“Plum Maid” calls to mind Liaozhai tales like “The Third Lady of the Lotus” (Hehua san niangzi 荷花三娘子), “The Crimson Consort” (Jiangfei 絳妃), “Gejin” 葛巾, “Huang Ying” 黄英, and “Xiangyu” 香玉 (see Zhang 1962: 5.682–86; 6.739–46; 10.1436–45; 11.1446–52; 11.1548–55). As Wai-yee Li points out, these “flower fairy” tales celebrate the creative power of qing to turn inanimate objects into sentient beings capable of reciprocating genuine appreciation (1993: 100–105). In “Huang Ying,” for example, the male protagonist's obsession with chrysanthemums is the direct cause of his encounter with two siblings, who turn out to be metamorphoses of the chrysanthemum. His friendship with the brother and romance with the sister are poetic rewards for his sincere love of the flower. Underlying this meaningful reciprocal relationship between the obsessive mind and the inanimate objects that come to life is the late imperial imagination of qing as a ubiquitous creative force permeating a correlative cosmos.

The qing in “Plum Maid” is of a different order. The protagonist's passion for the plum flowers is no more than an unwarranted obsession standing in for his unfulfilled romantic feelings. The tale hints at this by linking Lin's affection for the plum blossoms with his longing for love. Shortly before Lin encounters the female protagonist and mistakes her for a flower spirit, we are told that his feelings are already awakening: “At the banquets [held by his host] there were clear melodies and elegant dances, and it was natural for qing to arise. When leaning close to those who apply thick powder and fragrant rouge to their faces, who can avoid those feelings? At first Lin was merely admiring the beauties, but, by and by, those feelings began to germinate in his heart” (8). The inserted comment suggests a causal relationship between Lin's love of the flowers and the yearnings aroused by the banquet entertainment. As the story proceeds, however, the plum flowers gradually fade from the reader's view; instead, the narrative comes to focus on the romance between Lin and the maid. By the end of the tale, the plum blossoms are completely forgotten, and, as we are told: “[Lin's] love was now only directed to one person. Even the plum blossoms under the eaves of his house were out of favor, as he no longer looked at them with such intense admiration. . . . Had the plum tree had a soul, she would have complained about her heartless lover” (13). The image of the neglected blossoms illustrates that Lin's obsession with the plum flowers is merely a compensating act; this kind of qing lacks the generative potency we see in the Liaozhai tales about flower fairies.

Qing—in the modern notion of “romantic love”—permeates the end comment of “Plum Maid.” The authorial voice of Qiyuan asserts here that the tale has its provenance in a true story, in which the young lovers choose their own marriage; he further relates the decision to write the story to his admiration for the hero's uprightness and the heroine's chastity. This remark suggests that the raison d’être of “Plum Maid” lies in the celebration of love and free marriage, something that, I should point out, is also true of many other chuanqi tales in Wu Qiyuan's series. To a great extent, “Plum Maid” actually reflects the same concern as much of the romantic fiction of the 1910s, which can be seen as a response to the problems created by Western-style marital freedom and the conflict between social reality and personal expectations.

Much as the commentators and Xu Zhenya emphasize the formal similarities between Wu Qiyuan's stories and traditional chuanqi tales, the influence of new fiction is hard to ignore. Wu's series actually draws considerable inspiration from Xu's 1913 Soul of the Jade Pear Flowers (Yuli hun 玉梨魂; henceforth Soul), a highly popular romantic novel written in pianti 駢體 (parallel prose) that triggered a wave of tear-jerking love stories.19 Set in 1909, two years before the collapse of the Qing dynasty, Soul relates a tragedy in which the conflict between personal love and family obligations leads its two protagonists, Mengxia and Liniang, to an untimely death. The tragic ending was intended by the author to show the detrimental social effects of self-imposed dogma and blind devotion to Confucian doctrines. The tale thus exemplifies the strong concern of early Republican romantic fiction “with articulating a new dialectic of subjectivity and sociality” (Lee 2001: 302).

