An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Lieyizhuan 列異傳

Oct 3, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Lieyizhuan 列異傳 "Biographies of extraordinary persons" is an early collection of stories attributed to Cao Pi 曹丕, a writer who is known in history as Emperor Wen 魏文帝 (r. 220-226) of the Wei dynasty 曹魏 (220-265), one of the Three Empires 三國 (220-280). His literary critique Dianlun 典論 has only partially survived. Whether authorship of the 3 juan "scrolls" long story collection Lieyizhuan can be attributed to Cao Pi is far from sure, yet because it includes stories taking place after the death of Cao Pi it is rather probable that it is at least partially a compilation of a later date. Song period 宋 (960-1279) scholars sometimes were of the opinion that it was compiled by the Jin period 晉 (265-420) writer Zhang Hua 張華, but there are no proofs for this. The Republican expert Lu Xun 魯迅 has found out that sources from the Southern and Northern dynasties period 南北朝 (300~600) as Pei Songzhi's 裴松之 commentary to the Sanguozhi 三國志 or Li Daoyuan's 酈道元 Shuijingzhu 水經注 quote from the Lieyizhuan, so that there can be no doubt that the Lieyizhuan was written during the Jin period at latest.
The Lieyizhuan includes stories of a wide range of topics all of which tell of strange things and objects, miraculous animals and plants, as well as ghosts and demons and the return of the souls of dead persons. It includes tales of magic and immortality, divination and supernatural skills, a genre that was very widespread in Chinese literature. The Lieyizhuan is one of the oldest texts including such stories and is at the same time a collection of stories that include vivid reports about the life of ordinary persons, like Wang fu shi 望夫石, San Wang mu 三王墓 or Han Ping qi 韩凴妻. The story Song Dingbo 宋定伯 tells of a man who did not fear ghosts, which is quite uncommon among this type of stories. Generally said, the literary quality of the stories is comparatively high. Excellent composition is to be found in tales like Jiang Ji wang er 蔣濟亡兒, Tan sheng 談谈生 or Liu Boyi 劉伯夷.
Lu Xun assembled 50 fragments of the Lieyizhuan in his reprint series Gu xiaoshuo gouchen 古小說鉤沉.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 2166. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.