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Heroes, rogues, and religion in a tenth-century Chinese miscellany.

 In the Tang, Huang Chao [??] (?-884)
 violated the palace, and [Emperor] Xizong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN
 ASCII] (r. 873-88) went to Shu. Minister of State Zhang Jun [TEXT NOT
 REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (fl. 890-95) was of humble status and had not
 yet passed the examinations. (1) At the time he lived at an estate in
 Yongle in Hezhong. (2) In the hamlet there was a Taoist, who
 sometimes wore hemp clothes and sometimes wore a feathered cape. One
 could not be on familiar terms with him. One day Zhang was walking
 ahead on the village road. From behind there was a cry, "Gentleman
 Zhang Thirty-four, the troops ahead await you to defeat the bandits."
 He turned around, and it was this Taoist. The Minister of State said,
 "I am only a commoner. What basis could I rely on to be able to
 defeat the bandits?" The Taoist urged him to enter Shu. Just then the
 chancellor's parents were very ill, and it turned out that he could
 no travel south. The Taoist then gave him two cinnabar pills and
 said, "[Have them] take these and for ten years you will be without
 calamities." The Minister of State took the pills and gave them to
 his parents. They recovered from what ailed them. Later [Zhang]
 eventually ascended to be a Chief Bulwark of the State. The Taoist
 further was never seen again. As for the talk of defeating the
 bandits, how could it be verified? (3)

This narrative contains several features often found in tales relating to Taoists in Chinese medieval anecdotal collections. The Taoist appears as an unusual, solitary, unapproachable figure. The encounter takes place suddenly, without warning, not in a temple or at a home but on the road, and the two parties never meet again. He divines the future of an educated man and offers healing prescriptions that turn out to be efficacious. By dint of his modesty and filial piety, as well as his assistance in the rebellion's suppression and later in his service at the court of Tang Zhaozong (r. 889-904), the beneficiary proves worthy of such attention, despite the anecdotalist's final note of skepticism. The Taoist also affirms the imperial order, then gravely imperiled by the Huang Chao Rebellion (874-84).

What makes this story especially notable is its source, the Beimeng suoyan [??], or Sundry events from the north of Yunmeng, a miscellany completed by the literatus Sun Guangxian [??] (896-968) in the 960s. As an example of biji [??], or "brushed notes," the work exhibits the rich variety typical of the genre. We learn about the personalities of various Tang emperors, as well as about methods for extracting terrapin urine. Two features in particular distinguish this collection. First, the Beimeng suoyuan belongs to the tenth century, a period of remarkable literary obscurity, especially when compared with the glittering talents and productivity of the ninth and eleventh centuries. At its present size of roughly twenty-five chapters, Sun's volume numbers among the largest extant works composed in the tenth century by a single author who did not belong to the Buddhist or Taoist clergies, and ranks as the largest miscellany of its time. (4) Second, despite Sun's conventional note that he wrote his book to transmit the "enduring fine reputations of the court and countryside" of the late Tang and Five Dynasties era, (5) the collection as a whole portrays a polity and society in ruins. Feckless monarchs, scheming officials, brutal warlords, and presumptuous scions of noble families serve as Sun's main dramatis personae, who combine to produce a world of constant insecurity, corruption, gratuitous violence, and sudden death. In a manner matched by few works, the Beimeng suoyan reflects the troubled atmosphere of China's second, uncelebrated era of disunion.

Amid this grim tableau, the Zhang Jun anecdote above, with its portrayal of virtue and efficacy, offers a distinct contrast. (6) Other tales of success in Sun's collection involve the supernatural and do so to a striking degree. In this article I examine anecdotes in the Beimeng suoyan that deal with religious specialists and religion, namely Taoists, Buddhists, and local cults. Far from being otherworldly, reclusive figures, clergy and spirits are presented in these stories as deeply engaged in secular society. Moreover, although diversity and randomness characterize biji as a genre, Sun Guangxian employs clear, albeit unarticulated, principles of selection regarding what must have amounted to a multitude of stories circulating in his time. In particular, we find a clear polarity, produced, one can speculate, from considerable reflection concerning those claiming access to the divine and who might use that access to influence the human world. First, Buddhists reflect the corruption of the age and deserve little more than contempt. Second, and perhaps more notably, Taoists and local spirits prove both powerful and virtuous, constitute some of the most admirable figures in the entire collection, and assume almost the mantle of culture heroes in a distressed age. Sun's veneration cannot be considered as "piety" in the conventional sense; no anecdote presents him as worshiping deities or following any religious regimen in his daily life. Rather, he casts religious figures (except Buddhists), among the larger community of elites that wielded power in medieval China, as authorities of exceptional virtue.


Although sources regarding his biography remain scarce, Sun Guangxian led perhaps as successful a life as a literatus might hope for in the turmoil of the final decades of medieval China. (7) He grew up in a Sichuan farming family at the end of the Tang and was known to be fond of study. In the Former Shu kingdom (907-925) he served as administrative assistant in Lingzhou, in western Sichuan. When that regime fell to the Later Tang in 925, Sun fled to the statelet of Jingnan (907-963), headquartered near present-day Wuhan, and soon received a position as chief secretary. Sun enjoyed a long career in Jingnan, rising to the positions of acting director of the palace library and censor-in-chief. In 963 he urged the final Jingnan monarch to capitulate to Song forces, and a grateful Song Taizu (r. 960-976) made him governor of Huangzhou. The court later summoned Sun to serve at the capital as an academician, but he died before assuming the post.

Known as an erudite scholar and energetic bibliophile, Sun's own literary corpus at one time amounted to over one hundred fascicles, but apart from some works of verse, only the Beimeng suoyan now survives. According to Sun's preface, the collection originally comprised thirty fascicles, and the two major Southern Song bibliographies concur. In the early fourteenth century, the bibliography section of the encyclopedia Wenxian tongkao [??] reported that the collection contained only twenty fascicles, and every subsequent bibliography has followed suit. The earliest printed versions of the work date from the Ming Wanli (1573-1619) period. At the end of the Qing dynasty, another printed edition culled entries attributed to the Beimeng suoyan from other collections, principally the tenth-century Taiping guangji [??], and appended a four-fascicle supplement of the twenty-fascicle edition. Recent scholars have found elsewhere thirty-five entries.

In general, posterity has looked favorably on Sun's miscellany. In the Taiping guangji, the Beimeng suoyan ranks as one of the most oft-cited sources, with 240 entries. Sima Guang [??] (1019-1086) used it in the composition of the Zizhi tongjian [??], and the editors of the eighteenth-century Siku quanshu [??], while faulting its loose organization and diverse selection of material, found it a worthy historical source. Modern scholars have used the work to study subjects as diverse as the deadly early tenth-century political infighting as well as the origins of the Wenchang [??] cult. The most significant recent work has come from Fang Rui, who has written several meticulous textual studies devoted to Sun and his collection. (8)