Like many writers of his day, Wu Qiyuan was an admirer of Xu Zhenya. His novel Diary of Leng Hong (Leng Hong riji 冷紅日記), serialized in Xiaoshuo ribao 小說日報 (Fiction Daily) at approximately the same time with his Fan Liaozhai, is in fact an imitation of Xu's Xuehong leishi 雪鴻淚史 (Tearful History of the Snow Swan), a sister story of Soul written in first-person narration. Though less obvious than Leng Hong riji, the Fan Liaozhai series shows Xu's profound influence. “Plum Maid,” for example, borrows plot, characters, and events from Soul. This point can be illustrated from the fact that in both works, the male protagonist serves as a private tutor and resides in a secluded garden, while the female character makes her first entrance at night and borrows (without asking permission) the male protagonist's poetry anthology. Also in both works, the hero mistakes the heroine for a flower fairy, with the difference that “Plum Maid” replaces the widow Liniang with a maid, thereby allowing the lovers to marry at the end. In Wu's “Crabapple Immortal” (Tang xian 棠仙), however, the love story comes to a tragic end, as the female protagonist—realizing she is unable to break away from family ties to pursue freedom of love—commits suicide, just like Liniang does in Soul.

With respect to psychological portrayal, the influence of Xu Zhenya's novel on Wu Qiyuan's series is tremendous. Gilbert Chee Fun Fong has pointed out that, in late Qing literature about qing, “the focus was on the unusual circumstances and happenings, and the characters were seen as actors whose roles were to precipitate the excitement of the strange drama”; by comparison, the typical love stories of the 1910s shifted their focus to the “character[s], and the depiction of their overflowing emotions, particularly the immediate outpouring of feelings at the saddest moments in the story” (1981: 26). Kirk Denton similarly observes the emergence of an autonomous, self-conscious self in late Qing Chinese literature and argues that, in this new self, the “neo-Confucian promise of mind's linkage to the outside world was broken, although the desire for such a linkage continued” (1998: 41). Soul attests to both observations, in that the novel frequently delves into the protagonist's inner thoughts, confronting readers with strong, unruly passions that make Mengxia a sentimental hero par excellence.20 Although Mengxia's passions vividly recall the qing of late imperial literature, they lack the cosmological significance of their precedents; instead, they are merely constituents of a modern, individualized subjectivity that was no stranger to fiction by the 1910s.

The first two chapters of Soul aptly illustrate how Xu Zhenya employs supernatural elements to enrich the psychological portrayal of his hero. We first encounter Mengxia in the opening chapter, “Burying Flowers” (Zanghua 葬花), in which he laments the fallen petals of the pear tree in the garden and buries them in the ground. This scene reenacts the famous episode of the female protagonist Lin Daiyu burying flowers in the famous eighteenth-century novel Story of the Stone (Shitou ji 石頭記), more commonly known as Dream of the Red Chamber (Honglou meng 紅樓夢). Whereas Daiyu merely sees her own plight reflected in the fallen blossoms, Mengxia endows the rain-battered pear tree with a soul of its own. After burying the petals, he further summons the “spirit and shadow of the flowers” 花之魂與影, calling for the pear tree to respond to his “deep feelings” (shenqing 深情) and “obsessive gaze” (chiwang 癡望) (Xu 1913: 2, 5).

