Liaozhai Zhiyi by Pu Songling: "The Mural"
The work departed from the prevailing literary fashion that was dominated by more realistic huaben stories written in the colloquial language. Pu instead wrote his stories in the classical idiom, freely adopting forms and themes from the old chuanqi (“marvel tales”) of the Tang and Song dynasties.
In 1679, he was employed by Jiyou Bi (毕际有, 1623–1693) as a resident tutor to Bi’s grandson, a position he occupied for thirty years. Pu was an avid reader of zhiguai (志怪), which literally means “records of strange events.” When he was in his twenties, Pu began to collect anecdotes and stories of strange happenings. According to legend, Pu set up a stall on a busy thoroughfare and offered free tea to passers-by in exchange for their stories of unusual experiences or events. Knowing of his interest, his friends and relatives sent him raw material from everywhere. He compiled these anecdotes and stories by adding his own world view, as well as the source of most of the stories. It is unknown how much of the collection had been completed by 1679, the year dated on his own preface to Liaozhai. For many decades, Liaozhai was circulated in manuscript form. It was not published until 1766, fifty-one years after Pu’s death. In the 1766 edition, there are 455 stories. Later, more stories were gradually found and added to the first edition. Now Liaozhai edited by Qikai Zhu (朱其铠) and published in 1992 contains 497 short stories.
Mixing genres and modes, and juxtaposing aesthetic refinement with discursive power, Pu Songling's ghost tales function as a literary construction, a projection of human psychology, an interpolation on religious belief, and a contested field of cultural and ideological debate.