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Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  819 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
Eminent Chinese scholar John Minford's superb translation captures the consummate skill and understated humor of Pu Songling's classic Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio (also known as Strange Tales from Liaozhai). With elegant prose, witty wordplay, and subtle charm, the 104 stories (selected out of over 400 from the original work) in this collection reveal a world in wh ...more
Paperback, 608 pages
Published May 25th 2006 by Penguin Classics (first published 1740)
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Tao Te Ching by Lao TzuThe Tale of Genji by Murasaki ShikibuThe Memoirs of Lady Hyegyŏng by Lady HyegyeongStrange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu SonglingThe Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon
Asian Classics
4th out of 77 books — 17 voters
Wild Swans by Jung ChangChina by Tom  CarterMonkey by Wu Cheng'enThe Girl with Ghost Eyes by M.H. BorosonThe Search for Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence
Best books to read about China
12th out of 115 books — 72 voters

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Community Reviews

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Nov 02, 2014 Hadrian rated it really liked it
Each played his
Pipes of Heaven,
Seeking not beauty of sound,
But music that is what it is
For reasons of its own.

-The Author's Preface, Lines 11-13

The 104 stories in this collection (out of some 450+ in the original work) are clearly tales, and they are clearly Chinese. Yet what is in them to make them so strange?

The easy answer would be the presence of the supernatural. There are many stories with goblins and dragons and paintings that come alive, mountains where immortals live and mystical dreams
Feb 08, 2014 Rowena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chinese-lit
The title, and the fact that this is a Penguin classic, attracted me. I really, really enjoyed this read. The stories were quite short, some only a paragraph in length, and the longest ones being perhaps 4-5 pages. And they were strange indeed, strange is definitely an understatement. They were very candid tales, especially considering they were written almost 400 years ago. Many stories were of a sexual nature which also surprised me because of when the stories were written. A couple of stories ...more
Apr 23, 2016 Mizuki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is a book I read as a child, and many of the famous tales from Strange Stories From A Chinese Studio still stay in my mind, always.

Pu Songling created an exquisite, imaginative fantasy world based faithfully and richly on the traditional Chinese myths and folklore. It is a world inhabited by gods, ghosts, demons, magical animals and humans.

In one of the tales, a man fell in love with a beautiful maiden painted on the wall of an ancient temple; in another tale, a man put on a magical robe and
Jesse Field
Jul 30, 2010 Jesse Field rated it it was amazing
This is the kind of book that, when read carefully, can transform the English reader from perfect ignorance of Chinese culture to nerd-like engagement with aesthetics, society, history, mythology, folklore, science, medicine, technology, and the list goes on and on. It's really worth remembering how powerful a single book can be, and if you think about the variety and range of this book, you begin to understand why Chinese writing so often comes in anthologies and collections.

I'll likely return
Justin Evans
Mar 07, 2014 Justin Evans rated it it was amazing
I've been reading a lot of "difficult" books recently, and a few short books that just weren't very good. Amid that pile, Pu's tales were a glorious reminder of why people enjoy telling stories, why people enjoy reading them, and how many different ways something can be interesting.

Short of listing the best stories here, there's not much to review. THere are supernatural tales (ghosts and 'foxes'); there are little anecdotes; there are morality tales; there are anti-morality tales; and most of
Grady McCallie
Aug 27, 2012 Grady McCallie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china
Pu Songling (1640 - 1715) collected these tales of the supernatural and uncanny and left them to his sons in the form of 110 handwritten, loose-leaf sheets. They have since been published many times, with additions and deletions, and been drawn upon by other authors (and playwrights, and television script-writers) for plots and plot elements. This edition uses Herbert Giles' translation of the late 1800s, complete with his extensive footnotes offering commentary, but updates spellings to reflect ...more
Jan 01, 2015 Edward rated it it was amazing
Note on the Text, Translation and Illustrations
Note on Names and Pronunciation

--An Otherworldly Examination
--Living Dead
--Spitting Water
--Talking Pupils
--The Painted Wall
--The Troll
--Biting a Ghost
--Catching a Fox
--The Monster in the Buckwheat
--The Haunted House
--Stealing a Peach
--Growing Pears
--The Taoist Priest of Mount Lao
--The Monk of Changqing
--The Snake-Charmer
--The Wounded Python
--The Fornicating Dog
--The God of Hail
--The Golden Goblet
--Grace and Pi
Jan 18, 2016 Vishy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This year I wanted to read more Chinese classical literature. Started with Pu Songling's collection of stories. This is a collection of fairytales / ghost stories for grownups. Many stories involve the main character, who is a scholar, who falls in love with a beautiful woman, but who turns out to be a ghost or a fox fairy or flower fairy. In many stories, the beautiful woman loves our scholar back, they get married and have children and live happily everafter :) It is the kind of ghost story th ...more
D. Biswas
Aug 03, 2011 D. Biswas rated it really liked it
One of the books that I've been carrying in my handbag and also in my head is Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling in the 17th century.