Aptly foregrounding the excess of Mengxia's emotion, this scene anticipates the hero's subsequent encounter with the female protagonist, with its strong echo of haunting scenes in traditional ghost stories. One night, we are told, Mengxia wakes up as the clock strikes ten; as a chill suddenly sweeps into the room, he wraps himself tightly in the blanket. Just then, he hears an indistinct and mysterious wailing coming from an unknown source but sounding like the voice of a woman. The ensuing description delves into Mengxia's inner thoughts: “Full of shock and trepidation, Mengxia secretly contemplated: ‘This garden is hardly visited even during the day; how could someone come here to weep and mourn late at night? Ah, I see—it must be the soul of the pear flowers. Feeling beholden to me for burying her remains, might she have come here to keep my lonely soul company in this quiet hour?’” (7). While the narrator immediately interjects, reminding the reader that this is nothing but wishful thinking on the part of Mengxia, the subsequent narrative nonetheless evokes the atmosphere of a spectral visitation. Through the window, Mengxia catches sight of a shadow in the garden:

Her figure was illuminated by the bright moonlight. From the tresses at her temple and her eyebrows to the creases of her stockings and the folds of her skirt, every detail was laid bare before his eyes. She was indeed an unrivaled beauty of about twenty years old. At first surprised by her otherworldly charm, Mengxia became moved by her depth of feeling and felt sorry for her. How could her fragile bones endure the midnight chill like this? He felt bewitched [魂迷意醉 literally: his soul was errant, and his mind was intoxicated] at this moment; his mind was suddenly beset with countless incredible phenomena. Bam! A loud noise suddenly woke him up—his head had bumped against the window glass while his thoughts were wandering. His eyes searched for the young woman again, but she had already disappeared. There was only the grief-stricken wind-chill and the cold, overflowing moonlight. The night was approaching the third watch. (8)

The account here is blended with subjective views of Mengxia who, as we are told, acts as if entering a trance. Overtly, Mengxia experiences here a similar state of “deranged spirit” like the protagonist in Po Mi's “Losing the Po-Soul” does. Compared to his counterparts, however, Mengxia is not suffering a temporary mental disturbance as a result of illness; the passage above clearly portrays his vision of phantomlike images in a positive light, attributing their cause to his deep feelings.

After this temporary digression into the supernatural, the narrative reverts to the realistic mode. Immediately following the mysterious disappearance of the “phantom” in the garden, the narrator speaks: “Readers, do you know who this lady is? She is actually not the soul of the jade flowers, but their shadow. Both this ill-fated lady and Mengxia, with his excess of feeling, are the protagonists of this book. If you would like to know the background of this lady, you need first to know more about Mengxia” (8). The anonymous narrator, whose intruding voice suppresses the supernatural in the Soul, is, as Perry Link points out, modeled on the popular figure of the detective; at the end of the novel, he even goes to investigate the lovers’ story at the place where it occurred (1981: 44). Generally speaking, the narrator appears as an objective reporter in Soul; in the first two chapters, however, this rational voice frequently gives way to its antithesis, namely, the irrational voice of the sentimental Mengxia. As a result, we witness in the opening chapters a noticeable infiltration of figural thought into the narrative.

Much like Xu Zhenya, Wu Qiyuan also gives figural consciousness a prominent role in his Fan Liaozhai series. There are three basic techniques he uses to render characters’ thoughts: namely, psycho-narration, quoted monologue, and narrated monologue, respectively corresponding to indirect, direct, and free indirect speech (see Cohn 1978: 11–15).21 The tale “Plum Maid” provides a good example of how the first two of these techniques are employed to facilitate the construction of the mystifying episode. Prior to the first encounter between male and female protagonists, there is a scene in which the hero, believing that the flowers have responded to him with an encouraging nod, returns to his room and finds, to his astonishment, that his poetry anthology is gone. A quoted monologue is used to report his reaction to the theft: “He thought to himself: ‘The fierce snow storm and the howling wind should have kept the thieves at home. Even if there are flower fairies and nocturnal demons, who among them would appreciate the literary arts? Could it be possible that poetry-loving ghosts, knowing that I am at the end of my tether, just came to make fun of my destitution?’” (9). The mental verb thought (nian 念) here is a clear marker of the quoted monologue, as it indicates that the words following it are the hero's own interior speech, as opposed to being merely the narrator's description of the character's inner thoughts. In Wu's series, quoted inner monologues like this often serve to gesture toward the possibility of a supernatural encounter. The above-quoted passage, for example, hints at the entrance of the female protagonist and at the hero's subsequent belief that she is a flower fairy.

