A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways through Mountains and Seas

A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways through Mountains and Seas

A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways through Mountains and Seas

A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways through Mountains and Seas

Synopsis

"At last! Richard Strassberg's stunning new work provides a lively introduction in words and pictures to one of China's best loved and least understood classics, the "Shanhai jing or "Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. This classic of mythical geography and fantastic ethnography, full of wondrous stories and creatures, contains a treasury of information about the Chinese worldview and has inspired Chinese writers and artists for over two millennia. But until now, its strange vocabulary together with patchy transmission of both text and illustrations, have made it difficult to present to English-speaking audiences. Relying on a rare 1597 edition of the classic, Strassberg has faithfully captured its combination of entertaining whimsy and deep religious intent. His new book, the product of years of study by one of the few people truly qualified to analyze both text and the images, is sure to delight specialist and nonspecialist alike."--Suzanne Cahill, author of "Transcendence and Divine Passion: The Queen,Mother of the West in Medieval China

Excerpt

The Guideways through Mountains and Seas (Shanhaijing) is a unique and enduring record of a wide range of beliefs held by the ancient Chinese about their world, encompassing religion, mythology, geography, flora, fauna, minerals, and medicine. An encyclopedic cosmography mostly compiled from the Warring States period to the Western Han dynasty (c. 4th-c. 1st cent. B.C.E.), it has been repeatedly hand-copied, reprinted, and re-edited through the centuries into our own time. Since the nineteenth century, it has also attracted the attention of foreign scholars and in recent years has been translated into at least five di erent languages. The early Guideways may well have been illustrated, but if so, these images have all been lost, as have those known to have existed during the Six Dynasties, Tang, and Song periods. The earliest surviving set of woodblock illustrations is from a rare edition dated 1597, during the late Ming dynasty, and this set is reproduced here for the first time in its entirety. The modern reader can now survey representations of some 350 gods, heroes, demons, foreign peoples, and other strange creatures from among the more than 550 that the book records. When the Guide-ways was edited and presented to Emperor Ming of the Western Han dynasty in 6 B.C.E., it was already regarded as a compendium of lost knowledge. Today, only a small number of these creatures are familiar to the Chinese, although the animistic and demonological worldview they represent survived throughout the country well into the twentieth century and is still embraced by some.

In titling this present volume a “bestiary, ” my intention is to suggest a general similarity to works from other premodern cultures in which examples of living anomalies were collected for purposes of instruction, curiosity, and delight. Strictly speaking, the Guideways di ers from the bestiaries of the late medieval period in Europe in that these strange creatures were almost never allegorically construed as vehicles of theological virtues or evils. Rather, they were regarded as actual entities found throughout the landscape. A part of the ecology within the cosmos of heaven and earth, they dwelled elusively alongside humankind, which was obliged to learn how to recognize them and to employ the appropriate strategies for coexisting with them. Preserving and transmitting such knowledge was undoubtedly one of the original purposes of the anonymous . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.