Toward the end of the eighteenth century Ji Xiaolan, widely regarded as the most eminent scholar and foremost wit of his age, published five collections of anecdotes and discourses centring on the interaction between the mundane and spirit worlds, but also including purely earthly life stories and happenings. Some items represent Ji’s own thought and experiences, but the majority were supplied by others, Ji acting only as recorder. Settings range socially from the milieux of peasants, servants and merchants to those of governors and ministers, and geographically extend to the far reaches of the Qing empire. Contents may dwell on comedy or tragedy, cruelty or kindness, corruption or integrity, erudition or ignorance, credulity or scepticism; several items borrow ghost stories to satirize men and manners; some straightforwardly examine current beliefs and practices. Taken together, this miscellany presents a picture of the contemporary world unmatched in its scope and variety of perspectives, and in this way comes nearer to depicting “real life” than novels or institutional histories.
Professor David Pollard’s masterful translation has made this well-known Chinese classic by Ji Xiaolan, a Qing dynasty high official and man of letters, more accessible to the Western readers. From the author’s five collections of notebooks or “jottings” Pollard has selected the most fascinating accounts, in particular those of “The Supernatural and the Curious” (Part I). A ready successor to Pu Songling’s Liaozhai zhiyi (Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio) but more humanly appealing, the book offers a kaleidoscope of everyday life in eighteenth-century China in all its quotidian and fantastic dimensions. An absorbing read, both enlightening and entertaining.
—Leo Ou-fan Lee, The Sin Wai Kin Professor of Chinese Culture, The Chinese University of Hong Konga
At the end of the eighteenth century, China stood on the eve of a bruising encounter with the wider world that would leave lasting effects. No one better to capture the way things were than a writer with such remarkable encounters with the emperor and the nation’s greatest minds, as well as those who lived on the fringes of empire, and no better translator than David Pollard, who has worked with concise Chinese prose, throughout a long and distinguished academic career. This book is a pleasurable read of scholarly importance, and will become an instant classic among general readers and specialists alike.
—Timothy Barrett, Professor Emeritus of East Asian History, SOAS