Immediately after this quoted monologue, we see an example of psycho-narration that indirectly reports the perceptions of the hero, this time in the narrator's own language:

[When drinking alone at night, he] saw the jade-like celadon vase on the desk holding a single branch of red plum. With its beautiful buds ready to burst, the plum branch seemed to be smiling like a pretty girl. Its pleasant and sweet fragrance permeated the air, and lingered over the beaded curtain and crimson draping without dissipating. He felt his mind rippling like disturbed water, his imagination lost in a meandering labyrinth. Just as a falcon swoops down the moment he sees the hare darting out, an unstoppable train of thoughts flashed through him at top speed. (9)

As is typical in psycho-narration, the border between the omniscient narrator and the main character is difficult to draw; though reported in third-person narrative, the language here—as illustrated by the anthropomorphization of the budding plum branch, is fused with the perspective of the figural consciousness. In other words, there is a subtle intrusion of the character's perception and thought into the narrator's description. Adapting Leo Spitzer's term “stylistic contagion,” Cohn theorizes this kind of intrusion as a “middle point between [psycho-narration and narrated monologue] where a reporting syntax is maintained, but where the idiom is strongly affected (or infected) with the mental idiom of the mind it renders” (1978: 33). This “stylistic contagion” becomes more intense in the second half of the quoted passage, where we see a profusion of verbs and nouns indicating active mental processes. Because these activities are preverbal, they can only be expressed through metaphors and similes; the images of concentric circles of waves and the hunting falcon are illustrations of these mental activities.

Aside from quoted monologue and psycho-narration, Wu Qiyuan uses an additional technique that is not seen in the “Plum Maid” but appears in his other tales: this technique, defined as “narrated monologue,” transforms “figural thought-language into the narrative language of third-person fiction” (Cohn 1978: 102). In Western literature, narrated monologue, also known as the “free indirect style,” is usually created through the translation of first-person, present-tense quoted monologue into third-person, past-tense narrative. In the Chinese context, where linguistic markers of tense and grammatical persons are absent, it becomes harder to distinguish between quoted and narrated monologues. Nonetheless, we are still able to detect the presence of an equivalent to narrated monologue in passages where the narrator's voice dominates, while the speech remains undoubtedly the character's own (compare Xu Zhenya's narrated monologue, discussed in Nakazatomi 2000). For example, in “The Beauty under the Tree” (Linxia meiren 林下美人; original title: “Yueming linxia meiren lai” 月明林下美人來), we encounter a scene in which the male protagonist, Ling Yun, spots a shadow resembling his deceased lover: “A slender figure sauntered out of the flowering shrub. In the bright moonlight, [he] seemed to discern the figure of a woman. [He] was afraid that the neighbors’ women might also have the refined sense to tour here during the night. If he were spotted, would he not be chided for his indecorum and transgression?” (Xu 1913: 28–29). Shortly afterward, Ling realizes that the figure bears a close resemblance to his cousin:

He could tell from the appearance that the figure particularly resembled Liu Hua, except that she was wearing a light green skirt, her cheeks had lost their rosiness, and she looked a lot thinner. He lamented that he had not yet detached himself from the root of his love [and that, as a result] her fragrant soul had come here by itself. How could he bear the sight of her? Sobbing, Lin rushed towards the figure, but she suddenly turned and disappeared. (29)

In the two passages quoted above, we witness a fusion between figural and narrating consciousness. Despite the overall absence of mental verbs and presence of third-person discourse, both the concern with decorum and the lamentation belong unmistakably to the monologic language of the protagonist rather than to the narrating voice. This perception encourages the reader to believe that the figure is indeed the revenant of the deceased female protagonist, a belief echoed by Lin's ensuing soliloquy: “Could it be true that the figure in the garden is indeed a specter? [Otherwise] how could it be seen but not approached?” (29). It is not difficult to see how this nighttime encounter recalls the similar scene of a phantomlike woman standing under the pear tree in Soul.

