Professor of Sinology
Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures
Hong Mai’s massive Yijian zhi 夷堅志 has often been mined by scholars for what its thousands of stories reveal about Song dynasty popular religion and social history. But Yijian zhi has less frequently been studied on its own terms as tales of encounters with the “strange” that circulated in Hong Mai’s world and were filtered through his hands as he collected, wrote them down, and arranged to have them printed. The collection takes on new interest when we think it this way, as the pastime of an eminent court literatus and historian, as well as a publication project that stretched over forty years in thirty-two installments and apparently catered to an acute thirst for such stories among contemporary readers. The talk will discuss the misgivings Hong Mai’s colleagues had about his activity as recorder and publisher of these tales that mostly feature the horror and retribution inflicted by supernatural beings (ghosts, animal-demons, local gods, etc.) upon merchant-class persons and low level provincial bureaucrats. The apparent contradiction between Hong Mai’s official eminence and his avid collection of marvel tales (Hong’s “double life”) is significant for the way it calls into question some of our assumptions about high Confucian culture in the imperial period. The discrepancy is also helpful for understanding the nature of the material we find in Yijian zhi and for trying to account for Hong Mai’s self-acknowledged obsession with it.
Ronald Egan is Professor of Sinology in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Stanford University. His research is on Tang and Song period poetry, aesthetics, and literary culture. He is the author of The Problem of Beauty: Aesthetic Thought and Pursuits in Northern Song Dynasty China(2006), and the translator of selected essays from Qian Zhongshu’s Guanzhui bian, which appeared as Limited Views: Essays on Ideas and Letters by Qian Zhongshu (1998). His newest book, The Burden of Female Talent: The Poet Li Qingzhao and Her History in China, was published by the Asia Center at Harvard University in 2013.