An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Shuyiji 述異記

Jul 5, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Shuyiji 述異記 "Tales of strange matters" is a collection of ancient novellas and stories of strange events. There are actually two books of this title, one written by Zu Chongzhi 祖沖之 (429-500) during the Southern Qi period 南齊 (479-502), and one by Ren Fang 任昉 (460-508) during the Liang period 梁 (502-557).
Zu Chongzhi's book was 10 juan "scrolls" long and has only survived in fragments that were collected in Lu Xun's 魯迅 Gu xiaoshuo gouchen 古小說鉤沉. In ancient encyclopedias like the Taiping guangji 太平廣記 quotations from the Shuyiji can often not be attributed to the one or the other of the two books because no author is mentioned. Although Ren Fang's book is preserved, one can not be sure that the transmitted text is complete, so that the reader remains in doubt whether a fragment belongs to Zu's or to Ren's book. Some of the stories collected by Lu Xun are also to be found in Ren Fang's surviving book, except some different wordings. Some are also identical with stories in the book Bowuzhi 博物志. The Shuyiji of Zu Chongzhi includes a lot of ghost stories, but also novellas with historical content and stories of real life. It is very interesting that it also provides information about the flourishing of Daoism and Buddhism in Southern China during the 5th century.
Ren Fang's Shuyiji is 2 juan long and is first mentioned in the bibliography Chongwen zongmu 崇文總目 from the Song period 宋 (960-1279). It can thus be wondered whether Ren Fang was the real author of such a book. Yet the Tang period 唐 (618-907) encyclopedia Chuxueji 初學記 quotes from Ren's book, at least in the critical edition by Yan Kejun 嚴可均 and Lu Xinyuan 陸心源. The name Ren Fang is mentioned in the preface that was written by an unknown person. The title of the book is rendered as Xin shuyiji 新述異記 "New tales of strange matters". Some of the stories are clearly dated after the death of Ren Fang, so that it must be assumed that the received version has been subject to revision or an enlargement process. The stories narrated in Ren Fang's Shuyiji talk of immortals and deities and strange beasts and spirits, but give also insight into the geography of China, important ruins of the past, historical events, natural disasters and transformations.
The oldest surviving print of Ren Fang's Shuyiji dates from the Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279) and is included as a facsimile in the reprint series Sui'an congshu 隨庵叢書. Ren Fang's Shuyiji is transmitted in two different versions, one included in the series Han-Wei congshu 漢魏叢書, Shuoku 說庫, Longwei mishu 龍威秘書 and Baizi quanshu 百子全書, the other in the reprint series Baihai 稗海. The difference lies in the arrangement of the 305 stories and a different wording in several places. It is also included in the Siku quanshu 四庫全書, Shuofu 說郛, Wuchao xiaoshuo 五朝小說 and Gujin shuobu congshu 古今說部叢書.

Cheng Yizhong 程毅中 (1986). "Shuyiji 述異記", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學, vol. 2, p. 753. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Lee, Lily Xiao Hong (2015). "Shuyi ji", in Cynthia L. Chennault, et al., eds. Early Medieval Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley), 318-319. Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 2171. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.