Generally speaking, Wu Qiyuan's narrative has a tendency to turn inward in the mystifying episode; once the tales transition into the expository section, the narrative reverts to more conventional means of portraying characters externally (through actions and speech). This pattern suggests that there is a correlation between the transparency of figural consciousness and the mystifying episode: the narrative in Wu's tales remains in the supernatural mode only so long as it is open to the intrusion of the naïve hero's inner thoughts.

As the close reading in this section has shown, the supernatural in Wu Qiyuan's series serves mainly to illustrate the psychological depth of the naïve hero, essentially an “autonomous self” who willingly isolates himself “from society, nature, the divine, and the minds of other men” (Denton 1998: 106). Interestingly, the return to a natural explanation of the supernatural does not necessitate the enlightenment of the hero; in other words, at the end of Wu's tales we do not see the transformation of the naïve hero into a rational voice, one that is similar to the typically enlightened characters in antisuperstition novels like Broom. Instead, the hero's demystification of the supernatural in Fan Liaozhai happens through chance discovery or a change of mental state; this lack of rationalization is crucial in setting Wu's series apart from contemporary stories that use the same technique of the explained supernatural.

Conclusion

In arguably the earliest scholarly account of fanxin xiaoshuo, renowned literary critic A Ying uses the term nijiu xiaoshuo 擬舊小說 (fiction imitating the old school) to trivialize this type of fiction as derivative imitations (A 1937: 269). Although his negative assessment has been overturned by more recent reappraisals of fanxin xiaoshuo, existing studies—often taking the form of typological surveys, ideological critiques, or literary history—shed little light on how this subcategory of new fiction participated in literary innovations before the May Fourth Movement. Undercutting the general assumption that the modernity of fanxin xiaoshuo lies more in content than in form, my study of the two Fan Liaozhai series unveils the “modern” narrative techniques employed by Po Mi and Wu Qiyuan in psychological portrayal. Through close reading, this essay shows that, as far as the literary exploration of the inner thoughts is concerned, both authors go even farther than many contemporary writers who modeled their works explicitly on foreign genres.

I would go so far as to say that there is very little that is really “old” about the two Fan Liaozhai series. My examination has so far focused mainly on characterization and plot structure, but even in terms of writing style—presumably the least innovative aspect of fanxin xiaoshuo—Po Mi and Wu Qiyuan are by no means traditional. Despite writing in Literary (rather than Vernacular) Sinitic, their narratives display new stylistic features not seen in Pu Songling's prose (even taking into account the diversity of styles in Liaozhai). Absorbing colloquialism and foreign coinage (mixin and wuguo jiaoyu 吾國教育 [national education in our country (Po 1904d: 163)] are two examples), Po Mi writes in a style similar to the “new prose style” (xin wenti 新文體) championed by Liang Qichao that actively incorporates elements deemed by “dominant schools of late Qing prose” as either unorthodox or “detrimental to the purity of form” (Huters 2005b: 96; see also Gunn 2002: 41–50). Wu Qiyuan, on the other hand, adopts the neo-pianti popularized by the emerging “lyrical, introvert fiction” in the 1910s (Doleželová-Velingerová 1988: 20). Although modeled mainly on the parallel prose style that flourished in Six Dynasties literature, this early Republican pianti variant is mixed with vocabulary and rhetoric from advertisements, “new prose style” writings, and translations of foreign sentimental novels (Gunn 2002: 43–46; Huters 2005b: 87–93). In short, both Po Mi and Wu Qiyuan chose newly developed prose styles when writing their rebuttals.