Before taking up the narratives involving religion, we must underscore the distinctiveness of Sun's opus. Few collections evince more vividly and at such length the decline of the medieval order. Space does not permit a full discussion of this material, but the two entries below offer a sampling of its sanguinary character:
 During the Tang Xianzong reign (860-74), Pang Xun rebelled in Xuzhou.
 At the time Cui Yong (d. 869) commanded Hezhou. He surrendered to Xun
 and was taken to Pengmen. Yong excelled at conversation and obeyed
 [Xun] with deferential words, hoping to ease his misfortune. Xun also
 treated him extremely generously. [Yong's] son was young and
 exceptional. Through drinking, gambling, and tea parties, he himself
 was able to get close to [Xun], and there was no distance or
 suspicion. Because [Yong] had lost his authority to a bandit, he was
 distressed about his family. He said to his son, "You excel at
 approaching him. If you get an opportunity, could you assassinate
 him? Everyone has a death; if we can only achieve [it on] the right
 occasion, what regrets could we have?" His son undertook the order
 and secretly concealed a sharp knife. [In the event], his expression
 suddenly changed and his body trembled. Xun suspected a plot and thus
 had his person searched, finding the dagger there. Then he ordered
 [the son] boiled. The following day, he summoned Yong to come to
 dinner. After they had finished, he asked Yong, "Was the meat good?"
 [Yong] replied, "I believe the flavor was delicate and filling." Xun
 said, "This was none other than the meat of a worthy gentleman." He
 then ordered [Yong] killed. (9) Emperor Mingzong (r. 926-933) greatly
 detested material greed. The Dengzhou capital liaison representative
 Tao Qi was convicted by the Neixiang county magistrate Cheng Guiren
 of levying tax surcharges. [The court] demoted him to be Lanzhou
 vice-prefect. Chief Secretary Wang Weiji seized court rescripts to
 serve successive terms. He was sentenced to be a jail-keeper of
 commoners in Suizhou. The Haozhou governor Li Ye was allowed to
 commit suicide for having accepted bribes. [The emperor] chastised
 Ruzhou governor Chang Jian to his face for his greed and violence.
 Bianzhou functionaries took bribes, and among their group was Shi
 Yanxun. He was the son of an old general and the relative of
 commander-escort Shi Jingtang. Wang Jianli memorialized about it,
 hoping that he would avoid a death sentence. The emperor said, "The
 king's law is impartial; how could we play favorites?" Thereupon all
 [the functionaries] were killed. (10)

In the first anecdote, an ignominious official recklessly endangers his own son's life, and a rebel exacts a fearsome price. In the second entry, high officials engage in graft, illustrating that moral rot has spread throughout the body politic. The ubiquity of this problem suggests as well a deficiency of imperial virtue. Fierce counter-measures, readers would have judged, were desperate measures and could not result in long-term moral transformation. In general, moreover, certain topics central to the literati's calling, such as classical learning, the literary heritage, and the civil-service examination system, rarely appear here. When anecdotes refer to the examination system, for example, they often report its unsavory side. One entry recounts how an examiner passes an unqualified candidate in exchange for the latter giving his beautiful daughter in marriage to the examiner's brother. Another relates how a jinshi's wife composed his essays, and a third reports on the propensity of a first-place examinee to beat his servant. (11) In short, while China never experienced a "Dark Ages," these tales read en masse suggest an almost unprecedented demoralization for China's literate elite and its civilization.


In his collection, Sun Guangxian presents the Taoist religion in a consistently affirmative way. Stories involving Taoists refer to Tang imperial glory, virtuous, powerful transcendents, and the time-honored values of moderation and filial piety. Taoist deities and clergy behave in a moral, just, transparent fashion, without the greed, deceit, vindictiveness, or brutality found elsewhere in the Beimeng suoyan. To those familiar with medieval xiaoshuo literature, the tales by themselves may not appear exceptional, but, in the context of this work, I would argue that their collective presence acquires a heightened significance.

Two extended narratives that reflect this appreciation for Taoism involve a transcendent and an official, respectively. The first one warrants a detailed examination, being one of the longest Taoist-related entries in the collection, to which Sun appends an extended comment. As noted, the tale concerns a figure listed in a well-known hagiographical collection, the Xian zhuan shiyi [??], or Collected Remnants of Transcendent Biographies, compiled by Du Guangting [??] (850-933), but Sun's account features greater elaboration.

In the Tang Yifeng reign (676-79), there was the commoner Wang Xianke [??], who lived below Mount Cuiyuan in Hengyuan in Qingcheng county. (12) He took a numinous cinnabar given by a Taoist, plucked up his residence, and ascended. This is already recorded in the Collected Remnants of Transcendent Biographies. (13)

The Shuzhou monk Zhongwu Shi [??] [sic] in his study of the Way traveled over the world. He happened at Mount Longchi (14) to meet a person whose energy was brisk and bright, which differed from the usual old men. It was Wang Xianke. His Excellency Wu said, "I have heard the transcendent's name for a long time. What good fortune to have met. After the ascension, why do you come here?"

Xianke said, "We have numinous herbs and can only practice flying steps [??]. (15) Today the whole household is secluded in the rear mountains and further cultivates Taoist methods. As for the matter of distant ascension [??], (16) how could I have expectations therein? We only have long life and that is all."

His Excellency Wu bestowed on him a poem that said, "Admiring the incomparable one, I gaze at the transcendent elder brother; / Sooner or later he will fly afar (17) and enter the Greatest Purity. // By hand he planted a trunk, and the pine has not yet aged; / The furnace burns in the ninefold cyclical transformations, and the medicines are newly finished. // In his mind he has already apprehended the techniques of the Yellow Court; (18) / On his head correspondingly there is no growth of white hair. // Another day he will return home to the commemorative tablet's words; / Among the common and vulgar who need instruction, his name will be known everywhere." Later [Zhongwu] did not meet him again.

Bao Guangzi (Sun Guangxian's sobriquet) heard that perfected ones [??] say, "Worldly people in their study of the way amass a single cinnabar and a single medicinal herb to temporarily fix their destiny. (19) How can they cultivate the Way? They have not yet certifiably advanced, (20) and the taboos are especially numerous. The Three Bureaus [of the Heaven, Earth, and Water Offices] make their rounds and enter [these people] in the register of ghosts." (21)
 "For this reason [transcendents] repeatedly change their surnames and
 personal names. First, they use corpse deliverance. Later they rest
 at the numinous marchmounts and advance to procure the superior
 method. Sometimes the [gods of the] Five Marchmounts pass down work
 [for them], and they carry out their duties in the transcendent
 bureaus. Among the splendid roamers, some reach a thousand years of
 age. Their meritorious works ascend and are made known, and they pay
 court to the Jade Emperor.

 "As for those among the seas and marchmounts who frequently ascend in
 distant fashion, worldly people have no way of knowing them. At
 present those who have started to apprehend the way stop at
 transcendent seclusion. As for those who soar into the sky, they take
 the Golden Cinnabar [??]. (22) As for the
 matter of distant ascension, it cannot be hoped for." (23)

This account combines two well-known features. The first concerns the encounter with the elusive recluse (or transcendent), commemorated appropriately with laudatory verse. The meeting takes place without warning, in the mountains; the adept offers an unexpected response, and the worldly individual (significantly a Buddhist monk in this case) preserves the memory of the exchange with a poem. The second constitutes a shorthand account of religious practice, found often in miscellanies, which counters prevailing misconceptions and offers conclusive explanations.

The entry presents a conflict. It begins with a reference to Wang's miraculous ascension, with textual evidence provided. When Wang's appearance among the worldly shows that that account needs correction, Zhongwu's poem regards the discrepancy as incidental. The verse commends his command of longevity techniques and predicts Wang's imminent entry into the realm of transcendents, where he might travel in a manner akin to the flying immortals found in youxian [??], or "roaming transcendent," poetry. Wang's own response and Sun's quotation argue otherwise. Wang is simply an adept who has retired with his family to the mountains, where he may practice. (24) By no means can he expect to emulate the legendary figures who, existing apart from the human world, served the gods, rode cranes, and roamed the cosmos. At best, Wang belongs to the class of beginners, who reside in "transcendent seclusion."

