The genre of chuanqi 傳奇 "tales of strange events" is a type of short stories or novellas, often with plots including phantastic or supernatural events. The phantastic element is central to many Chinese short stories, novellas, and even novels and romances.
The first short stories or novellas from the Wei 曹魏 (220-265), Jin 晉 (265-420) and Southern Dynasties 南朝 (420~589) and Northern Dynasties 北朝 (386~581) periods mainly include stories of spirits, ghosts, immortals and deities, and only to a very few extent tales about the life of historical persons, like they can be found, for example, in the anthology Shishuo xinyu 世說新語. The literary frame of these stories was very narrow, there was not yet any kind of literary description that went beyond the plot itself. Tang period 唐 (618-907) short stories are more differentiated in the persons they deal with, as well as the literary style. The persons gained life and character, and the range of persons included became also broader than before. The Song period 宋 (960-1279) writer Hong Mai 洪邁 even compares Tang period novels with Tang period poetry.
There are several reasons for the development of popular stories during the Tang period. The unified empire created a stable atmosphere for a growing economy and the social and economical well-being of larger groups of society. There were some cities with larger populations, like Chang'an (modern Xi'an), Luoyang, Yangzhou or Chengdu. For the entertainment of the urban population, the profession of the story-teller was essential. Buddhist preachers also used stories to attract followers and a community by simplifying the complex philosophy of Buddhism by to colourful and easily understandable stories. Essays and poems from the Tang period give a vivid picture of how widespread stories were among all social classes. Emperor Tang Xuanzong 唐玄宗 (r. 712-755), in his old age, liked listening to stories (quoted in Guo Shi's 郭湜 Gao Lishi waizhuan 高力士外傳). The story of the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) princess Wang Zhaojun 王昭君 was very popular (quoted by Wang Jian 王建 in his poem Guan man ji 觀蠻妓 and Ji Shilao 吉師老 in his poem Kan Shu nü zhuan Zhaojun bian 看蜀女轉昭君變). The story Mulian jiu mu bianwen 目連救母變文 (see also bianwen texts) was known to scholars like Bai Juyi 白居易 and Zhang Hu 張祜 (quoted in Meng Qi's 孟棨 Benshishi 本事詩 and in Wang Dingbao's 王定保 Tangzhiyan 唐摭言). The story of the ancient physician Pian Que 扁鵲 was widespread on local markets (quoted in Duan Chengshi's 段成式 Youyang zazu 酉陽雜俎). The story Li Wa zhuan 李娃傳 is mentioned by the poet Yuan Zhen 元稹. In the collections of Tang period novels, some have a short postface indicating that the stories were written down after being told by a friend, like Renshizhuan 任氏傳, Lujiang Feng Ao zhuan 廬江馮媼傳, Changhenzhuan 長恨傳, or Xu Xuanguailu 續玄怪錄.
Another source for the popularization of the short story was its connection with the official state examinations. A lot of examinees wrote poems or prose essays dedicated to a person of high standing, in order to become known among the important circles. These essays were brought into circulation (xingjuan 行卷 "circulating scrolls"). Chuanqi stories were also published by the same method, often in several prints (wenjuan 温卷 "warmed-up scrolls"). Short stories were of narrative character, but also included illustrations, and regularly poems and short comments. This mixed syle of low and high class literature enhanced their popularity among all social groups. The collections Youguailu 幽怪錄 (Xuanguailu 玄怪錄 ) and Chuanqi 傳奇 are very typical examples.
The ghost stories and tales of immortals were not counted as literature in older ages, and are therefore not treated in Liu Xie's 劉勰 literary critique Wenxin diaolong 文心雕龍. But the Tang period writers perceived their stories as literature, and therefore made efforts to raise the literary quality of their texts, both from side of the construction of the plot and the richness of the language.
Early Tang period novels
The earliest Tang period novels are very few, and they bear still the influence of the phantastic stories popular during the Southern Dynasties period. The earliest Tang novel collection is Gujingji 古鏡記 by Wang Du 王度. The dozen stories include a mirror as a common link. The plots are described quite detailed and show a development towards literature, compared with the earlier stories. The story Bu Jiang Zong baiyuan zhuan 補江總白猿傳 (short Baiyuanzhuan) by an unknown author also belongs to the earliest Tang novels.