As discussed earlier, the stylistic differences between Po Mi and Wu Qiyuan pertain to the formal distinctions between zhiguai and chuanqi; however, the journals publishing their respective works—which promoted divergent visions of literary reform—also exerted a profound influence on the authors’ choices of style. The utilitarian view of literature privileged in Xin xiaoshuo underlies the resemblance of Po Mi's prose to “new prose style” (employed especially in the late Qing publishing world for journalism and social commentary); by contrast, Xiaoshuo congbao's aestheticization of literature—reflecting the cultural elites’ aspiration to preserve “national essence” in the years following the end of the imperial civil service examination in 1905 and the collapse of the Qing in 1911—explains the attractiveness of the highly allusive neo-pianti to Wu Qiyuan, when he set out to create naïve heroes with a rich interiority in his sentimental fiction.

From the stylistic differences between the two Fan Liaozhai, we come to recognize the importance of studying works of new fiction in relation to the Chinese literary public sphere. Given that, as always, the public sphere is politically charged, it should come as no surprise that the two Fan Liaozhai series are deeply permeated by the discourse of national enlightenment. Indeed, many fiction writers clustered around Xin xiaoshuo and Xiaoshuo congbao (heir to Minquan bao) were also political journalists. This does not mean, however, that political reforms define the sole concerns of their creative works. My analysis of the two Fan Liaozhai series shows that their authors use antisuperstition didacticism to legitimize the telling of weird stories. Though eventually denying the existence of ghosts and spirits, their demystifying narratives also produce the effect that Terry Castle has called the “spectralization or ‘ghostifying’ of mental space,” that is, the absorption of the supernatural into the world of thought, and the imagination of the mind as an essentially haunted space similar to a phantasmagoria show (1995: 141–42). To a great extent, as much as the literary public sphere in China provided a forum for rational and critical debate, it also fostered new means to represent the spectral as firmly lodged in the depths of modern subjectivity; for this reason, stories meant to demystify the supernatural paradoxically intensify the inexplicable mystery of the “human psyche.”

This article has benefited tremendously from insightful comments by Paola Iovene, Daniela Licandro, Haun Saussy, Judith Zeitlin, and the three anonymous readers. I am indebted to Sey Nishimura and Shaw-Yu Pan for their expert help, and to Ross King for his superb editorship. A resident fellowship at the University of Chicago Beijing Center allowed me to write an earlier draft of this article in 2016. Significant revisions were made at Heidelberg University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the “Worldmaking from a Global Perspective” program funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Young Scholars Visiting Scheme program at CUHK-Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation Asia-Pacific Centre.

Notes

1

Scholarship on fanxin xiaoshuo is still scanty. Extending research by scholars such as Ouyang (1997) and Hu Quanzhang (2005), Wu Zequan (2016) has provided the only monograph-length study on this type of fiction. Huang Hsuan-Chang (2022), though more concerned with modern rewritings of classical novels, provides a much-needed close reading of several works of fanxin xiaoshuo. Some fanxin xiaoshuo novels are alternatively categorized and analyzed by critics as representative works of early Chinese science fiction; see D. Wang (1997: 271–301) and Isaacson (2017: 60–92).

2

First established by Liang Qichao in Japan and then relocated to Shanghai, Xin xiaoshuo is generally regarded as the first Chinese journal solely devoted to the publication of fiction. It embodied Liang's vision of promoting national reform and inculcating new ways of thinking through literature. It was published through twenty-four issues until January 1906. For an English translation of Liang's essay by Gek Nai Cheng, see Denton (1996: 74–81).