Despite its critical aspects, Sun's text treats the Taoist world with considerable respect. He explicates Wang's reply with the aid of an unnamed "perfected one," or zhenren, which lends considerable authority to the Taoist establishment. (25) The summary outlines a clear, legitimate order, in which officers perform their tasks as assigned and receive appropriate recognition and rewards. We receive no beguiling sensory descriptions of fabulous palaces, sublime music, dazzling retinues, and otherworldly delicacies. This silence renders the Taoist world inaccessible to the human imagination of paradises. The sole concrete detail provided, the "thousand-year" longevity of advanced transcendents, is appropriately abstract. For his part, the elderly adept Wang Xianke is a man of exceptional health and energy but appears as a modest, honest figure, conscious of his humble position within the overall Taoist hierarchy. By contrast, his contemporaries, including Zhongwu, underestimate the difficulties involved in the process of transcendence. Their misguided concentration on alchemy and glib treatment of distant ascension represent an incomplete grasp of Taoism and its divinities. That the account implicitly questions and even rebuts the hagiography suggests a skepticism concerning human capabilities and an effort to reaffirm the lofty majesty of the Taoist divinities, in the face of narratives that would bring them down to earth.

Another narrative presents the Taoists in a similarly favorable light. (26) This tale belongs to a different sub-genre of the fantastic, the meeting at sea with transcendents. Such accounts had an old pedigree, dating from the start of the cult of Penglai and other island paradises during the Warring States period. (27) In this instance, the story relates the travels of the military official Zhang Jianzhang [??] (806-866), who in 833-35 undertook a state mission to Parhae (Bohai), in present-day Korea. (28) Sun's entry introduces Zhang as a dedicated bibliophile, fond of the classics and histories. En route to Parhae, stormy weather forces Zhang's ship to take shelter in a port. Suddenly, in time-honored fashion, a blue lad, sailing on a leaf, announces that the great transcendents wish Zhang's company. Zhang complies and arrives at an island, where a female transcendent treats him to a sumptuous banquet, featuring the fare of Zhang's hometown. At the feast's end, the transcendent hostess notes his exemplary private conduct, which drew her admiration and led her to send the boy to guide his ship. Zhang then sails to Parhae and back to China without hardship. Sun adds that others told him that the transcendent had bestowed on Zhang the silk of the "shark-people." (29) Zhang submitted this item to the Tang court, which counted the gift among its treasures. But amid the violence of the Huang Chao Rebellion and the Tang collapse (referred to as "the changes"), this precious article disappeared.

This tale presents several key ideas about Taoists. First, they appear omniscient, possessing remarkable knowledge of Zhang's upright life beyond the public eye. Second, they exhibit an admirable magnanimity. We hear no mention that Zhang studies the way or reveres the Taoist religion. We know only that he reads avidly the standard classics and histories. Consequently, Taoists do not aid him to repay his devotion to their divinities or practices, but because they simply appreciate erudition and learning in general. In addition, although Zhang has granted them no particular favors, they present him with an exotic gift, underscoring their generosity. This largesse derives perhaps from the close Taoist association with the Tang imperial house. Although their brief remarks only refer to Zhang as an individual, they also are assisting Tang diplomats and thus working to enhance Tang state prestige. The state in turn recognizes the value of this Taoist patronage, as reflected in the court's high regard for the gift. The loss of the silk fits in, of course, as part of the larger demise of Tang power. Significantly, this story and that of Wang Xianke number among the few in Sun's collection that report events before the Huang Chao Rebellion. That is to say, Taoists play a central role in Sun's picture of Tang imperial glory and order. (30)

The perception of this link receives confirmation in entries concerning matters at the short-lived Shu court. As Franciscus Verellen has shown, the Shu founder Wang Jian [??] (847-918) relied heavily on Taoist legitimation to establish his regime. (31) Continuing these Taoist ties, says Sun, his successor Wang Yan (901-926) constructed a Taoist temple, which included a basilica housing images of Laozi and other Taoist divinities, as well as images of eighteen Tang emperors. (32) Contemporaries saw this devotion, Sun tells us, as a means to facilitate the passage of the Mandate of Heaven from the Tang to the Shu. This effort fell short, as Shu succumbed to the Later Tang's armies. According to another entry, however, Taoists tried to prevent this calamity. (33) An old man during Wang Jian's reign accosted a military official, told him that Shu suffered from a lack of metal among the Five Agents, and predicted a major fire at the palace. To avoid this disaster, he transmitted to the official a set of secret techniques, which he was to present to the court, and explained, "The work of saving life is what Taoists cherish." (34) The official followed his instructions, but no one at court heeded him, and, as foretold, the palace burned in the conflagration that accompanied Shu's downfall. Sun adds that he knew the official and had seen the secret book, entitled Hidden Contracts of the Yellow Emperor [??]. (35) Every stroke and dot, he says, accorded with the Five Agents, and, being lucid in its every layer, it truly was a wondrous book. (36) In Shu, monarchs and clerics sought to continue the mutual patronage and protection that characterized (and presumably brought forth) the prosperity of Tang times. This effort failed, but the responsibility lay with political authorities.

Despite this inability to change the fate of kingdoms, other tales from the late ninth and early tenth centuries illustrate that Taoists possessed occult techniques that still commanded considerable efficacy. Often these stories repeat time-honored motifs, found in collections from the Six Dynasties through the Tang, as clerics correctly divine futures, exorcise demons, and transform doltish literati into successful examination candidates and state officials. (37) Other narratives present an adept who demonstrates his flying abilities to a skeptical jinshi and a healer who defeats through wondrous feats the best efforts of officials to control him. (38) In addition, Taoist divinities and adepts proved quite able to punish the irreverent and immoral. For example, one callous literatus who hangs his cloak on an image of Laozi promptly finds himself in great pain and soon dies. (39) A Tang official, who had abandoned his stepmother to pursue his career, suddenly meets his end while attending a ritual of the Yellow Register. (40) Taoist clerics who violate the monastic code and fail to perform their ritual duties properly also suffer retribution and lose their lives. (41) Clearly, Sun perceived that the Taoist religion derived its authority, at least to some extent, from a moral basis and on that basis judged commoner and cleric alike. Although Taoists reward the good and punish the bad, Sun never suggests that the Taoist religion assists the government in ruling the empire. Instead, Taoists carry out their duties independently, neither requiring government patronage nor fearing state proscription.

As part of this orientation toward the ethical rather than technical aspects of Taoism, in no tale does a Taoist successfully employ alchemical arts, either for his benefit or that of others. On the contrary, adepts who possess such knowledge often find themselves victims of officials and commoners, who coerce from them such privileged expertise. (42) In the event, any knowledge of alchemy usually proves useless, and Sun quotes Du Guangting that calamity awaits those who wish to acquire transcendents' techniques without cultivating the Way. (43) In a comic example of benighted folk seeking a shortcut to transcendence, an official's son believed that ingestion of bookworms that had eaten texts containing the characters for "divine transcendent" (shenxian [??]) would enable him to ascend to heaven; but his consumption of bookworms only made him ill and led him to speak in a rude, obscene fashion, forcing his family to keep him at home until he recovered. Sun tells us that this pattern continued for several years until the man died. (44) Those who seek elixirs in these narratives are greedy, ignorant, and vulgar folk, consumed with the prospect of immediate physical transformation. Seen in a broader context, Sun's unflattering accounts mesh with the Chinese literati's gradual turn from external alchemy, characterized by the fabrication of chemical agents, to internal alchemy, with its focus on physiological transformation.

