Moral teachings of Pu Songling in his literature

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Pu Songling (蒲松齡, 5 June 1640 – 25 February 1715) was a Qing Dynasty Chinese writer, best known as the author of Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (Liaozhai zhiyi).

The main characters of this book apparently are ghosts, foxes, immortals and demons, but the author focused on the everyday life of commoners. He used the supernatural and the unexplainable to illustrate his ideas of society and government. He criticized the corruption and injustice in society and sympathized with the poor. Four main themes are present in Strange Stories.

The first is a complaint about the skewed feudal system. The author argued that many officers and rich people committed crimes without being punished, because they enjoyed privilege and power granted to them by the government, purely by their status and/or their wealth. This theme can be found in short stories such as “The Cricket”, “Xi Fangping”, and “Shang Sanguan”. It is fairly clear that the author resents the feudal government, skewed and unfair as it was.

Secondly, the author revealed the corrupt examination system at the time. Pu had taken imperial exams and discovered that the exams were unfairly graded. He postulated that many students cheated and bribed examiners or the grading officers. The education system, thus, became pointless in Pu’s eyes, as it had destroyed the scholars’ minds and ruined their creativity, as illustrated in such stories as “Kao San Sheng”, “Ya Tou” (The Maid), and “Scholar Wang Zi-an”.

Pu’s third theme was a clear admiration of pure, faithful love between poor scholars and powerless women, writing many stories about the love between beautiful and kind female ghosts and poor students to illustrate the allegory. The author highly praised women who took care of their husbands’ lives and helped them achieve success, as can be found in chapters such as “Lian Xiang”, “Yingning” and “Nie Xiaoqian”.

Lastly, Pu criticized the people’s immoral behavior and sought to educate them through Strange Stories. He embedded Confucian-styled moral standards and Taoist principles into parables; some examples are “Painted Skin” and “The Taoist of Lao Mountain”.

Some critics attribute the Vernacular Chinese novel Xingshi Yinyuan Zhuan to him.

The Xingshi Yinyuan Zhuan (醒世姻緣傳 literally: “The Story of a Marital Fate to Awaken the World”), is a Chinese classical novel of the late Ming or early Qing dynasty.

The novel was published under the pen name Xizhou Sheng (西周生), that is, “Scholar of the Western Zhou”, the Golden Age in which Confucius lived.

The plot is split between the two incarnations of a married couple.

The intricate plot and didactic structure are centered on the Buddhist themes of rebirth, karmic retribution, and compassion but also on Confucian precepts of morality, hierarchy, and duty in society.

The author paints this serious family drama against a satirical panorama not only of officials, scholars, and teachers, for whom he has little respect, but cooks, midwives, and doctors. All provide examples of lechery, drunkenness, and love of money, yet each of the characters is given individual personality and particular language. The author makes precise use of proverbs, xiehouyu, and curses in the Shandong style, but also literary poetry, fiction, and writings. One of the author’s techniques is to pair one character against another of the same profession or type. Xichen is made to seem all the more inept, for instance, in contrast to his capable assistant, and his wives all the more ill-tempered in contrast with better women.

The novel received relatively little attention from critics in China until the campaign for Vernacular Chinese during the May Fourth Movement in the early 20th century. Hu Shih and Xu Zhimo hailed its verbal vigor and vaunted its graphic descriptions of contemporary social life as a source-book for the study of popular culture, social, economic, and institutional history of its time.

Edited from Wikipedia

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