An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Soushen houji 搜神後記

Nov 28, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Soushen houji 搜神後記 "Supplement to the Investigations into Deities" is a collection of phantastic stories compiled by the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420) poet Tao Qian 陶潛 (better known as Tao Yuanming 陶淵明). The book is also called Xu Soushenji 續搜神記 or Soushen xuji 搜神續記. It thus seemed to be written as a supplement to the collection Soushenji 搜神記 that was authored by Gan Bao 干寶. Although Tao Qian was always cited as the author of the book, doubts about his authorship were first raised by the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Shen Shilong 沈士龍. The reasons for doubt are obvious: The author is not mentioned in the oldest bibliographies in the Jiutangshu 舊唐書, Xintangshu 新唐書, the Chongwen zongmu 崇文總目 and the Zhizhai shulu jieti 直齋書錄解題, and the Songshi 宋史 (but in the bibliography Jingjizhi 經籍志 of the history Suishu 隋書). In two stories, furthermore, dates are mentioned that lie after the death of Tao Yuanming. The third point of doubt has to do with the quality of the text, which is much below the high literary level otherwise known in Tao's writings. All of these reasons put forward in doubt of Tao's authorship can also be put apart. Later authors might have supplemented some chapters, and there is no reason to assume that an excellent author has not written ghost stories.
The 10 juan "scrolls" long book includes 117 stories, and 6 fragments of lost stories. Some of the stories and tales are also recorded in similar collections from that period, including the Soushenji. The first two chapters include stories of immortals and magic, chapter 3 stories of omina and portents, and irregular natural phenomena, chapter 4 stories of marriages in afterlife, chapter 5 tales of gods, chapter 6 stories of ghosts, chapters 7 and 8 stories of natural phenoma connected with the Five Agents, and the last two chapters tales of spirits and strange animals. A lot of these tales became very popular and are known as famous Chinese folktales, like the story of the source in the Peach Garden (Taohuayuan 桃花源), or the pure girl from the White Water (Baishui sunü 白水素女), known as Lady Field Snail (Tianluo guniang 田螺姑娘), or the stories Yuan xiang gen shuo 袁相根碩, Ding Lingwei 丁令威, Axiang 阿香 or Jiuquan taishou 酒泉太守. The stories Li Zhongwen nü 李仲文女 and Mazi 馬子 tell how deceased persons were brought back to life, and can be seen as forerunners of stories like Tang Xianzu's 湯顯祖 theatre play Mudanting 牡丹亭 "The Peony Pavilion". Some of the stories have a Buddhist background, which is rarely seen in early Chinese fiction.
The oldest print of the Soushen houji is to be found in Hu Zhenheng's 胡震亨 reprint series Mice huihan 秘冊彙函. The Soushen houji is also included in the series Jindai mishu 津逮秘書, Xuejin taoyuan 學津討原, Zishu baijia 子書百家, Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編 and Siku quanshu 四庫全書. In 1981 the Zhonghua shuju press 中華書局 published a modern version with annotations by Wang Shaoying 汪紹楹. This version includes 117 paragraphs, with 6 fragmentary paragraphs appended.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe, vol. 2, p. 2169.
Liu Zhaoyun 劉兆雲 (1991). "Soushen houji 搜神後記", in: Zhongguo wenxue da cidian 中國文學大辭典, vol. 8, p. 5698. Ed. Ma Liangchun 馬良春, Li Futian 李福田. Tianjin: Tianjin renmin chubanshe.