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The remains of Tai Fu's lost collection Kuang-i chi ('The Great Book of Marvels') preserve three hundred short tales of encounters with the other world. This study develops a style of close reading through which those tales give access to the lives of individuals in eighth-century China. Through the eyes of a mid-century county official the picture emerges of a complex lay society, served by a mixed priesthood of ritual practitioners, whose members' lives at all levels were profoundly shaped by their perceived experience of contact with the other world. It was a society embarking on fundamental change, and this book uses the sharp historical focus of Tai Fu's collection to study the dynamics of that change. The work gracefully reveals the transition from the beliefs and institutions of early mediaeval China towards those we now recognize as modern.
For convenient use this listing follows the order of stories as they appear, first in T'ai-p'ing kuang-chi, then in other sources, although there is no reason to believe that this reflects the order in the original collection. The textual data given here build upon the edition by Fang Shih-ming, published together with Ming-pao chi by Chung-hua shu-chü, Peking 1992. Some details are corrected, some new sources added. The present list aims to be inclusive: even when the attribution of a given story to Kuang-i chi is open to doubt, it still appears below. I have not followed Fang in assuming that all stories containing early dates or found in earlier collections are by that token wrongly attributed to Kuang-i chi: it seems at least possible that Tai Fu transcribed items from other collections into his own. A synopsis of content is given for all stories except those which for reasons of chronology cannot have appeared in the original Kuang-i chi. Minimal annotation covers matters of biographical or historical context, but concentrates on less routinely accessible sources. Thus, although place-names are recorded here, no effort is made to document them individually; no systematic references are given to standard early biographies, nor to Ch'ien Chungshu's observations on many items in his Kuan-chui pien, vol. 2, Peking 1979. These are easily found. But details are given of items translated into Western languages, which are scattered inconspicuously in various sources.
Ever since Mencius divided mankind into the rulers and the ruled, the feeders and the fed, analysts of Chinese society have delighted in the use of paired antithetical categories. North and south, centre and provinces, city and countryside, aristocrats and bureaucrats, elite culture and popular culture – matching concepts like these reach to all parts of the subject and still run through the routine discourse of historians, in China and out of it. Yet students of China's past and present also know that close scrutiny makes those great categories blur and dissolve into complexity as their boundaries lose definition. Contact with specific situations in even a limited area usually brings out a welter of phenomena showing little obvious coherence. There is, in short, a fundamental tension between schematic simplicity and focused intimacy. That tension will shape our study of Kuang-i chi at every point.
We have already seen Ku K'uang's preface take a thematic interest in the bridging of alien categories – human and non-human, dead and living, male and female. For him the cases cited in his preface, gleaned from a heritage of older literature, were visible signs of a material cosmos in process of constant mutation. But although that underlying cosmic process might offer to other eyes a scene of total, random complexity, Ku K'uang's way of representing it, equally in herited from past cosmologists, is shaped by the same familiar discourse of matching oppositions.