Zhang Zhuo's 張鷟 novel Youxianku 游仙窟 was written during the time of Emperor Gaozong 唐高宗 (r. 649-683) or Empress Wu Zetian 武則天 (r. 690-704). It describes how a wanderer rests one night in a strange hostel, where he meets two singing girls delivering their anecdotes and stories. Although the plot is quite narrow, the frame of the story is a great development towards a literary genre, the language is vivid and simple, but peppered with couplets and rhymes, showing the influence of popular entertainment.
The apex of the Tang period, the reigns of the emperors Xuanzong and Suzong 唐肅宗 (r. 756-762), was also the climax of Tang period poetry. Novels were therefore a less popular genre among the upper class. Wang Renyu's 王仁裕 book Kaiyuan tianbao yishi 開元天寶遺事 contains two reports of novels written by Zhang Yue/Shuo 張說. One is the story (Lüyi shizhe zhuan 綠衣使者傳) of two parrots revealing a murder planned in their presence. The birds were, as a reward, given the title of "Green-Frock commissioner". The other story tells the love of a young woman, Shaolan 紹蘭, to her husband, Ren Zong 任宗, who, as a merchant, stayed far away for several years. Shaolan sent a letter to him bound to the foot of a swallow, and in fact, her husband answered with the same method of mail. The original text of the two novels is lost. Other novels written by Zhang Yue were Qiu Ranke zhuan 虬髯客傳, Shuofu 說郛, and Yu Chu zhi 虞初志. Both stories show that the life of ordinary people became the focus of such novels, and not any more ghosts or immortals.
There were also some collections of novels, like Tang Lin's 唐臨 Mingbaoji 冥報記, Zhao Ziqin's 趙自勤 Dingminglu 定命錄, or Dai Fu's 戴孚 Guangyiji 廣異記. All of them are only preserved in fragements quoted in the Song period encyclopedia Taiping guangji 太平廣記. Another collection is Niu Su's 牛肅 Jjiwen 紀聞, of which the most interesting story is the friendship between Wu Bao'an 吳保安 and Guo Zhongyu 郭仲翔, news of which is included in the collective biography of the loyal subjects in the official dynastic history Xintangshu 新唐書.
The heyday of Tang period novels
The apogee of the Tang dynasty is also the heyday of Tang period novels. There are several genres with different styles and plots developing during that period, and which later on became also the main genres of the great traditional romances.
Phantastic stories are, from the content, heirs to the Southern Dynasties period stories, but the plots are much more detailed. In Shen Jiji's 沈既濟 Zhenzhongji 枕中記 and Li Gonguzuo's 李公佐 Nanke taishou zhuan 南柯太守傳, Lu Sheng 盧生 resp. Chunyu Fen 淳于棼 dream of an official career to the top position of Counsellor-in-chief wielding power and authority. The stories have, of course, a religious background, showing that worldly assets like power and fortune, are vain and ephemeral. Both novels are influenced by the much shorter story Jiao hu miao zhu 焦湖廟祝 in the collection Youminglu 幽明录 from the Liu-Song period 劉宋 (420-479), in which the dream is narrated in a few words. The plot is now much longer, and the content of the dream is vividly described, and with many details. Other novels of this genre are Gu Gue du jing 古岳瀆經, Lujiang Feng Ao zhuan, Sanmengji 三夢記, or Zhou Qin xingji 周秦行紀.
Some novels are of a mixed genre between the phantastic and love, like Shen Jiji's Renshizhuan 任氏传, in which Miss Ren, a transformed fox spirit, lives together with the scholar Zheng Liu 鄭六. Miss Ren is not only beautiful, but also intelligent and is able to withstand the destroying forces in her fox spirit. This story has influenced the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) novel collection Liaozhai zhiyi 聊齋志異. In Chen Xuanyou's 陳玄祐 Lihunji 離魂記, the love for her husband Wang Zhou 王宙 causes Zhang Qianniang's 張倩娘 soul to leave her body in search for him. Of a very high literary quality is Li Chaowei's 李朝威 novel Liu Yi zhuan 柳毅傳, in which the scholar Liu Yi saves the Dragon Maid 龍女 from Lake Dongting 洞庭 and finally marries her. In the story Li Zhangwu zhuan 李章武傳, written by Li Jingliang 李景亮, the protagonists's wife Miss Wang 王氏 dies, but her soul always stays with him, wherever he goes, and during the night they can meet each other. Similar stories are the less famous novels Xiangzhong yuanjie 湘中怨解, Yimenglu 異夢錄, and Qinmengji 秦夢記, all written by Shen Yazhi 沈亞之.
