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Humans, Beasts, and Ghosts

Humans, Beasts, and Ghosts: Stories and Essays

Qian Zhongshu
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Humans, Beasts, and Ghosts
    Book Description:

    Qian Zhongshu was one of twentieth-century China's most ingenious literary stylists, one whose insights into the ironies and travesties of modern China remain stunningly fresh. Between the early years of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and the Communist takeover in 1949, Qian wrote a brilliant series of short stories, essays, and a comedic novel that continue to inspire generations of Chinese readers.

    With this long-awaited translation, English-language readers can immerse themselves in the invention and satirical wit of one of the world's great literary cosmopolitans. This collection brings together Qian's best short works, combining his iconoclastic essays on the "book of life" from Written in the Margins of Life (1941) with the four masterful short stories of Human, Beast, Ghost (1946). His essays elucidate substantive issues through deceptively simple subjects-the significance of windows versus doors, for example, or the blind spots of literary critics-and assert the primacy of critical and creative independence. His stories blur the boundaries between humans, beasts, and ghosts as they struggle through life, death, and resurrection. Christopher G. Rea situates these works within China's wartime politics and Qian's literary vision, highlighting significant changes that Qian Zhongshu made to different editions of his writings and providing unprecedented insight into the author's creative process.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52654-8
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. vii-x)
    Christopher Rea
  4. INTRODUCTION (pp. 1-22)

    Qian Zhongshu $$ (1910–1998) was one of twentieth-century China’s most brilliant writers. Born into a learned family, educated at one of the nation’s best universities and later at Oxford and the Sorbonne, Qian came into his own as a creative writer during a period of chaos, producing most of his works between the early years of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and the Communist takeover in 1949.¹ Although he continued to write poems and essays intermittently throughout the remainder of his life, his career as a creative writer, like that of many of his contemporaries, was cut short...

  5. AUTHOR’S PREFACE TO THE 1983 EDITIONS OF Written in the Margins of Life AND Human, Beast, Ghost (pp. 23-26)
  6. DEDICATION (pp. 27-28)
  7. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. 29-30)
  8. PREFACE (pp. 31-32)

    “You and I should have met long ago,” he said, taking the chair closest to the brazier. “I’m the Devil. You’ve been tempted and tested by me before.”

    “But you’re a conscientious fellow!” A sympathetic smile crossed his face as he spoke. “Even though you’ve fallen into my traps before, you haven’t recognized me. When you’ve succumbed to my temptations, you’ve only seen me as a lovable woman, a faithful friend, or a pursuable ideal. You’ve never been able to tell that it’s me. Only those who have been able to resist my temptations, such as Jesus Christ, have recognized...

  10. WINDOWS (pp. 39-42)

    Spring has returned and we can start leaving our windows open. Spring comes in through the window, and when people indoors get restless they go out through the door. Yet outside springtime is too cheap! The sun shines everywhere, but it never seems as bright as the ray of sunlight that penetrates a dark room. Languid, sunwarmed breezes blow all about, but they, too, lack the vitality of a gust of air stirring up the gloomy indoors. Even the chirping of birds seems lackluster without the indoor silence as its foil. So we come to appreciate that spring should be...

  11. ON HAPPINESS (pp. 43-46)

    Flipping through a copy of Vigny’s Journal d’un poète¹ I picked up at a secondhand bookshop, I happened across an interesting item. Vigny wrote that in French the juxtaposition of “good” and “hour” in the word for happiness (bonheur) testifies that the road to happiness is not an easy one, since happiness is but the plaything of an hour (Si le bonheur n’était qu’une bonne demie!). Considering similar expressions in Chinese, we see that their implications are equally profound and lasting. The presence of the character quick [kuai] in the words joy [kuaihuo] and happiness [kuaile], for instance, indicates the...

  12. ON LAUGHTER (pp. 47-49)

    Since humor literature came to be promoted, “selling laughter”¹ has become a profession for men of letters.² Humor is, of course, vented by means of laughter, but laughter does not necessarily indicate a sense of humor. Liu Jizhuang’s Guangyang Notes states, “The donkey’s bray sounds like crying; the horse’s whinny sounds like laughter.”³ Yet the horse is not celebrated as a great humorist—likely because he has a long face. In truth, most people’s laughter is akin to the horse’s whinny and cannot be considered humorous.

    Aristotle appears to have been the first person to use humor to distinguish man...

  13. EATING (pp. 50-53)

    “Eating rice”¹ is sometimes just like getting married. What is in name the most important thing often ends up being just a subsidiary consideration. When properly “eating rice” we in fact eat vegetable and meat dishes, just as when someone pursues the daughter of a rich old man, his primary object is not the girl! This type of lateral shift in perception involves a roundabout and rather complicated worldview. Savoring flavors rather than satisfying hunger becomes the real purpose of “eating rice” for us. The tongue replaces the belly as the ultimate or highest arbiter. Nevertheless, we persist in camouflaging...

