An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Soushenji 搜神記

Jul 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Soushenji 搜神記 "Investigations into deities", also called Soushenlu 搜神錄, Soushen yiji 搜神異記 or Soushen zhuanji 搜神傳記, is a famous collection of phantastic stories compiled by the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420) historian Gan Bao 干寶 (d. 336). The original size of the Soushenji was 30 juan "scrolls", of which ten were lost until the Song period 宋 (960-1279). The received version has thus only 20 juan. It was probably revised and rearranged by the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Hu Yuanrui 胡元瑞.
The Soushenji records 464 stories (plus 34 fragments) of deities, immortals, souls and spirits, as well as numerous popular stories of strange events. Especially the latter often describe persons of low social standing, for instance, Han Ping 韓凴 and his wife, Dou Ji 賣寄, Ganjiang Moye 干將莫邪, the soul of Ziyu 紫玉 returning, or the story of a girl which plays "husband and wife" with her horse, and in which both are later transformed into silkworms. A lot of these stories later became very popular, like chapter 13 that contains a story of an unjustly executed woman, which would later eventually find its more famous shape in the theatre play Dou E yuan 竇娥冤.
The oldest print has survived as a facsimile in the reprint series Mice huihan 秘冊彙函. The Soushenji is also included in the Jindai mishu 津逮秘書, the Xuejin taoyuan 學津討原, Zishu baijia 子書百家 and Congshu jicheng 叢書集成初編 and the Siku quanshu 四庫全書, all with a length of 20 juan, while the editions in the reprint series Baihai 稗海, Guang Han-Wei congshu 廣漢魏叢書 and Shuoku 說庫 are 8 juan long. The 8 juan versions are based on a fragmentary book called Soushenlun 搜神論 that was compiled by the monk Tanyong 曇永 during the Northern Wei period 北魏 (386-534). It is not identical to Gan Bao's Soushenji.
In 1979 the Zhonghua shuju press 中華書局 published a modern edition with a commentary by Wang Shaoying 汪紹楹

The famous poet Tao Qian 陶潛 (Tao Yuanming 陶淵明) has written a kind of supplement, the Soushen houji 搜神後記, shortly after Gan Bao's main book was finished.
There is a commentary for all three versions written by Wang Shaoying 汪紹楹 and published in 1981 by the Zhonghua shuju press 中華書局. The three versions have been published by Wang Dongming 王東明 in 1983, together with the Shoushen houji.

There is also a book with the title of Soushen included in the reprint series Baihai 稗海. It is 8 juan long an was probably compiled during the Song period on the base of fragments of the monk Tanyong's 曇永 Soushenji from the Northern Wei period 北魏 (386-534), and Gou Daoxing's 句道興 Soushenji from the Tang period 唐 (618-907). The latter has been excavated in the cave libraries of Dunhuang 敦煌. Gou Daosheng's Soushenji only includes 35 stories, the Baihai version 40 stories.

There is another book with the same title including biographies of immortals. The 6 juan long book was revised by the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Zhang Guoxiang 張國祥. It includes the biographies of more than 160 Confucians, Daoists and Buddhists. It is included in the revised Daoist Canon from the Wanli reign 萬曆 (1573-1619), Wanli xu daozang 萬曆續道藏.

Bai Huawen 白化文 (1986). "Soushenji 搜神記", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學, vol. 2, p. 792. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Dewoskin, Kennet (1986). "Sou-shen chi 搜神記", in William H. Nienhauser, ed. The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press), 716-718.
Gu Cunyun 古存云 (1988). "Shenxian zhuanji 神仙傳記", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zongjiao 宗教, pp. 350-351. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Hsieh, Daniel (2015). "Soushen 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), 324-329.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe, vol. 2, p. 2169.
Wang Dongming 王東明 (ed. 1993). Soushenji sizhong 搜神記四種. Xi'an: Shaanxi lüyou chubanshe.