The ancestors of Pu Songling (pew suhng-lihng) were probably of Turkic origin and came to China with the Mongol armies around the middle of the thirteenth century. Two of them were governors of Shandong in the last two or three decades of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), but nothing was heard of the family again until 1592, when a granduncle of the author became a jinshi and later served a term as magistrate. Pan, the author’s father, also studied for the examinations, but after failing several times to pass the first hurdle he turned to trade. He was apparently the most distinguished member of the clan in his day, for it was recorded that in 1647 he led a successful defense of his village against a band of marauders who had sacked several neighboring cities.
Pu was the third of four sons. He passed his xiucai examinations with highest honors in 1658, but the gongshi degree, the next in order, eluded him, though he attended the examinations regularly until he was seventy-one. As a result he was thwarted in his ambition, shared by all literocrats of traditional China, of entering government service, and he was forced to content himself with serving as secretary to more fortunate friends (from 1670 to around 1692) and in teaching in the family schools of the local gentry (until 1710).
Pu spent a considerable amount of time collecting and embellishing stories of strange events. These stories usually depict men’s or women’s romantic encounters with ghosts, fox fairies, or other spirits in mortal disguise. With few exceptions, these spirits exemplify ideal human qualities with regard to love, honor, loyalty,...
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