Love stories without a phantastic plot were also a very popular genre. Xu Yaozuo's 許堯佐 novel Liushizhuan 柳氏傳 is the story of Miss Liu and her husband, Han Yi 韓翊, who are first separated in a time of turmoil, and later reunited. The story also appears in Meng Qi's Benshishiy and might base on facts. Bai Xingjian's 白行簡 Li Wa zhuan 李娃傳 is the story of the nobleman Master Zheng 鄭生 and Li Wa, a singsong girl from Chang'an, who, after hardship and suffering, are united. Very similar is Jiang Fang's 蔣防 story of Huo Xiaoyu 霍小玉 and her lover Li Yi 李益. While it was very common to marry a girl from a great family, a liason with singsong girls could, in reality, not last forever. The stories of Li Wa and Huo Xiaoyu are therefore an ideal construct, or Cinderella-type stories. The characters of the novels are vividly depicted, and the plots are constructed in a attractive way. Another famous story of this genre is Yuan Zhen's 元稹 Yingying zhuan 鶯鶯傳.
A very common type are stories with historical background. Chen Hong's陳鴻 Changhenge zhuan 長恨歌傳 narrates the love between empeor Tang Xuanzong and Yang Guifei 楊貴妃. At a corrupt and rotten court, intrigues led to the rebellion of An Lushan 安祿山. During the ensuing flight of the imperial court, the guard forces the emperor to have Yang Guifei executed. After her death the emperor dreams of her night by night and finally asks a magician to bring her soul back to him. The long poem of Bai Juyi 白居易 with the same title deals with the same story. Chen Hong has also written the novel Dongcheng laofu zhuan 東城老父傳, which narrates the story of the cockfighter Jia Chang 賈昌 who becomes favourite of emperor Xuanzong, and, at the zenith of his power, has to flee Chang'an, together with the court. He leaves the emperor and seeks for a new life in a Buddhist monastery. Wu He 吳赫 has written the novel Kaiyuan shengping yuan 開元升平源 (probably also written by Chen Hong), and Guo Shi narrates the outer story of Gao Lishi, Gao lishi waizhuan. Both are of lesser quality than the former two.
Among the later Chinese romances, stories of wandering knights (youxia 遊俠) are very popular. Tang period novels already include some of this genre, but only very few, like Li Gongzuo's 李公佐 Xie Xiao’e zhuan 謝小娥傳. The female protagonist's father and husband are killed by bandits, whereupon she disguises herself as a man to punish the murderers. Feng Yan zhuan 馮燕傳 by Shen Yazhi is the story of an illicit relationship between the protagonist and general Zhang Ying's 張嬰 wife. The wife asks Feng Yan to kill her husband, but he refuses and kills her. The murder is charged on the general, but Feng, as a righteous person, offers himself as the one to be executed. The Lord of Qiantang 錢塘君 in Liu Yi zhuan, Xu Jun 許俊 in Liushi zhuan, or Huang Shanke 黄衫客 in Huo Xiaoyu zhuan, are all persons of a similar upright and honest character. This type of novel became more popular towards the end of the Tang period.
The late Tang period
While there are only a few separately published short stories during the later Tang period, like Xue Tiao's 薛調 Wushuang zhuan 無雙傳 or the anonymous Lingyingzhuan 靈應傳 and Dongyang yeguai lu 東陽夜怪錄, a lot of collections were compiled during that time. The most famous are Niu Sengru's 牛僧孺 Xuanguailu 玄怪錄, Li Fuyan's 李復言 Xu xuanguai lu 續玄怪錄, Zheng Huaigu's 鄭懷古 Boyizhi 博異志, Xue Yongruo's 薛用弱 Jiyiji 集異記, Zhang Du's 張讀 Xuanshizhi 宣室志, Yuan Jiao's 袁郊 Ganzeyao 甘澤謠, Pei Xing's 裴鉶 Chuanqi 傳奇, Kang Pian's 康駢 Jutanlu 劇談錄, or the collection Sanshui xiaodu 三水小牘 by Huangfu Mei 皇甫枚. In these collections, part of the stories has been written by other authors. In the collection Xu xuanguai lu, for instance, the story Nimiaoji 尼妙寂 originates in Li Gongzuo's 李公佐 Xie Xiao'e zhuan, and the story Shen Yazhi 沈亞之 in the collection has been extracted from Shen Yazhi's Yimenglu 異夢錄. Many of these extractions are not identical to the originals but have often been abbreviated, and the content was reduced to the phantastic element. The literary quality is in many cases therefore lower than in the previous period.