Against the backdrop of these unsavory individuals, the portrait of the Tang grand counselor Sun Wo [??] presents a dramatic contrast. (45) Sun Wo served briefly at Zhaozong's court in the 890s before being demoted to the area of Mount Heng in the south. Although Sun Guangxian does not identify his subject as one "fond of the way" or use a similar expression, his overall description classifies Sun Wo as a sort of literatus Taoist. He notes Sun Wo's magnanimity and quotes him as saying, "In judging worldly people, the task lies in obtaining the mean. If it does no harm to gentlemanly conduct, then one need not be too severe [with them]. Please do not use our strengths to manifest another's weaknesses and use our purity to manifest another's corruption." Such expressions of moderation and modesty, of course, might be seen to reflect as well a Confucian restraint. Exile, we are told, did not sadden Sun Wo or disturb his equanimity. Later, he visited Du Guangting in Sichuan, who transmitted to him a lu [??] register. Du remarked, "When I meet perfect men [??] and speak about contemporary matters, each time there is a promise to live in reclusion." In the event, Sun Wo eventually left office and, as Sun Guangxian reminds us, avoided the massacres of court officials at the end of the Tang. Upon retirement, he sent Du a poem, which said in part, "I go and accompany Fan Li [??]; / The Master instructs me to emulate Fu Qiu [??]. // Another day our meeting place/probably will be among the ten islets." Fan Li, Fu Qiu, and the ten islets, of course, are conventional topoi for reclusion and the quest for transcendence. The poem simply informs Du of Sun's retirement, confirms Du's prediction, and, in the absence of additional evidence, need not be interpreted as a commitment by Sun Wo to devote himself to Taoist pursuits. The poem's significance lies, rather, in Sun Guangxian's decision to emphasize Sun Wo's association with Du Guangting and present this scholar-official in a Taoistic light.

In this collection, then, Taoists and Taoism are given a very favorable hearing. We learn of no clerical charlatans hoodwinking officials and commoners, no monarchs besotted with the quest for concoctions that promise immortality, and no shameful, wasteful expenditures of precious resources. Alchemical techniques interest only the vulgar and ignorant, and knowledgeable people properly view such matters as secondary to apprehending the Way. As we have seen, Taoists continue to work miracles, however, and Sun Guangxian never betrays a hint of skepticism. More importantly, the Taoist world in his narratives evokes a better time that preceded the decline and fall of the Tang, characterized by scholarship, honesty, and composure, and where good and bad actors received their just rewards and punishments. (46)


As is well known, tales regarding the relationship between the supernatural and the human world occupied a central place in Chinese medieval literature. In her history of biji, Chen Wenxin divides the genre into two--collections concerning the strange (zhiguai, [??]) and collections of anecdotes (yishi [??]). (47) This separation, of course, serves only as a rough guide, meant to distinguish collections devoted to the occult, such as the Soushenji [??] and Guangyiji [??], from miscellanies with entries on a wider variety of topics. This latter group, however, contains a great range of works. In some books, such as the fifth-century Shishuo xinyu [??] and ninth-century Tang guoshi bu [??], spirits barely appear. In other biji, of which the ninth-century Youyang zazu [??] provides the best medieval example, one finds accounts of encounters with ghosts placed among items, for instance, about the metropolitan examinations, rare birds, and filial children. (48) With respect to the Beimeng suoyan, although historians have mainly used it for its political information, as noted above, its wide variety of subjects places the work in this latter, multifarious category.

Ghosts and local gods constituted the most frequently encountered supernatural or divine beings in traditional China. Although space does not permit full discussion of the sizable scholarly literature that has examined their ties with the human world, a few comments are in order. First, although local gods and ghosts constitute separate analytical categories, they share many characteristics, such as their demands and even dependency on offerings from the living. As Robert Campany notes in his book on early medieval zhiguai literature, local gods and ghosts resemble humans. (49) That is, local gods fiercely guard their territory and punish human trespassers. Humans who revere local gods and accept their proposals will be rewarded, while humans who reject such offers can expect fearsome retribution. Some local gods will resort to extortion to gain offerings but often eventually realize their mistake and cease their demands. For their part, the human dead, especially those who perish in an untimely or unjust fashion, usually return to settle accounts. These encounters, in general, follow the general principles of recompense, or bao [??], and reciprocity. Yet spirits or especially local gods, lacking the civilizing, moderating effects of classical education and driven by their sizable appetites, might disrupt human society in major ways. Occasionally, only government intervention can restore order, and, as is well known, the early history of Taoism often saw clerics seeking to bring to heel impetuous spectres. (50) In short, while the underworld contained sensible, even kind ghosts and local deities, their greedy, malevolent, violent peers at times plagued the human world and provided the grist for countless stories of crime and punishment. Readers of anecdotal collections, then, might expect to encounter a wide spectrum of spectral behavior. Ghosts certainly were not in short supply during the turmoil of the late ninth and early tenth centuries, and Sun Guangxian reports that sightings of ghost soldiers were legion. (51)

As seen in one story, ghosts and spirits affected Sun's own life. While still in Shu, Sun and an associate, Ye Feng [??], made inquiries about their future to Ma Chuqian [??], a "gentleman of techniques" [??]. (52) He told the men that they might plan on success after they reached forty, but should they succeed before that time, they would die early. After Ye learned of his appointment to the position of administrative assistant (tong panguan), he dreamed that while in his boat en route to his post, a functionary on the river welcomed him into a stone grotto. Ye consulted with Du Guantging about his dream and also unexpectedly received a new promotion. (53) However, the boat capsized on the way to his post, and Ye drowned. The accuracy of Ma's prediction and Ye's dream stunned Sun. Subsequently, Sun dreamed that Ye predicted that Sun too would suffer a similar fate in the same place. (54) Sun thus took precautions and chose an alternative route. (55) In the event, however, the boat's punting poles strangely broke, and the river's current drew his craft to the deadly location. Sun managed to survive and notes in conclusion, "How could the ghosts and spirits still toy with me!" (56) This final remark suggests that he viewed his fate as in the hands of the spirits, who, perhaps because they noted that Sun had indeed heeded the dream, eventually allowed his safe passage. Clearly, this harrowing experience left Sun with no question about the existence of supernatural beings and their ability to influence human events.

In Sun's work, however, supernatural beings almost always conduct themselves in exemplary fashion. They respond to human beings in distress and take measures to assist them. In one entry, we learn how the spirit of the Spring and Autumn era hero Wu Zixu [??], ranging far from his usual bailiwick in Zhejiang, helped the ruler of Min (Fujian) dredge a harbor. (57) In another story, a victim of a roadside robbery flees to a local temple, where he soon falls ill with malaria. The temple god responds to him in a dream and gives him medicine, and the man soon recovers. (58) On the other hand, as seen in stories from early medieval collections, ghosts and spirits often punish humans who have disrespected or wronged them. Officials making careless, lewd remarks while admiring female images in mountain-god temples soon find their lives cut short. (59) Sun adds that they forget that the paths of humans and ghosts are separate and merely give themselves trouble, and he includes these stories to serve as a warning. At the same time, other tales demonstrate how ghosts could not be so easily dismissed from human society. In one case, the ghost of Yang Shou [??], a Tang grand counselor who had died in exile, appeared at a local prefecture. (60) He explained that the underworld emperor had granted him spirit soldiers to take vengeance on the still-living official whose slander had led to his exile and death. (61) However, he needed funds to hire them. The prefect assented, holding a lavish ritual complete with wine, delicacies, and paper money. Later, a living son of the ghost reported seeing his father, fully armed and atop a horse, promise that he would kill his adversary by shooting him in the foot. In the event, his tormentor soon after succumbed to a foot ailment.

