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Abstract

As the crowning achievement of Chinese classical tales, Pu Songling (1640-1715)’s Liaozhai zhiyi has enjoyed a prolific literary afterlife in the centuries following its completion around 1705. It has not only spawned a huge number of imitations, translations, adaptations, and sequels, but also lent inspiration to world-renowned writers such as Franz Kafka, Lafcadio Hearn, Jorge Luis Borges, and Mo Yan. Focusing on the period between 1880 and 1920, this dissertation examines some of the earliest responses to Pu Songling’s classical tales in the realm of world literature, arguing that they are simultaneously mediums of both “enchantment” and “disenchantment of the world” (Max Weber’s notion). Through a discussion of how these literary responses reinterpret Pu Songling’s classical tales in relation to Post-Enlightenment views of reality, this dissertation reflects on how the issue of enchantment is intertwined with the discursive construction of notions of Chinese culture at the turn of the twentieth century. ,The dissertation consists of three interrelated chapters, ordered chronologically. In Chapter One, I examine Herbert A. Gile’s 1880 Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio as a polemical translation and a critical study of Chinese culture, exemplifying what Carlo Ginzburg calls the “conjectural paradigm.” Contextualizing Giles’ translation among treaty-port translations of the Liaozhai, the Victorian translation of Oriental texts, and the emergence of the human sciences in nineteenth-century Britain, this chapter discusses how the renowned British sinologist scrutinized the Liaozhai tales for clues about Chinese religious beliefs, and made supposedly “scientific” inferences about Chinese culture using techniques he learned from contributors to the Victorian science of religion. Giles’ contention with the contemporary discourse about a superstitious China in the Strange Stories, I argue, reflects his conviction that the Liaozhai is not only an ethnographic record reflecting mainly Confucian ethics but also a multi-layered palimpsest, in which a stratum of primitive animism survives and recurs in the more sophisticated cultural imaginations that have overlaid the original material. ,Chapter Two examines Wang Tao’s experiment with the serialization of classical tales during the golden age of Chinese lithography. Restoring his Songyin tushuo series (also known as Hou Liaozhai) from “text” to “work”, this chapter challenges some of the widespread views regarding its classification and examines important interactions between his installments and contemporary lithographically-printed collections of classical tales, including illustrated editions of the Liaozhai. Examining Wang Tao’s tales as part of the literary supplement section of the Dianshizhai Pictorial, this chapter further discusses the lithographic medium’s impact on Wang Tao’s construction of a particular recurring motif that conveys mediated visions of enchantment. ,Chapter Three discusses the imitation and transformation of the Liaozhai tales in two Fan Liaozhai series written after 1900, in the form of counter-narratives. Contextualizing the two series within the “new fiction” (xin xiaoshuo) movement and the anti-superstition campaign at the turn of the twentieth century, this chapter examines the resurfacing of the strange elements from the Liaozhai within the confines of the series’ transitory supernatural plots, while characterizing their rational re-interpretation at the end of each tale as an obligatory but perfunctory attempt to obliterate enchantment. I argue that although the two series use modern literary devices such as individualized perception and figural consciousness to reconcile strange elements from the Liaozhai collection with Post-Enlightenment rationality, they deviate significantly from the anti-supernatural rhetoric they ostensibly adopt and do not ultimately fulfill a disenchantment agenda.

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