Taiping guangji

Taiping guangji
(Taiping kuang-chi)
(ca. 978)
   The Taiping guangji (Extensive records of the Taiping era) is a collection of some 7,000 tales and anecdotes compiled by government fiat during the early years of the Song (Sung) dynasty—a period (976–983) known as the Taiping or “Reign of Great Tranquility.” The collection was made from some 500 sourcebooks, more than two-thirds of which are no longer extant. Most of the tales were composed during the preceding TANG DYNASTY and earlier, and a large number of them are concerned with supernatural elements: There are gods and other deities, Taoist magicians, marvelous animals and plants, fairies and magic spells, portents from heaven, and, of course, ghosts. The collection remains quite a popular source for fantastic tales. The Taiping guangji, however, were very nearly lost to posterity, despite the good work of the efficient editor Li Fang, who had compiled the collection in some 18 months. Prose fiction was not considered a serious form of literature in medieval China, since fiction was thought of as misleading and likely to lead to vice and dishonesty. Fiction was known as xiaoshuo (hsiao shuo; insignificant tellings). Prose tales could only gain credibility if they were purported to be historical. The fantastic tales of the Taiping guangji were beyond such a designation.
   The Taiping guangji had been one of three large compilation projects initiated by order of Emperor Taizong (T’ai-tsung) during the early Song years, but when objections were raised to the collection, claiming that the compendium would be useless to students, plans to publish the collection were abandoned, despite the fact that printing blocks for the collection had already been produced. The text was preserved in manuscript, however, and the collection was finally printed during the Ming dynasty.
   ■ Idema,Wilt, and Lloyd Haft. A Guide to Chinese Literature. Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, the University of Michigan, 1997.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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