When ghosts settled accounts, nevertheless, the result did not necessarily mean death for the living. If the problem derived from mere negligence and inattention, ghosts might conduct themselves with considerable civility. For example, in one tale we learn that the Tang officials Wang Qian [??] and Wu Yuanheng [??] (758-815) had been good friends, when the latter suddenly died. (62) Wang then periodically burned paper money in mourning for his departed friend. Subsequently, while Wang was at a provincial post, a dyer perished but returned to life the following day. After filing a report with the yamen, the dyer wished to see Wang. He explained that while dead, he had met Wu. Wu had asked after Wang, noting that only Wang among his old associates sent him offerings, which Wu greatly appreciated. However, most of the bills sent by Wang were torn and ragged. Wu realized that Wang's many duties prevented him attending to such details, but he still wished to make his views known. A deeply embarrassed and moved Wang, we are told, from then on chose only unblemished paper money to burn for his friend. In this case, the ghost behaves very graciously. He displays no anger, expresses his deep gratitude toward his friend's concern, and even makes excuses for him. He communicates his situation and desire through an intermediary, saving Wang the shock and possible humiliation of a direct confrontation. As if to underscore the reasonableness of Wu's request, Sun Guangxian in his entry presents another tale, in which a devoted Taoist dreams of Laozi. The use of paper money in rituals had puzzled the Taoist, and Laozi explains that underworld functionaries needed paper money for their use. On this occasion, the ghost's courtesy and rationality serve as a model for the living.

When spirits do act badly in Sun's collection, other spirits, not humans, significantly mete out the appropriate punishment. In one narrative, a court official and his family fled the capital during the Huang Chao Rebellion. (63) Their daughter died while they were on the road, and in the wartime chaos the family lacked the means to bury her. One night her parents heard her voice, however, and she explained that she had been raped and taken home by the son of the Chan River god, presumably to serve as his concubine or worse. Enraged at his son's wanton killing, the god beat him, apologized to the daughter, and deputed an aide to escort her soul back. The daughter said that she had returned to her family, lacking anyone to rely on. The family then collected and bundled some straw, and put it in a box to provide her soul a place to rest. She returned to normal but, shortly thereafter, informed her family that she had found a place to be reborn and tearfully took her leave. Sun concedes that people find it difficult to speak of the matters of ghosts and spirits; the unfortunate family had lost forever their daughter, yet could take comfort, perhaps, that she would not be consigned indefinitely to the underworld but had returned to the world of the living. Importantly, Sun concludes his story by praising the god for its intelligence and integrity. The tale echoes other accounts in his collection, where sons and grandsons of powerful families were seen to conduct themselves with disgraceful arrogance. (64) In this instance, however, a father does not spare his worthless progeny but tries, to the extent possible, to right wrong.

In a final narrative, which involves the underworld bureaucracy, we see perhaps the clearest representation of the spirit world as an ordered, rational, and appealing cosmos. A scholar, one Zhang Jing, en route to Guizhou to pursue his studies, stopped in Hengzhou, near the marchmount Mount Heng. (65) His boat was damaged while he docked there. He slept at the temple of the river god, and the god scolded him. We are not told what angered the god, but one can speculate that the god took offense at the scholar because others might fault the god for the boat mishap. The charge would impugn the god's reputation and might bring forth censure from the celestial authorities, as well as reduced offerings from the living. In any event, when Zhang told the god of his occupation, the god immediately changed his tone and entertained him graciously. He told Zhang that a local shaman had committed a crime, for which he and his family deserved execution. The temple god wished to plead for leniency from the marchmount god but had found no one to write the appropriate memorial. Zhang complied, the memorial proved persuasive, and the delighted river god bestowed Zhang with ten pieces of gold. Literati readers could find much to admire in this account. Rulers heed the counsel of lower officials. Established procedures are followed. Justice is merciful. Finally, learning is appreciated and rewarded.

To sum up, the world of ghosts and spirits, and the Taoist realm as well, in the stories of Beimeng suoyan offers many examples where moral virtue combines with practical efficacy. Unlike countless medieval tales of the supernatural, we hear little of exotic goods of alluring paradises. We do find, however, considerable respect for authority, an awareness of the importance of moral conduct and proper ritual performance, ample respect for scholarship, swift but fair justice for the lawless and impious, and, crucially, very little glorification or even attention to martial prowess. This world contrasted starkly with the realities of elite life in the late ninth and tenth centuries, to which Sun's collection bore witness.


When Sun Guangxian turns his attention to incidents that involved the Buddhist church, his attitude changes drastically, and his stories evince a consistent hostility toward the sangha. Since biji rarely include extended essays by their compilers, we do not learn the basis of Sun's attitude, and his surviving textual corpus does not permit even speculation, let alone sound conclusions. In general, his views do not resemble those of Han Yu or other late Tang anti-Buddhists. Sun does not remark on Buddhism's foreign origins or lament that the religion's popularity had led Chinese to forget the ancient Confucian Way and its rituals. He says nothing about Buddhist doctrine or about how Buddhist ostentation threatens to bankrupt society. During his own life, Sun never lived under the Later Zhou regime (951-960), which carried out the most serious anti-Buddhist proscription of his time. Like scores of literati, he found troubling and reprehensible the powerful influence that some monks at times exercised at court, although his examples come from the Tang era, not his own times. (66)

Among the vices Sun attributed to the Buddhists, deception and fakery ranked among the most serious. Monks declare they can make rain but in the event fail, "indestructible" sarira prove to be no match for a hammer, and relics are revealed to be no more than fish eyes. (67) Dazzling glows that emanate from Buddhist images come, it turns out, from mirrors, and Buddhist chants are useless. (68) They simply lead people to do ridiculous things and eventually enrich the clergy. As seen in the earlier sections, Sun readily accepted the possibility of miracles, but Buddhist claims, in his view, came up short. In another entry, Sun draws parallels between Chan lineage charts ([??]), which detailed lines of patriarchal succession, and the roster of successful jinshi examination candidates. Both lists, he notes, contain imposters. He comments: "Names and realities do not match, and jade and base stones are mixed together. This confuses and misleads posterity, and it certainly can be regarded as strange. (69) This unexpected comparison, which we shall discuss further, hints at more basic sources of Sun's hostility. For now, we may say that criticism illustrates how Sun believed that the Buddhist church simply did not deserve his trust.

In general, Sun presents Buddhists and Buddhist devotees as objects of contempt. This attitude derived in part from their putative cupidity. Separate tales that relate the misdeeds of an empress and an official describe them as greedy people, giving money only to the sangha. (70) In another example, disciples of a popular monk request that a Taoist adept at calligraphy brush the stupa inscription for their recently deceased master. (71) They offer him a thousand strings of cash, but the Taoist spurns them, saying that he would have complied had they helped him get drunk, but he has no desire for money. Other entries demonstrate an ill-defined but palpable distaste for association with things Buddhist. A son from an elite who had joined the sangha and later returns to lay life meets only disdain from the civil service examination officials, who vow never to pass him. (72) Moreover, spirits similarly scorned Buddhists, even Buddhist deities. Drawing from one of his main sources, the literatus Liu Shanfu [??] (fl. early tenth century), Sun relates how Liu in southern Hunan visited a dilapidated temple, which had an image of the Buddhist god Vaisravana, and composed a poem that related the site's desolation and lack of efficacy. (73) The same night Liu in his dream encountered "Vaisravana," who declared that he (and the image) in fact was the god of Mount Heng, not Vaisravana, and resented Liu's mistreatment. As Liu suddenly awoke, he found his boat beset by wind and waves, its mast fallen, and its prospects dire. Regretting his mistake, Liu threw away his poetry tablet ([??]), and the storm ceased. Here simple misrecognition nearly becomes a mortal insult, testifying to the infamous reputation that Buddhism had even in some divine quarters.