  14. READING AESOP’S FABLES (pp. 54-57)

    Younger people can probably be divided into two categories. In the first are those who are many years younger than us, whom we not only tolerate but even delight in and seek to protect. We can flaunt our age at them and our relative seniority only adds to our dignity. In the second are those just slightly younger than us. These people invite only our loathing and envy. As they have already lost a sense of respect for their elders, our age fails to elicit their pity for the old and infirm. Not only can we not flaunt our age...

  15. ON MORAL INSTRUCTION (pp. 58-61)

    We dislike filth, so we profess to cherish purity. Consequently, those obsessed with hygiene would prefer not to bathe than to have to borrow someone else’s bathing implements. Distinguishing between dirty and clean becomes a way of differentiating self from other. A person who considers himself clean will always despise others as filthy, even going so far as to believe that his own dirtiness is preferable to others’ cleanliness. Though he may reek of sweat and bad breath, he will disdain to borrow a toothbrush or towel that someone else has used.¹ We can see from this that “love of...

  16. A PREJUDICE (pp. 62-65)

    Prejudice can be said to be a vacation from thinking.¹ For the unthinking man it is a daily necessity, while for the thinking man it is a Sunday amusement. If we were unable to harbor prejudices and always had to be objective, fair, upright, and serious, it would be like building a house with a living room but no bedroom, or being obliged to strike photogenic poses in front of the bathroom mirror. In canto 27 of Dante’s Inferno, the Devil is quoted as remarking: “Maybe thou didst not consider that I was a logician!”² From this one can see...


    Finding a literary turn of phrase in a nonliterary book is like going through old clothing and suddenly discovering a dollar bill or spare change in a pocket.¹ Even though it was yours to begin with, you still feel unexpectedly delighted. One autumn three years ago, for example, I happened to be flipping through Nicolai Hartmann’s masterpiece, Ethik, when I came across a curious item. Its gist is that there exists a certain type of person who can’t tell good from bad or distinguish good from evil, the same way a color-blind person can’t tell green from red or black...

  18. ON WRITERS (pp. 70-74)

    The writer is commendable for his modesty: while knowing how to get ahead in the world, he refrains from hankering after social position and eschews complacency with his lot.¹ In truth, the writer’s own view of himself is sometimes more scornful than that of the ordinary outsider looking on. He finds it singularly annoying that he is a writer and goes to great lengths and with considerable expenditure of words, labor, time, and paper to prove how unwilling and dissatisfied he is to be a writer. In an age like the present, could this not be considered the mark of...

  19. NOTES (pp. 75-90)
  22. GOD’S DREAM (pp. 93-106)

    At that time, our world had been trained into utter obedience by scientists, philosophers, and politicians. Every day, it revitalized and improved itself according to the laws of creationism, evolutionism, accretionism, eugenics, and the “New Life Movement.”1 Today’s way of life supplanted yesterday’s through natural selection, and culture became more refined from morning to afternoon. Life and civilization underwent a thousand transformations in the blink of an eye. The changes came so fast that History had no time to record them all, and even Prophecy couldn’t keep up. At that time, the course of human life was measured in “steps.”...

  23. CAT (pp. 107-152)

    “ ‘Don’t beat a dog without considering his master’s face,’ they say,” Yigu muttered. “In that case, I shouldn’t beat the cat until I see her mistress’s face.”

    Trying to suppress his rising anger was like combing a tangle of matted hair. The mistress, indeed, had yet to show her face, and that damned cat was off hiding who knows where, so he couldn’t beat it anyway. It was his usual rotten luck—two and a half days of work wasted! Mr. Li was napping and, to judge by his routine, wouldn’t come to the study until nearly three o’clock....

  24. INSPIRATION (pp. 153-176)

    There was once a famous writer, but strangely enough, we do not even know his name. It was not that he had not taken a name, or that he had done away with it.¹ Nor was it that he had somehow remained anonymous, or that something about him was perhaps so peculiar that it defied naming. The reason was simple: the ring of his fame was too deafening for us to hear his name clearly. This was hardly a unique case. The postman, for instance, would unhesitatingly deliver an envelope addressed to “The Greatest French Poet” to Victor Hugo.² Likewise,...

  25. SOUVENIR (pp. 177-204)

    Although this was a city surrounded by one range of mountains after another,¹ spring, like raiding enemy planes, entered it without the least difficulty. Sad to say, the arid mountain region was not suited to a luxurious growth of flowers and shrubs, so though spring had arrived, it had no place to take up lodging. Nevertheless, spring managed to create a vernal atmosphere in this mountain city with no other help than the fermenting effect of a damp and stuffy Lantern Festival² and of a few ensuing sunny days. The air of such bright, cloudless days was heavily laced with...

  26. NOTES (pp. 205-216)
  27. EDITIONS (pp. 217-218)
  28. FURTHER READING IN ENGLISH (pp. 219-220)
  29. TRANSLATORS (pp. 221-222)