17 – Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio

Let me just jump right in: this is a fun collection of strange and even slightly scary stories. If you’re as into folklore as I am then this book’s for you. The lengthy footnotes are bittersweet; they help add nuance and details to the very short snippets, but they also remind me of my reading inadequacies.

I read, write, and speak Mandarin, but I have to admit I read faster in English. Reading these stories and seeing all the additional details provided by the footnotes, I start wondering just how nicer it would be to read the original and privy to all the inside jokes, witty turns of phrases, and double entendre.

Speaking of double entendre, let me leave you with something that isn’t quite as subtle. Let’s play spot the anal sex euphemism, shall we? Pu Songling says he’s not a fan, but let him convince you otherwise.

Light and dark,
Hot and cool,
Dry and moist,
So it goes,
True counterpoint
Of Yin and Yang.
Illicit trysts
Twixt men and women
Were once thought foul;
How much the fouler reeks
The passion of Cut Sleeve,
Of Half-Eaten Peach,*
Of love twixt man and man!
Only the mightiest warrior
Can penetrate that tiny bird-track!
That narrow grotto
Leads to no Peach Blossom Spring:
Surely the fisherman
Poled up it by mistake!
Our hero forsakes
The play of Clouds and Rain,
Turns away from
The true way
Of human consummation,
Preferring the up and down
Of manual masturbation,
Yin and Yang
He abandons the Flowery Pool,
For a phony tale
Of enlightened
Sublimation of desire.
On the Grassless Terrain
Of the Barbarian Grotto,
The One-Eyed Marshal
Leads the charge.
Tethering Red Hare
To the Rear Gate of the Barracks,
The General
Thrusts his halberd.
Seeking to steal the Great Bow
From the National Armoury,
He bursts the barrier.
In a slippery dream
A Yellow Eel wriggled
Between the student’s thighs,
Omen of last night’s union.
The plums sold by Wang Rong
Were juicy but sterile,
Their stones hollowed out
To put a stop to posterity.
Into the Black Pine Wood
Thunders the cavalry;
From the Yellow Dragon Palace
Surges the tide.
This nefarious pestle
Should be snapped off
At its root!
This wicked passage
Should be blocked up
For ever!

*the cut sleeve and the half-eaten peach are commonly used euphemisms for homosexuality based on two of the most famous man-on-man love stories of China


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