The influence of the older stories can often be perceived, as, for example, the story of the nine dragon maids 九娘子 withstanding their marriage to the dragon Chaona 朝那小龍 which is borrowed from the story of Liu Yi, or the nightly discussion of Cheng Zixu 成自虛 with ghosts, borrowed from the story Nanke taishou zhuan. Many stories are very popular, like Dinghundian 定婚店, the story of the Xu xuanguai lu narrates how the old man under the moon 月下老人 controls the marriage registers, or the story of Pei Hang 裴航 in the Chuanqi, who enters the service of a fairy and is later on highly rewarded for his labour. The story of Mu Zichun 杜子春 is borrowed from the Da-Tang xiyu ji 大唐西域記, the report of Xuanzang's 玄奘 travel to India. It narrates how the poor man Mu encounters an old Daoist, becomes an adept by himelf and only looses all his supernatural abilites when his own son is killed. Huangfu Mei's story about the love between Bu Feiyan 步飛烟 (also written 步非煙) and Wu Gongye 武公業, or Xue Tiao's story about the unhappy love of Wang Xianke 王仙客 and his cousin Liu Wushuang 劉無雙 are very touching and sensitive tales. Love can also make heroes, as the story of Kunlunnu 昆侖奴 in the collection Chuanqi shows, in which the protagonists is able to climb walls in order to steals a precious scarf for his love.
A lot of stories include the adventures of heroes or heroines involved in actually illegal activities, like assassinations or robbery, for instance, the girl Nie Yinniang 聶隱娘 in the Chuanqi, or the hero in the story Hongxian 紅綫 in the collection Ganzeyao. Liu Cheng's 柳珵 Shangqingzhuan 上清傳 also provides information about assassins of the late Tang period. A large number of heroes as supernatural forces, and some of them also kill ghosts, like Guo Yuanzhen 郭元振 in the collection Xuanguailu, who kills a pig ghost harrassing the population.
Although the plot of some stories is quite simple, the particular scenes are often described with a love for details. For example, the girl slave in the story Queyao 却要 in the Sanshui xiaodu mocks the sons of her master when they tried playing a serious theatre piece. The novel Jingdu rushi 京都儒士 in Master Huangfu's 皇甫氏 collection Yuanhuaji 原化記 makes fun of a scholar proud of his fearlessness, which totally vanishes when he spents the night in a hounted house.
The Tang period was the age of poetry, for which reasons there are also a lot of stories about poets, like Xu Yaozuo's 許堯佐 Liusizhuan 柳氏傳 or Shen Yazhi's Qinmengji 秦夢記, which were in circulation as separate editions, or the stories of Wang Wei 王維, and Wang Huanzhi 王涣之》 in the collection Jiyiji. The collections Yunxi youyi 雲溪友議 by Fan Shu 范攄 and Benshishi by Meng Qi 孟棨, written in the last decades of the Tang period, are specialized on poets.
The novels and short stories of the Tang period have a rich and colourful content, they reflect the dreams and imaginations of the people of that age, they reveal a lot about the relationship between men and women and the upper class and of desperados fighting for right and justice, they show how people during the Tang dynasty wanted to be entertained and with what kind of literature their spent their leisuretime, and the Tang novels also give an impression of the world of thought, that reached from immortals to ghosts and love beyond the boundaries of life.
The language of Tang period novels is partially in prose, but also spicked with poetry-like four-character sentences. Only a few stories, like Youxianku, are fully composed in verse. It reaches a much higher level than the stories of immortals and supernatural phenomena during the Southern and Northern Dynasties period. Plots are more intricate and help some the Tang short stories earn the title of "novella". The short stories left the niche of Daoist tales and were written and enjoyed by famous literati, and vice versa the language syle of the short stories accordingly profited from the literary level of the authors. Even highly reknowned writers like Han Yu 韓愈 and Liu Zongyuan 劉宗元 wrote short stories (Mao Ying zhuan 毛穎傳, resp. Hejian zhuan 河間傳). Short stories were, nevertheless, never thought of as high-class literature, but only as free-style essays.