Not surprisingly, then, other stories in Beimeng suoyan find Buddhists subject to harsh punishment. A monk copied out sutras in blood, for which the authorities summoned him to the yamen. (74) He received a tongue-lashing and was forced to leave the area, escaping death only because functionaries misunderstood their superior's orders to strangle him. (75) Elsewhere, a layman celebrated for his divination skills amassed a considerable fortune, which he used to install Buddhist images in a local cliff face. (76) Called to the governor's office to prove his skills, he failed miserably and was executed. Apparently, he also led Pure Land sutra-reciting groups of men and women, of which Sun Guangxian remarks, "This [practice] indeed is the most stupid sort--how could he be a god of techniques? Was he possessed?" In a third, remarkable instance, a high Tang official noted monks conducting rituals in a temple across from the prefectural headquarters. (77) He ordered soldiers to seize and shackle the monks, and the following day had them beaten and expelled. He told his subordinates that the clergy had committed no offenses but that ten years later several thousand monks in the same temple would stir up disorder. Consequently, he suppressed them, in a pre-emptive measure. In the event, ten years later local people did shave their heads, take up arms, and menace the prefecture, using the temple as a base. In Sun's view, this turmoil vindicated the official's measure and his general reputation for prognostication. Yet he presents no evidence that the miscreants included the expelled clergy, and one might instead link this incident with the other two events, in which state authorities dealt arbitrarily, even brutally, with religious devotees innocent of criminal conduct. (78) Indeed, in their almost casual violence, these accounts resemble many other, expressly political entries found in Sun's collection.

Among this dismal record appear a few anecdotes that present Buddhists and Buddhist practices in a favorable light. One entry testifies to the efficacy of the Diamond Sutra in times of need, an oft-repeated topos in medieval narratives. (79) Another story recounts how an orphan boy cut and cooked his flesh to help cure his ill stepmother, copied out the Lotus Sutra and recited it daily, and in a very rare instance of successful alchemy, sold his works to pay for a Buddhist image. His actions won the praise of local officials. (80) In a third tale, we learn how a Buddhist monk destroyed temple images to a local cult that he believed extorted excessive blood sacrifices from fearful devotees, and he finishes his work without any ill effects to himself or the cult followers. (81) A final, vivid example concerns the late Tang official Cui Anqian [??] (jinshi 849). (82) Sun describes Cui as a pious Buddhist, who kept a vegetarian diet, never punished clergy, and treated criminal prisoners with considerable mercy. Official banquets held at his office featured vegetables and noodles disguised as meat, and puppet shows staged in front of his residence were open to commoners and soldiers. Linking all these narratives is a theme of selflessness (seen in the third story as an attack on greed), but Sun crucially does not suggest that this key virtue has any ties with Buddhism. He never mentions Sakyamuni or makes reference to Buddhist concepts and values such as compassion, retribution, or reverence for life. By the tenth century, of course, these ideas would have been well known to all literate people, prompting us to surmise that Sun passed over this connection in deliberate silence. Rather than representing "religious" exempla, these tales fit more with other stories that recount exceptional individual cases of filial piety or humility, in which religion plays no overt role. (83)

Taken together, these narratives amount to a general bill of indictment against the sangha. Their actions rarely show any trace of virtue. No tale recounts their assistance to people in distress; rather, they appear consistently selfish. In no story do we witness evidence that they have access to a divine power, apart from and superior to the human world. Consequently, they lead a parasitic existence, dependent on the greed, fear, and naivete of other groups in society. Under these circumstances, subterfuge and deception become necessarily their modus operandi. Consequently, authorities on occasion treat them brutally, as if they were bandits. In Sun Guangxian's portrayal, Buddhists do not constitute so much a religious group as a loosely organized band of ne'er-do-wells, to be regarded with suspicion.


What deeper lessons might these stories hold about the mind of a tenth-century Chinese scholar-official concerning religion? How, to start with, might we account for his widely disparate views toward Taoists and local gods on the one hand and Buddhists on the other? Put simply, Buddhists represent part of a larger social and moral breakdown. Of course, in Sun's day other literati and political authorities did not share his anti-Buddhist animosity. Five Dynasties regimes, except in the well-known but short proscription in the Later Zhou (954-959), patronized the sangha and did so at times very generously. (84) To some extent, this prosperity might have been part of the problem for Sun. He took a keen interest in contemporary history, but nothing suggests that he believed that his times would be remembered as a glorious age. Corrupt periods produce corrupt institutions, which makes so telling Sun's parallel between fraudulent degree-holder rosters and Chan patriarchal lineage charts. Both derive from outwardly impressive yet morally hollow attempts to establish order and hierarchy, in a world where authority appears to be based on force and favor. Given Sun's own personal history, in which a "legitimate dynasty" drove him from his home into exile, one can speculate that he would have viewed powerful institutions, be they states or religious organizations, with a jaded eye.

Why, then, do the stories concerning Taoists and local gods take such a different turn? After all, other miscellanies present a wealth of narratives of Taoist frauds and pernicious, venal local spirits. Without being able to make definitive conclusions, we can make a few speculations. First, if by the tenth century the large Taoist monasteries and communities of medieval China had largely disappeared, then Taoists would have had a much less imposing physical presence than the Buddhists with their penchant for monumentality. Lacking the Buddhist grandiosity, Taoists and spirits require less lay (or human) largesse to sustain themselves. Consequently, their requests in these tales for lay (or human) assistance are reasonable and modest. More often they act independently, for they draw their authority from clearly defined places in the celestial hierarchy or access to that hierarchy. This relative autonomy distances Taoists and spirits from the corrupting influences of contemporary politics and society, and enables them to carry on their tasks in a proper, moral fashion.

In the ruined moral landscape depicted in the Beimeng suoyan, Taoists and spirits stand as bulwarks of the Chinese heritage. They do so in lieu of the curious, almost-total absence of its usual mainstays, namely, Confucian scholars, loyal officials, and filial children. Such figures required the maintenance of at least a modicum of social and political order to exist, let alone thrive, but in the unpredictable, treacherous world of the late ninth and tenth centuries the virtuous were often vulnerable. At a time when the ultimate arbiter, heaven's will, appeared so fickle, one could turn with confidence to the Taoists and spirits as welcome, if scattered points of light, symbols of order and justice in a bleak world.

(1.) See his biographies in Jiu Tangshu (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1975; hereafter abbreviated as JTS), 179.4656-61, and in Xin Tangshu (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1975; hereafter abbreviated as XTS), 185.5411-14.

(2.) Located in the southwestern part of present-day Shanxi province, near the Yellow River.

(3.) Sun Guangxian, Beimeng suoyan, ed. Jia Erqiang (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2002; hereafter abbreviated as BMSY), 4.83.

(4.) For example, none of the other tenth-century collections indexed in Tang wudai wushier zhong biji xiaoshuo renming suoyin, such as the Yunxian zaji (ten fascicles), Zhonghua gujin zhu (3 fascicles), Diaoji litan (no chapter divisions: 220 entries), Jinhuazi zabian (two parts), Zhongchao gushi (two parts), Jianjie lu (4 fascicles), Kaiyuan Tianbao yishi (4 fascicles), and Tang zhiyan (15 fascicles), surpass the Beimeng suoyan in length, and most are significantly smaller. See Tang wudai wushier zhong biji xiaoshuo renming suoyin, ed. Fang Jilu and Wu Dongxiu (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1992), 2-3.

(5.) [??] BMSY, preface, 15.

(6.) I use the term to mean, per the Oxford English Dictionary, "power or capacity to produce effects; power to effect the object intended." This use differs from that found in Francois Jullien's highly stimulating works concerning concepts of efficacy in China. See, in particular, his A Treatise on Efficacy: Between Western and Chinese Thinking, tr. Janet Lloyd (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai'i Press, 2004).

(7.) This account draws heavily on Jia's introduction to the Zhonghua shuju edition, as well as on the assiduous, careful scholarship of Fang Rui. See the latter's Sun Guangxian yu Beimeng suoyan yanjiu (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2006).

(8.) Fang Rui, ibid.

