Pu Songling Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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,...

(The entire section is 677 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Pu Songling was born on June 5, 1640, in Zichuan, Shandong, China. Possibly of Mongol ancestry, he was the son of Pu Pan, a merchant, who was also a man of action as well as of some learning. In this old but impoverished family of gentry there were scholars and officials such as Pu’s granduncle, Pu shangwan, who held the jinshi (“entered scholar”), the highest, or “doctor’s,” degree, and was the magistrate of Youtian, in Zhili. In addition to his family name of Pu and his personal name of Songling, Pu Songling had two “courtesy names,” taken at age twenty, by which he was known among his friends: Liu Xian (last of the immortals) and Jian Chan (knight-errant). He further had two “artistic names,” adopted on occasion as names for his library or studio, by which he was popularly known after he became famous: Luo Chuan (willow spring) and Liao Zhai (casual studio).

In 1658, at age eighteen, Pu qualified for the lowest, or “bachelor’s,” degree, which required him to pass three successive sets of examinations by writing eight or ten essays on themes assigned from the “Four Books and Five Classics,” as well as five poems on prescribed patterns. Yet, although he regularly took the provincial examinations for the next highest degree, he consistently failed. Not until 1711, at age seventy-one, did he succeed in being made a senior licentiate. Apparently his diverse interests prevented him from pursuing the traditional program of study rigorously enough.

As a result, Pu Songling spent his life in a variety of activities. In 1670 he was employed as a secretary to the magistrate...

(The entire section is 666 words.)