Reading these stories allows you to get lost in a supernatural world where fox-spirits are not uncommon, ghosts roam around in the light of day, and Taoist exorcists save innocent victims from all kinds of evil forces. I've thought of foxes as cunning, because most other legends make them out to be so...but it is fascinating how they are seen as evi
Finished the first volume today. Some of the best Pu Songling stories are included, I think all the famous Fox stories are in this one. The classical Chinese is very difficult but the French isn't so bad.

I took a big break between reading the first and second volumes of this. I'm not sure why. I adore these stories and this selection was some of the very best, but I think I had it in my head that it was "hard" and therefore even though I was enjoying reading them I was reluctant to do so. My com
Mar 01, 2013 Helmut rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china
A Chinese Ghost Story

"Wer diese Geschichten des Liaozhai Zhiyi liest wegen ihrer Handlung und nicht wegen ihres Stils, ist ein Narr."

So hart kommentierte ein chinesischer Gelehrter diese Sammlung von Geschichten, die Pu Songling am Ende des 17.Jh. in China gesammelt und aufgeschrieben hat.
Nun bleiben die allermeisten westlichen Leser wohl Narren, denn der Stil, der diese Geschichten auszeichnet, kann natürlich nur schwer über eine Übersetzung transportiert werden: Gerade das klassische Chinesisc
Czarny Pies
Jan 17, 2015 Czarny Pies rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys weird stories.
Shelves: asian-literature
Over the last five years, I have made a point of reading one Chinese book every six months in order to familiarize myself with the culture of what is becoming a growing world power and the home nation of an increasing number of my neighbours. Reading Chinese literature even in translation requires a little bit of effort because the historical and social context are so different from what North Americans are familiar with.

This delightful little book proved to be no chore at all. These tales are s
Stewart Tame
Whew! This one was a bit of a chore to finish. It's probably better read in bits and pieces rather than straight through. There's really not as much of the eerie as you might expect. This book is not so much Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination as it is Grimm's Fairy Tales or 1001 Arabian Nights. Some of the stories are quite interesting though, and the glimpse they give into Chinese thought and culture is well worth the read. The book is extensively footnoted by the translator, and some of hi ...more
This really brought back memories of reading and watching TV adaptations of some of these 'fairy tales' in my childhood, e.g. The Painted Skin, The Magic Sword and the Magic Bag (better known as Nie Xiaoqian), and “That is a sharp sword!”. It also added many new ones to my collection, namely the unabashedly erotic ones, including a few surprising explorations of male sexuality (e.g. Silkworm on penis size, Fox Control on spirit-subduing sexual prowess, Cut Sleeve on homosexuality / pederasty).

Dec 05, 2011 Ensiform rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, china, chinese
Translated by Denis C. and Victor H. Mair. This long collection of 51 tales from the 500s that Pu Songling accumulated all center around the supernatural: ghosts, werefoxes, and portentous dreams. Like Aesop's fables do with animals, these tales use the spirit world to demonstrate morals about the human world. Belligerent people (the Manchus) and corrupt officials are almost always Pu Songling's targets, although the tales also praise the qualities that make good marriages. Most of the morals st ...more
Oct 12, 2011 Sara rated it it was amazing
These stories were excellent! Ghosts, fox spirits, adulterous spouses, zombies - who knew 17th/18th century China was so rich with imagination? You can detect the turmoil of the dynastic shift from Ming to Manchu in these and perhaps thats where a lot of these tales stem from, the uncertainty of their situation. Many of these stories were just a few paragraphs long, and others went on for pages and each was accompanied by a classically drawn picture which will help many western readers put some ...more
Jan 02, 2010 Gabrielle rated it really liked it
Shelves: china

So very glad I picked up the Penguin edition. I would urge the reader to consider this a 17th Cen. Chinese version of the "Arabian Nights" The cultural notes were invaluable and even amusing. John Minford, as translator and editor was up to the job of placing these short stories of the Supernatural and Strange their proper context, no small feat. His explanation of later commentaries and thoughtful translation of the author's prologue poem were very useful in understanding the world these tales
Venkat Narayanan
Apr 09, 2016 Venkat Narayanan rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
1. Should try to read all the 450+ original tales.

2. Should read the notes more carefully again.
Jan 05, 2010 Andrew added it
Shelves: chinese-fiction
Like half of these stories could/should be told by Pei Mei from Kill Bill. They're all, as the title might imply, quite strange and Chinese. Fox spirits, vengeful dragons, immortal Taoist priests, prodigal sons who are punished for their failure to live up to the precepts of Confucius, the whole nine yards.