(9.) Ibid., 221. Pang's rebellion took place in the waning months of 868. Dynastic histories report other incidents of cannibalism on the part of the rebels. At least part of the story here may be apocryphal, for one report relates the court forced Cui to commit suicide for refusing to resist Pang and indeed welcoming the rebels. See JTS, 19A.664, 668-69. The Zizhi tongjian concurs with this account; see Zizhi tongjian (rpt. Beijing: Guji chubanshe, 1956), 251.8134, 8149. Another story, which clearly seeks to clear Cui's name, claims that Cui cooperated only to save the city from slaughter. See Taiping guangji, ed. Li Fang (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961; hereafter abbreviated as TPGJ), 144.1039-40.

(10.) BMSY, 18.338.

(11.) BMSY, 4.88, 11.245, 233.

(12.) Northwest of Chengdu in Sichuan and where the organized Taoist religion began in the second century.

(13.) Cf. Du Guangting, Xian zhuan sheyi, ed. Yan Yiping (Taipei: Yiwen yinshuguan, 1974), 123. This tale describes Wang as a righteous, wealthy man, who comes across a Taoist on his property taking kindling wood to supply his furnace and alchemical efforts. Rather than punish the cleric, Wang offers to provide him with the material, and the Taoist eventually repays him with the herb that enables his ascension, which concludes the entry.

(14.) The site is northeast of Chengdu, in present-day Luojiang county.

(15.) This term is another expression for the "pacing the Dipper" ritual, variously known as "pacing the void" (buxu), "the steps of Yu" (Yu bu), or "pacing the net" (bugang). For a brief account of this ritual and relevant bibliography, see Isabelle Robinet, "Shangqing--Highest Clarity," in Daoism Handbook, ed. Livia Kohn (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 220-21. For more on the importance of the Big Dipper across Chinese religious traditions, see Christine Mollier, Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face: Scripture, Ritual, and Iconographic Exchange in Medieval China (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai'i Press, 2008), 155-68.

(16.) The locus classicus of this term is the "Yuanyou" poem in the Chuci. Kroll translates it as "rising farremoved." See Paul W. Kroll, "An Early Poem of Mystical Excursion," in Religions of China in Practice, ed. Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1996), 161.

(17.) The Quan Tangshi version reads [??], or "ascend into the empyrean," for [??]. See Quan Tangshi (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1960), 808.9117.

(18.) The techniques of the Yellow Court arc the means by which the adept regulates his body and summons the gods that dwell within it. See Kristofer Schipper, The Taoist Body, tr. Karen C. Duval (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1982), 133-39.

(19.) [??], i.e., do not cultivate themselves for permanent transformation.

(20.) [??]; this is a tentative translation.

(21.) For an account of the Three Officials [??] (there called the Three Bureaus) and ghost records, as well as the issues below of name-changing and corpse deliverance [??], see Ursula-Angelika Cedzich, "Corpse Deliverance, Substitute Bodies, Name Change, Feigned Death: Aspects of Metamorphosis and Immortality in Early Medieval China," Journal of Chinese Religions 29 (2001): 1-68; Robert Ford Campany, "Living off the Books: Fifty Ways to Dodge Ming in Early Medieval China," in The Magnitude of Ming: Command, Allotment, and Fate in Chinese Culture, ed. Christopher Lupke (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai'i. 2005), 129-50; Isabelle Robinet, "Metamorphosis and Deliverance from the Corpse in Taoism," History of Religions 19.1 (1979): 37-70.

(22.) This term also is a synonym for alchemy. In one of the earlier works that so use this term, Ge Hong stresses that only those who have purified themselves and undergone appropriate austerities may undertake alchemical operations. See Baopuzi neibian jiaoshi, ed. Wang Ming (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1985), chapter 4, passim.

(23.) BMSY, "yiyan buyi," 456-57. This tale does not appear in the present-day 20-fascicle version but in the supplement, culled from a 1544 edition of a Song collection of remarks on poetry. See Shihua zonggui, ed. Ruan Yryue (Taipei: Guangwen shuju, 1973), 47.6b-7a.

(24.) This type of reclusion belonged to the standard repertoire of the adept. See Robert Ford Campany, Making Transcendents: Ascetics and Social Memory in Early Medieval China (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai'i Press, 2009), 54.

(25.) Sun frequently names the sources of his tales, and whether his reticence in providing the name in this case means that the zhenren here serves as a rhetorical device raises another, irresolvable issue.

(26.) BMSY, 13.276-77.

(27.) The tale might be viewed as a variation on the story of Xu Fu, the emissary sent by Qin Shihuangdi to the island of the immortals and who never returned from his trip. See Shiji 118.3086, TPGJ 4.26-27. For other medieval variations, see TPGJ 18.124-25, 19.132-33.

(28.) Zhang wrote a three-fascicle account of his trip, but the book is no longer extant, although fragments remain in leishu. For more on this work, as well as the dating of Zhang's trip and Zhang's birth and death dates, see Fang Rui, " 'Tang shi suo jian Zhang Jianzhang qi ren'bian xi," Tangdu xuekan 22.2 (March 2006): 1-4.

(29.) [??]; a light gauze-like silk, said to be waterproof and worn by the mythical shark people. See Edward H. Schafer, The Divine Woman: Dragon Ladies and Rain Maidens in T'ang Literature (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1973), 20-21.

(30.) In another account of pre-880 events, Sun describes the Taoist devotion of Cui Xuanliang (768-833), whose performance of the Yellow Register rituals proved so potent that it attracted auspicious clouds and cranes. See BMSY, 11.242. In his necrology for Cui, Bai Juyi also refers to this study and in greater detail. See "Tang gu Guozhou cishi ceng libu shangshu Cui gong muzhiming," in Bai Juyi ji, ed. Gu Xuejie (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979), 70.1469-72. Bai also relates at length Cui's illustrious, compassionate official service, his care for his unfortunate relatives, and his Buddhist piety. Yet for Sun, it is Cui's Taoist activities that deserve special attention and commemoration.

(31.) Verellen, "Liturgy and Sovereignty: The Role of Taoist Ritual in the Foundation of the Shu Kingdom (907-925)," Asia Major 3rd ser. 2.1 (1989): 59-78.

(32.) BMSY, "yiyan," 1.389-90. This entry is also found in TPGJ 163.1186-87.

(33.) BMSY, "yiyan," 1.379. This entry is also found in TPGJ 80.511.

(34.) TPGJ, 80.511.

(35.) Extant as DZ 31. For a brief summary of its contents, see Florian Reiter's entry in The Taoist Canon: A Historical Companion to the Daozang, ed. Kristofer Schipper and Franciscus Verellen (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2001), 320-21.

(36.) BMSY, "yiyan," 1.379.

(37.) Ibid., 74, 249, 193, 208. The earliest comprehensive look at many of these techniques appears in the Shenxian zhuan. See Robert Ford Campany, To Live as Long as Heaven and Earth: A Translation and Study of Ge Hong's Traditions of Divine Transcendents (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 2002).

(38.) BMSY, "yiyan," 1.375, 381.

(39.) Ibid., 4.85.

(40.) Ibid., 10.220.

(41.) Ibid., 11.242.

(42.) Ibid., 6.128, 11.237, 240, "yiyan" 1.384. In other cases, monks and commoners who possess or transmit alchemical skills similarly meet dire fates; see 11.238, 239.

(43.) Ibid., 6.128.

(44.) Ibid., 12.250.

(45.) Ibid., 4.68. A very brief biography of Sun appears in XTS, 183.5386.

(46.) A handful of Sun Guangxian's lyrics found in the Huajian ji concern transcendent women. However, as Anna Shields argues, this theme evoked also romantic and erotic overtones and cannot be viewed simply as reflecting religious interest or piety. See Anna M. Shields, Crafting a Collection: The Cultural Contexts and Poetic Practice of Huajian yi (Collection from Among the Flowers) (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Asia Center, 2006), chapter 6.

