This is the first English translation of Pu Songling's collection of classical Chinese stories, a book comprising near five hundred "marvel tales", including magical pear trees, thimble-sized babies, ghostly cities, and mean spirited daughters-in-law being turned into pigs. Although Pu was believed to have completed the majority of the tales by 1670, the collection did not get published until 1740 (some years after the his death). Despite a lively cast of ghosts, foxes, immortals, and demons, Pu's stories mainly focus on the everyday life of commoners, with the supernatural elements used to illustrate his subterranean criticism of how the ordinary people of his country suffered at the hands of an unfair society. Depending on your sensibilities, this late nineteenth-century translation from English diplomat and sinologist Herbert Giles could be seen to suffer from the conditions of its creation, i.e. a climate of Victorian-era prudishness. John Minford and Tong Man, translators of a more recent edition from Penguin, describe how Giles chose not to translate "anything connected with sex, procreation, blood, sometimes indeed the human body in any of its aspects" — where fox spirits might attempt to engage in sexual acts with humans, Giles has them chatting over a cup of tea instead.
November 14, 2017