Preface to Strange Stories of Chinese Studio

AUTHOR'S OWN RECORD by P'u Song-ling



P’u Song-ling (17th century a.d. ), after taking his first or bachelor’s degree before he was twenty, this now famous writer, popularly known as “Last of the Immortals,” failed to secure the second and more important degree which would have brought him into official life; the reason being that he neglected the beaten track of academic study and allowed himself to follow his own fancy. His literary output consists of a large collection of weird fantastic tales, which might well have disappeared but for the extraordinarily beautiful style in which they are written, — a style which has been the envy and admiration of authors for the past two hundred and forty years. They have been translated into English by the present writer under the title of “Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio.” All that we really know about him is given in the document translated below.

“CLAD in wistaria, girdled with ivy:” thus sang Ch’u P’ing[1] in his Falling into Trouble. Of ox-headed devils and serpent Gods, he of the long nails [2] never wearied to tell. Each interprets in his own way the music of heaven; and whether it be discord or not, depends upon antecedent causes. As for me, I cannot, with my poor autumn fire-fly’s light, match myself against the hobgoblins of the age. I am but the dust in the sunbeam, a fit laughing-stock for devils. For my talents are not those of Kan Pao,[3] elegant explorer of the records of the Gods; I am rather animated by the spirit of Su Tung-P’o, [4] who loved to hear men speak of the supernatural. I get people to commit what they tell me to writing, and subsequently I dress it up in the form of a story; thus in the lapse of time my friends from all quarters have supplied me with quantities of material, which, from my habit of collecting, has grown into a vast pile.[5]

Human beings, I would point out, are not beyond the pale of fixed laws, and yet there are more remarkable phenomena in their midst than in the country of those who crop their hair;[6] antiquity is unrolled before us, and many tales are to be found therein stranger than that of the nation of Flying Heads.[7] ” Irrepressible bursts and luxurious ease,”[8] — such was always one enthusiastic strain. ” For ever indulging in liberal thought ” [9] — thus spoke another openly without restraint. Were men like these to open my book, I should be a laughing-stock to them indeed. At the cross-road men will not listen to me, and yet I have some knowledge of the three states of existence spoken of beneath the cliff ; [10] neither should the words I utter be set aside because of him that utters them. [11] 
When the bow was hung at my father’s door,[12] he dreamed that a sickly-looking Buddhist priest, but half covered by his stole, entered the chamber. On one of his breasts was a piece of plaster like a cash; and my father, waking from sleep, found that I, just born, had a similar black patch on my body. As a child, I was thin and constantly ailing, and unable to hold my own in the battle of life. Our home was chill and desolate as a monastery; and working there for my livelihood with my pen, I was as poor as a priest with his alms-bowl. Often and often I put my hand to my head and exclaimed, “Surely he who sat with his face to the wall[13] was myself in a previous state of existence;” and thus I referred my non-success in this life to the influence of a destiny surviving from the last. I have been tossed hither and thither in the direction of the ruling wind, like a flower falling in filthy places; but the six paths of transmigration [14]are inscrutable indeed, and I have no right to complain. As it is, midnight finds me with an expiring lamp, while the wind whistles mournfully without; and over my cheerless table I piece together my tales, vainly hoping to produce a sequel to The Infernal Regions. [15]
With a bumper I stimulate my pen, yet I only succeed thereby in “venting my excited feelings,”[16] and as I thus commit my thoughts to writing, truly I am an object worthy of consideration. Alas! I am but the bird that, dreading the winter frost, finds no shelter in the tree; the autumn insect that chirps to the moon, and hugs the door for warmth. For where are they who know me? [17] They are ” in the bosky grove and at the frontier pass,”[18] — wrapped in an impenetrable gloom!
(by H. A. Giles)