Whose strange stories? Pu Sung-Ling (1640-1715), Herbert Giles (1845-1935), and the Liao-chai chin-i

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Journal article

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East Asian History

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For many decades Herbert Giles' nineteenth-century Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (Liao-chai chih-i) have been at best quietly tolerated, more often derided, and dismissed as orientalist bowdler­isations of P'u Sung-ling. But people have kept on reading them, publishers have kept on reprinting them, and nobody has yet come up with anything better-in English at least. It is perhaps a good moment to take a look at Giles' life and times, and at what exactly it was that he did to these Chinese texts. This might also offer a new prism through which to view P'u Sung-ling himself, surely the out­standing example of a "great" Chinese author poorly served by his own native critics and by Chinese readers of modern times in general. For in order to ask the question "How should this story be translated? or "How has it been translated?", we inevitably find ourselves asking "What does it really mean, and how is it, and was it, supposed to be read?" -- and thereby we may find ourselves discovering a new way of readingm and of bringing the stories alive again. All of this requires a bold leap of the imagination. To turn Said on his head, this usually roundabout and difficult rebirth is an unashamed process of reappropriation, of once again making the stories one's own, their own.

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Minford, J., & Tong, m. (1999). Whose strange stories? Pu Sung-Ling (1640-1715), Herbert Giles (1845-1935), and the Liao-chai chin-i. East Asian History, 17/18, 1-49.