An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Youminglu 幽明錄

Oct 3, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Youminglu 幽明錄 "Stories of darkness and brightness" is a collection of ghost stories compiled by the Liu-Song period 劉宋 (420-479) writer Liu Yiqing 劉義慶, who is known for his authorship of the Shishuo xinyu 世說新語. The Youminglu is listed with a length of 20 juan in the imperial bibliography Jingjizhi 經籍志 of the official dynastic history Suishu 隋書, yet the two bibliographies in the Jiutangshu 舊唐書 and Xintangshu 新唐書 speak of 30 juan. The Youminglu disappeared during the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126). The title of the book is derived from a sentence in the basic commentary Xici 繫辭 to the Confucian Classic Zhouyi 周易 "Book of Changes", where it is said that "the sage knows the causes of what is obscure and what is bright". Ghosts and demons belong to the darkness, and it is of these matters that the Youminglu speaks. In some respects the Youminglu is similar to Gan Bao's 干寳 book Soushenji 搜神記, but because Liu Yiqing was very interested in Buddhism, a lot of stories also include Buddhist thought, which is rarely seen in common ghost stories of that age. While the Soushenji narrates a lot of semi-historical events and popular tales, the Youminglu rather tends to draw its contents from popular tales and stories that were widespread during the Southern dynasties period 南朝 (420~589). A lot of stories later evolved into novellas, novels or theatre plays, like the stories Liu Chen Ruan Zhao 劉晨阮肇 or Huangyuan 黄原 that were originally simple tales but were enlarged with a touch of love stories and so became very widespread. Other examples are the stories Mai hufen nüzi 賣胡粉女子 or Pang A 龐阿 that speak of the return of dead persons to life by force of love. These tales can be seen as forerunners of the Lihunji 離魂記 from the Tang period 唐 (618-907) or the famous theatre play Mudanting 牡丹亭 from the late Ming period 明 (1368-1644). Stories like Xin si gui 新死鬼 or Zhao Tai 趙泰 superficially deal with ghosts, but in fact these are stories of living persons in a dialogue. It can be seen that the literary quality of the Youminglu has already reached a higher level than the early stories of the genre of zhiguai 志怪 "narrating miracles".
Some of the stories can also be found in a similar form in the books Lieyizhuan 列異傳, Soushenji or Soushen houji 搜神後記. Parts of the Youminglu have even found their way into the official dynastic history Jinshu 晉書.
The original text is lost and only preserved in fragments assembled in the books Leishuo 類説, Linlang mishu congshu 琳琅秘書叢書, Wuchao xiaoshuo 五朝小説 and Shuofu 說郛. The Republican scholar Lu Xun 魯迅 had assembled all surviving 265 fragments in his reprint series Gu xiaoshuo goushen 古小说钩沉. Most of them were quotations of the encylopedia Taiping guangji 太平廣記.

There was a sequel to the Youminglu written by an unknown author during the Tang period. The only surviving fragment of a book called Hou youminglu 後幽明錄 is the story Pengchu 鵬雛 that is quoted in the encyclopedia Yiwen leiju 藝文類聚. This story of this paragraph is also included in the book Kongshi zhiguai 孔氏志怪, but in a shorter version. The collection Shuofu quotes another paragraph from a book called Xu Youminglu 續幽明錄 authorship of which is attributed to the Tang period historian Liu Xiaosun 劉孝孫. This story is quite probably not originating in the proper Hou youminglu, but seems to be identical with the story Ziyu 紫玉 in the book Soushenji.

Cheng Yizhong 程毅中 (1986). "Youminglu 幽明錄", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學, vol. 2, p. 1177. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Li Shuihai 李水海 (ed. 1994). Zhongguo xiaoshuo da cidian 中國小說大辭典, Xian-Qin zhi Nanbeichao 先秦至南北朝, p. 838. Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 2170. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.