Borges was a big fan, and it's easy to tell why. The whole thing seems like a prelude to all those formalist mid-century writers-- it's as intertextual, fabulist, and mathematical as Calvino a
Jessica Bebenek
Oct 15, 2012 Jessica Bebenek rated it really liked it
Shelves: thesis
A funny little book of entertaining tales.
I came across it in my research on children's lit & fairy/folk tales, though this would definitely not be appropriate for children. It doesn't really fall into any of those Western categorizations. I think of it more as a collection of little tales to flip through, some long and some only half a page, some sweet and some raunchy, some simply confounding. Overall, definitely entertaining.
Mar 19, 2010 Joseph rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009, recommended
This was a very good book to read, a seventeenth century window into Chinese culture: its fascinations, fears, and superstitions (some of which seem current today). The stories themselves are eccentric, mysterious, and quite playful. An interesting study themselves in the short story form.

listened to volume 1. Useful for acquaintance with books familiar to many Chinese readers, but repetitious; will not finish the second volume. Full of foxes and demons who appear as humans, and the dead who return. Maybe a different translation would be more engaging.
Pengsheng Chiu
Aug 10, 2012 Pengsheng Chiu rated it really liked it
a Chinese classic novel.
Sep 23, 2014 Mari rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: students of Chinese language, literature and culture
Glavni likovi ove zbirke pripovedaka najčešće su ljudi-zveri (lisice, vukovi i dr.), duhovi, bogovi, besmrtnici i demoni, ali je Pu pisao i o svakodnevnom, stvarnom životu običnih ljudi: učenjaka, sudskih zvaničnika, daoističkih sveštenika, trgovaca, siromaha itd. Granica između stvarnog i fantastičnog često je bivala zamagljena. Koristio je natprirodno i neobjašnjivo da ilustruje svoje ideje o tadašnjem stanju društva i vlade. Kritikovao je korupciju i nepravdu, i saosećao sa patnjama siromašni ...more
May 30, 2014 Bbrown rated it really liked it
This collection of over one hundred stories was a fun and quick read for me, despite the fact that some of the story features get repetitive and few stories stood out from the herd. the introduction explains that the collection consists of two types of tales: one type is actual stories, with beginning, middle, and end as well as a theme and often times a lesson. The other type is just bizarre occurrences that Pu Songling heard about and recorded. The latter kind provides short breaks between the ...more
Mar 14, 2012 Mike rated it really liked it
This book is charming as much or more than it is creepy or scary, but it's a great introduction to the diversity and tenor of period Chinese literature. The patterns of Chinese narratives vary greatly from Western ones, despite the same universal topics of love, war, horror, wealth, and morals being the central foci of these stories. Some stories, such as "Generosity" are not about the supernatural or horror at all, while others take on an obviously fanastical trajectory. The fox-spirits that ar ...more
Nov 05, 2012 Meghan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Meghan by: My husband
This is why I hate short stories anthologies. They are never-ending. That said, this is a very good book for Westerners who want to know a little more about Chinese mythology and life back in the "olden" days. There are a lot of references to people and stories that one should know if one is to say they are well-read in Chinese literature.

That said, I hated, hated, hated, hated the translation. I know Gyles is one of the leading Chinese translators of his time. The Wade-Gyles system is one peopl
Sep 22, 2012 LordOfDorkness rated it it was amazing
Funny story about my buying this.

Picked it up from a used bookstore. Some of the stories seemed neat, but only just neat. Nothing to go crazy about. It's been a while since then, and as my grasp of them has grown, I think I've fallen in love with them.

Part of what threw me I think, was how understated each story was.And how uncharacteristic the turns or endings were. The stories don't fit into neatly into the box of 'beginning, middle and end' I was used to in what I read. I mean, all those par
André Luís
Aug 12, 2015 André Luís rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this one. The stories are simple and I sensed a fairy tale-like flavor to them. Plenty of archetypical imagery/qualities to enjoy. You can also find every most kind of stories here. There are love stories, horror stories, wuxia stories... There's even courtroom drama. Minford's translation is good, w/ many footnotes and an interesting introduction. I'd definitely read the other hundred stories that stayed out of this collection, if I could.
Veronika KaoruSaionji
Aug 29, 2009 Veronika KaoruSaionji rated it really liked it
Old chinese fantasy stories, some horrors, some crimi, but most mystery with romantic plot. Many beuatiful fox spirites! And some male ones, too. :o) I find here one clear gay (or bisexual) story ("Heroine") - young man meets very beautiful and clever teenage boy and makes him his beloved. But he loves one girl, too. He sleeps with both his lovers, but boy is very jealous to girl, she becomes angry and she kills him. And when he dies he becomes (dead) white fox - he was fox spirit... I was very ...more
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Pu Songling (simplified Chinese: 蒲松龄; traditional Chinese: 蒲松齡; pinyin: Pú Sōnglíng; Wade–Giles: P'u Sung-ling, June 5, 1640—February 25, 1715) was a Qing Dynasty Chinese writer, best known as the author of Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio.

Pu was born into a poor landlord-merchant family from Zichuan (淄川, now Zibo, Shandong). At the age of nineteen, he received the gongsheng degree in the civ
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