3

Representing a wide political spectrum, intellectuals such as Kang Youwei 康有為 (1858–1927), Liang Qichao, Zhang Zhidong 張之洞 (1837–1909), and Sun Yirang 孫詒讓 (1848–1908) were among the most influential voices of the antisuperstition campaign in the late Qing. The reforms they advocated were backed by the imperial court. In 1904, the Board of Rites terminated the canonization process of integrating local cults into state sacrifices (Dean 2009: 189); this is a major turning point in the campaign against temples of local communal religion, which the “modern state wished to destroy in order to take over their material and symbolic resources” for building “a new, vertically integrated society” (Goossaert and Palmer 2011: 55). After 1911, the succeeding Republican government continued the antisuperstition programs. For illuminating discussions on the antisuperstition campaign, see Duara (1995: 95–113); Goossaert and Palmer (2011: 50–55); Katz (2014: 17–67); Ko-Wu Huang (2016); Gvili (2019) and Albert Wu (2022). For a comparative perspective on similar trends in Japan, see Figal (1999: 38–104). Nedostup (2013: 159–60) explicates Liang's crucial role in introducing the Japanese concept of mixin to China.

4

Translation by Gek Nai Cheng; see Denton (1996: 71–73).

5

The two authors were familiar with translations of foreign literature, many of which were published in the same venues as their series.

6

Note that the May Fourth intellectual Hu Shi 胡適 (1891–1962) invoked precisely this neologism in his 1918 essay on “a constructive literary revolution,” in which he lambastes those “zaji xiaoshuo imitations of Liaozhai zhiyi” as vulgar fiction (Hu Shi 1918).

7

Jottings from the Cottage of Close Scrutiny (Yuewei caotang biji 閱微草堂筆記) is an eighteenth-century collection of records of the strange compiled by Ji Yun 紀昀 (1724–1805).

8

The announcement defines “fiction speaking of the weird” as follows: “Yōkaigaku is a branch of philosophy, to which many learned scholars and curious minds are dedicated. In the West, there are almost as many books discussing those non-existent things as in China. We hereby select to translate those new and worthy works, which can perhaps contribute to the study of the soul [hunxue 魂學]” (Liang [1902] 1989c: 46). One of the earliest examples of “fiction speaking of the weird” is Liang Qichao's “The Specter in the Russian Imperial Palace” (E huanggong zhong zhi rengui 俄皇宮中之人鬼), a story told in first-person narrative about a mysterious haunting in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg (see Liang 1902). Liang's story is a relay translation of Tokutomi Roka's 德冨蘆花 ( = Tokutomi Kenjirō  德冨健次郎, 1868–1927) Japanese rendition of “The Ghost of the Winter Palace,” a short story by British author Allen Upward (1863–1925) published in 1897 (see Nakamura 1980: 29).

9

Foster (2008: 83) points out that Inoue's view of yōkai “was akin to the medieval European notion of ‘wonders’ as a ‘distinct ontological category, the preternatural, suspended between the mundane and the miraculous.’” For more on Inoue's monsterology, see Figal (1999: 77–104).

10

On the basis of this opening convention, May Fourth intellectuals derided contemporary classical tales as stories of “the ‘certain scholar’ form” (mousheng ti 某生體). For more on this topic, see Qu (2021: 22–26).

11

In this essay, all quotations from Liaozhai come from Zhang (1962). To facilitate reading across different editions, I add the juan 卷 (scroll) number before the page number, separated by a period, in my quotations. Vulpine bewitchment in Liaozhai typically connotes a demonic sexual possession; “The Merchant's Son” (Gu'er 賈兒) and “Taming the Fox” (Fuhu 伏狐) are two excellent examples—see Zhang (1.125–29; 3.308–9). “Bewitching Fox” also recalls Liaozhai tales about Daoist illusionist magic, of which “Growing a Pear Tree” (Zhongli 種梨), “Daoist Priest Shan” (Shan daoshi 单道士), and “Lotus under a Cold Moon” (Hanyue furong 寒月芙蓉) are three excellent examples; see Zhang (1; 1.35–37; 3.338–39; 4.579–81). Late Qing readers would have likely detected a parallel between “Bewitching Fox” and stories portraying hypnotism as a powerful means of mind control. A case in point is Odd Talks of the Electric Art (Dianshu qitan 電術奇談), serialized in the same Xin xiaoshuo magazine from 1903 to 1905; in this thriller novel, murder is carried out through electro-hypnosis. For more on this topic, see Jia (2020).

