Chinese Short Fiction Origins


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

The Chinese equivalent of “short fiction,” “xiaoshuo,” first appeared in Han shu (first century c.e.; The History of the Former Han Dynasty, 1938) as the heading of a section consisting of twenty-seven works. Although all these pieces have been lost, a large number of other collections of short fiction approximately from that period have survived. Among these collections are Zhanguo ce (Chan-kuo ts’e, 1970; intrigue of the warring states) by Liu Xiang, Shiji (c. 80 b.c.e.; partial translation as Records of the Grand Historian of China, 1961) by Si-ma Qian (Xiao Lin, c. 500; The Forest of Smiles) by Han-dan Chun, Yu lin (the forest of sayings) by Pei Chi, and (Shi-shuo xinyu, c. 430; A New Account of Tales of the World) by Liu Yiqing. In these collections are stories of famous statesmen and military figures, tales of historical events, political anecdotes, and popular jokes.

The Six Dynasties (220-589) witnessed a growing fascination with the fantastic and the supernatural in society. Narratives of miraculous phenomena and human encounters with ghosts and spirits flourished. Predominantly secularized versions of Daoist and Buddhist tales, these narratives were usually written in the official documentary style, for their authors believed that what they recorded were actual happenings rather...

(The entire section is 515 words.)