(47.) Chen Wenxin, Zhongguo biji xiaoshuo shi (Taipei: Zhiyi chubanshe, 1995).

(48.) Late imperial and modern bibliographers at times perceived this diversity as disorder. For example, in their assessment of the Youyang zazu, the eighteenth-century Siku quanshu editors said, "This book has many strange, absurd stories, and ridiculous, fantastic things, but lost texts and rare books also are often mixed among them. Thus although those who discuss it are distressed at its groundless exaggerations, they must cite it." See Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao, ed. Ji Yun (Taipei: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1965), 142.1214.

(49.) See Robert Ford Campany, Strange Writing: Anomaly Accounts in Early Medieval China (Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 1996), chapter 8.

(50.) The scholarship on this subject is extensive. For two classic analyses of this antagonism, see Jean Levi, "Les fonctionaires et le divine: Luttes de pouvoir entre divinites et administrateurs dans les contes des Six Dynasties et des Tang," Cahiers d'Extreme Asie 2 (1986): 82-110, and Rolf A. Stein, "Religious Taoism and Popular Religion from the Second to Seventh Centuries," in Facets of Taoism: Essays in Chinese Religion, ed. Holmes Welch and Anna Seidel (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1979), 53-82.

(51.) BMSY, 11.244, "yiyan" 3.422.

(52.) Ibid., "yiyan" 1.380-81.

(53.) Hearing of Ye's promotion and dream, Du commented that the dream river could not have been a small one.

(54.) Sun gives the spot as Blue Shirt Rapids, or Qingyitan [??]. The place-name does not appear in historical geographical dictionaries, and I have only found reference to it in this story.

(55.) Fang Rui suggests that this story perhaps relates in part Sun's move from Shu to Jingnan. See Fang 2006, 13.

(56.) Sun remarks, "[We] fortunately received assistance" [??]. He does not specify if the assistance came from divine or human sources.

(57.) BMSY, 2.34-35.

(58.) Ibid., 12.262.

(59.) Ibid., 12.254. Similar accounts appear in earlier zhiguai collections. See, for example, "The Temple at Mount Chiang," which appears in the Soushenji and is translated in Classical Chinese Tales of the Supernatural and the Fantastic: Selections from the Third to the Tenth Century, ed. Karl S. Y. Kao (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1985), 72-73. One of the characters is said to be a son of Yang Shou, named Yang Biao [??]. In the biographies of Yang Shou in the dynastic histories, Yang has two sons, one of whom is named Lin [??]. Later copyists perhaps mistook him (and the character) for Biao. The same histories report, however, that Yang Lin enjoyed a long, successful official career, while the individual in this case is said to be a young man. Conceivably a Yang Biao existed and met this fortune, and in the course of the story's transmission came to be considered as a son of Yang Shou. See JTS, 177.4600, and XTS, 184.5395.

(60.) BMSY, 9.185.

(61.) The official was Yang Xuanjie [??]. For an account of their feud, see Yang Shou's biographies in the dynastic histories, in JTS, 177.4599-4600, and XTS, 184.5395.

(62.) BMSY, 12.261. A much more extended account of the story, which lacks the poignancy of this version, is found in TPGJ, 384.3066-67. "Suddenly" is a euphemism; Wu fell victim to assassins sent by a provincial governor. See Cambridge History of China, vol. 3: Sui and T'ang China, 589-906, Part I, ed. Denis Twitchett (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1979), 625-26.

(63.) BMSY, 12.264.

(64.) Ibid., 1.28-29, 3.44, 55, 4.84.

(65.) For an analysis of the rich religious life of this mountain, see James Robson, Power of Place: The Religious Landscape of the Southern Sacred Peak (Nanyue) in Medieval China (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Asia Center, 2009).

(66.) BMSY, 1.19-20, 6.131.

(67.) Ibid., 19.345. 344, 346.

(68.) Ibid., "yiyan" 3.416, 417.

(69.) Ibid., 4.88.

(70.) Ibid., 18.332-33, 19.350. Presumably these donations, which would earn them merit, also reflected their selfishness.

(71.) Ibid., 12.251.

(72.) Ibid., 3.64. The man in question was Zhang Ce (d. 914) [??], who eventually rose to be grand counselor under the Later Liang. See his biography in Jiu Wudaishi (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1976), 18.243-45. An entry in another tenth-century biji, Tang zhiyan, describes this confrontation but does so very differently, relating how Zhang eventually avenged in deadly fashion this rejection. See Wang Dingbao, Tang zhiyan jiaozhu, ed. Qiang Hanchun (Shanghai: Shanghai shehui kexue yuan chubanshe, 2003), 11.222-23.

(73.) BMSY, 9.186. Descriptions of this key deity may be found in Paul Demieville's discussion in Hobogirin: Dictionaire encyclopedique de bouddhisme d'apres les sources chinoises and japanaises, ed. Sylvain Levi (Tokyo: Maison franco-japonaise, 1929), 79-83.

(74.) BMSY, 9.188. The judgment said, "Since cutting off one's arm already is [the work] of a bad man, pricking one's blood certainly is not a good thing. On pattra leaves, dust is not permitted. How could they bear the rank grease from the body of a despicable person?" For more on the practice, viewed in a very different light, see John Kieschnick, "Blood Writing in Chinese Buddhism," Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 23.2(2001): 177-94.

(75.) The official ordered the functionaries to send the monk "to the eastern border with a rope" [??]. The "eastern border" may be taken to mean the eastern market [??], i.e., the execution ground. The functionaries took "rope" to mean a string of cash, which they gave to the monk, and then escorted him through the eastern suburb. Sun notes that the monk "was fortunate to mistakenly avoid [execution].

(76.) BMSY, "yiyan" 3.416.

(77.) Ibid., 3.49. The official, Tang Pian [??] has no biography in either Tang dynastic history but appears in an entry in the Tang zhiyan that lists "'degree-worthy candidates' from the metropolitan prefecture's past list of 877." See Tang zhiyan jiaozhu, 2.29-30, and Oliver Moore, Rituals of Recruitment in Tang China: Reading an Annual Programme in the Collected Statements by Sang Dingbao (870-940) (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 290.

(78.) A similar anecdote recounts how the sons of Zhang Jun, discussed in the opening talc of this article, falsified orders from their father and beat a monk. The monk protested later to Jun, who summoned and scolded his sons. One retorted, "Although today he is innocent, I thought that he had concealed in the past many misdeeds. So I beat him." Jun, we are told, could not help but laugh. BMSY, 9.203.

(79.) BMSY, 9.187.

(80.) Ibid., "yiyan" 1.390-91.

(81.) Ibid., "yiyan" 3.420-21. The monk had demolished all but one image, and then a shaman told him that the god of the remaining image consumed only vegetables, which persuaded the monk to cease his destruction.

(82.) Ibid., 3.57. See his biography in the Tang dynastic histories, JTS 177.4580-81, and XTS, 114.4199-4200. Another anecdote relates Cui's sense of modesty. See TPGJ, 237.1824-25.

(83.) These entries include an account of betrothed daughter, who left her fiancee and cut her hair, as she traveled to the frontier to manage the burial of her father. She recovered the body, had it interred with that of her mother, and then built a mourning hut next to the gravesite. See BMSY, 1.20-21. Other tales concern relatives of powerful officials who refuse to use their kin ties to help them in their careers (4.72-73).

(84.) See Makita Tairyo, Godai shukyoshi kenkyu (Kyoto: Heirakushi shoten, 1971) and Abe Choichi, Chugoku zenshushi no kenkyu (Tokyo: Kenbun shuppan, 1986), 125-212.


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Date:Jul 1, 2009
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