12

Common Chinese belief differentiates two souls: hun is the ethereal soul associated with yang, heaven, and vital energies; po is the corporeal soul linked to yin, the earth, and basic instincts. I borrow the term uncanny (corresponding to the German adjective unheimlich) from Sigmund Freud's essay “Das Unheimliche” (The Uncanny), which defines a kind of frightening uneasiness that can be traced back to the repression of old, familiar, and homely (heimlich) things. Quotations from this essay come from a reprinted edition in Freud ([1919] 2001).

13

The imagination of hun and po here as intangible entities housed in major organs traces its origin to the medical text Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic (Huangdi neijing 黃帝內經); see Brashier (1996: 141). Chen (2008) elaborates on the Chinese tradition of linking ghosts to illness and psychological disorder. Po Mi also provides a pathological explanation of superstitions in the comment appended to “The Third Master” (San laoye 三老爺), where he argues that “[superstition] is a madness [kuangbing 狂病]. Chinese doctors call it mucus confusing the opening of the heart [tanmi xinqiao 痰迷心窍]; Western doctors call it brain disease [naobing腦病]” (1904b: 161).

14

All subsequent quotations from this series come from Wu (1918). In quoted passages, the reprinted book shows that nothing has changed from the original installments.

15

In a comment appended to the tenth tale in the series, a reader named Yan 雁 remarks: “Wu Qiyuan's pen excels at rendering the image of the character [Qiuweng] in subtle ways that make him leap right off the page. Is there really a person like [Qiuweng] in the world?” (86).

16

The tale alludes to a famous story of the painted image of a beautiful woman coming to life; see “Huagong” 畫工 (Artisan) in Taiping guangji (1961: 286.2283).

17

British author Ann Radcliffe (1764–1823) is usually credited for refining and popularizing this technique through her Gothic novel The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794).

18

For two examples, see Liang ([1902] 1989a) and Lu (1913).

19

All subsequent quotations from Soul come from Xu (1913). Soul was originally serialized in 1912 in the newly founded Peoples’ Rights (Minquan bao 民權報), a progressive newspaper affiliated with the Revolutionary Alliance (Tongmeng hui 同盟會). The novel was reprinted several times and sold more than two hundred thousand copies within a two-year period. In a letter excerpted in Soul's penultimate chapter, the character relating Mengxia's story dubs the implied author the “Dumas fils of the East”; this homage acknowledges the influence of La Dame aux camélias, popularized by Lin Shu's 林紓 (1852–1924) 1898 translation. Yuan (1998) and Hu (2000: 94–105) explicate the influence of foreign translation on Soul and other early Republican fiction. Whereas May Fourth intellectuals criticized Soul for being conservative, decadent, and saturated with maudlin emotions, more recent scholars have emphasized the novel's modernity and social engagement (see Gunn 2002: 37; Boittout 2019; S. Wu 2020: 156–57). The character li in the abovementioned pen names of the commentators Mengli nüshi and Liyun likely alludes to the “pear” in Soul's title.

20

Hsia (1982: 214) perceptively observes that Mengxia possesses a triad of closely linked and ultimately identical faculties “without which no one can be called a [true] lover” in the Chinese “sentimental-erotic” tradition, namely, qing (capacity for love or feeling), cai 才 (literary talent), and chou 愁 (capacity for sorrow).

21

These techniques are limited to third-person narration. My discussion here excludes “Honglou yumeng” 紅樓餘夢 (“Lingering Dream of the Red Chamber”), which Wu Qiyuan calls an extra tale (zhuiyou 贅疣; literally “superfluous anomaly”) within his series (1918: 48). This tale is told from the first-person point of view. I add quotation marks to my translation of Wu's tales in this essay. Modern punctuation is not used in the original publication.

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