Searching out the spirits

搜神記 (Sou shen ji)



An introduction to the Records of Searching out the Spirits.

Among the 晉書 (Jin Shu) books of the Tsin dynasty, 4th century CE, there is a very special book titled 搜神記 (Sou shen ji) In Search of the Supernatural, literally “Records of Searching out the Spirits”. This book is a compilation of legends, short stories and hearsay concerning spirits, ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. [1]

The author of the book is 甘寶 Gan Bao, a historian at the court of Emperor Yuan of Jin in 350 AD. It is said that Gan Bao became interested in these supernatural matters after a member of his family survived more than 10 years sealed inside a tomb with the help of a ghost which brought her food.[2]

The book consists of 464 stories, and amounts to 20 volumes. Gan Bao says, “I selected and made a collection of all the marvellous and extraordinary things, connected with spirits, and all the changes and transformations of men and things both in ancient and modern times, and have called it 搜神 a thorough searching of the spirits ; I shewed this work, amounting to 20 volumes, to 劉惔 Lew- tan, who said, You, Sir, may well be called the chronicler of the 鬼 spirits.”[3]

There was also one 章炳文 Zhang Bingwen, who had a work called the mysterious book, devoted to 搜神 the searching out of all the spirits.”[3]

Pu Songling cites Gan Bao’s work as a far greater work than his own, the now famous Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio translated by H. A. Giles.