In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record

In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record

In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record

In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record

Excerpt

In 220 A.D., when China's first great dynasty collapsed for the last time, four centuries of division would intervene before the Chinese Empire was unified again. This period spawned In Search of the Supernatural:
The Written Record (Sou-shen Chi)
and a whole genre of similar works. Of course, the phrase "period of division" (the label given it by historical studies) focuses on the diverse political competition, warfare, and ethnic rivalries which kept numerous states small, weak, and short-lived over a great land mass and a span of many centuries.

The cultures of Medieval China emerging after the fall of the Han/Liu clan, which had ruled for nearly four hundred years, were the natural consequence of earlier Han expansionism and Han pretensions to cultural diversity. At the zenith of that powerful dynasty, rulers like the emperor Wu brought inhabitants, creatures, and goods representative of the mighty and cosmopolitan Han empire to his capital and confined them in his palaces and parks: after the collapse it was as though all these rarities and oddities had escaped from the emperor's great amusement parks and suddenly become factors in Chinese Realpolitik. So long as they remained in royal parks, control of strong regional cultures that surrounded the Han heartland bespoke the prestige of Han rulers. But by the third century, regional cultures and their ethnically different peoples in fact squeezed the secure regions of China with increasingly strong states which, having learned new and powerful administrative techniques from the Han, then turned them against the originators.

Literati, once pampered, cloistered and patronized during the strongest Han reigns, were now confronted with a less secure picture of their world, which piqued their curiosity even as it raised their anxiety. For the . . .

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