Influence on the literature of later ages
Tang short stories had a great impact on novellas, theatre plays and popular stories of later ages. From the Song period on, the vernacular language began creeping into the stories. Stories from that age showing the influence of Tang period short stories are, for instance, Lüzhuzhuan 綠珠傳, Yang Taizhen waizhuan 楊太真外傳, Meifei zhuan 梅妃傳 or Li Shishi waizhuan 李師師外傳. There are only very few such collections of stories preserved, albeit some can be found in the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) collections Qingpingshantang huaben 清平山堂话本, Feng Menglong's 馮夢龍 three collections of short stories, the so-called Sanyan 三言, and the two Pai'an jingqi 拍案惊奇 collections by Ling Mengchu 凌濛初. Ming period novels in the same tradition are Qu You's 瞿佑 Jiandeng xinhua 剪燈新話, Li Zhen's 李禎 Jiandeng yuhua 剪燈餘話, or Shao Jingzhan's 邵景瞻 Mideng yinhua 覓燈因話. The most famous collection of short stories is Pu Songling's 蒲松齡 Liaozhai zhiyi from the Qing period.
Not only the type of story was perpetuated by later authors, but also the content of some particular novellas, like the Changhenge zhuan, which is repeated in the the tune Tianbao yishi 天寶遺事 by the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) writer Wang Bocheng 王伯成, or the theatre play Wutongyu 梧桐雨 by Bai Pu 白樸 from the same time. The most famous theatre play processing the love story of Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Guifei is Changshengdian 長生殿 by the early Qing period writer Hong Sheng 洪昇. The story Yingying zhuan influenced a poem by Zhao Lingzhi 趙令畤 from the Song period, and the Yuan period theatre play Xixiangji 西厢記 by Wang Shifu 王實甫. Stories like Huo Xiaoyu zhuan, Zhenzhongji and Nanke taishou zhuan had an impact on the play Yumingtang simeng 玉茗堂四夢 by Tang Xianzu 湯顯祖.
Modern collections and first research
At the end of the Tang period, Chen Han 陳翰 collected the most important, famous and best novellas in his ten juan "scrolls" long book Yiwenji 異聞集. The original book is already lost, but part of the stories are preserved in the Song period encyclopedia Taiping guangji. Ming period collections in which Tang period short stories are preserved, are the books Gujin shuohai 古今說海, Wuchao xiaoshuo 五朝小說 and Tangren shuohui 唐人說薈. The most important collection of ancient short stories is Lu Xun's 魯迅 Tang-Song chuanqi ji 唐宋傳奇集, with an appendix called Baibian xiaozhui 稗邊小綴, published in 1956 with the Wenxue guji press 文學古籍刊行社. He has also written a lot of comments and was virtually the first scholar writing a history of the Chinese short story. Wang Biqiang 汪辟疆 has compiled the collection Tangren xiaoshuo 唐人小說 (1955, Gudian wenxue press 古典文學出版社), in which he assembles separately published stories and such in contemporary collections. He also gives detailed information about the history of the Tang period short stories. A lot of such collections have been published in modern editions.
Song period short stories
Song period short stories or novellas are by Chinese scholars generally rated as a pure continuation of the traditions of the phantastic stories of the Southern and Northern Dynasties period and the novellas of the Tang period, including love stories, ghost stories and tales of heroes. Such ratings are too oversimplified and neglect the literary acheivements and their perpetuative character for the stories and theatre plays of the later ages, the Yuan, Ming and Qing period.
The most important large collection of such short stories is the 500 juans "scrolls" long encyclopedia Taiping guangji, which specialises on chuanqi stories and included such from the Han period as well as those from the Tang period. Most of these stories are tales of immortals, ghosts and supernatural events. The fact that the Taiping guangji was actually the first printed collection of short stories contributed to their wide circulation, and to the compilation of similar collections, like Zhang Junfang's 張君房 Liqingji 麗情集, a collection of love stories, which is unfortunately lost, or the anonymous Men gujin leishi 門古今類事, a collection of a collection of stories of sad fate (dingming 定命) or retribution for sin (guobao 果報), Zhu Shengfei's 朱勝非 Ganzhuji 紺珠集, or Zeng Zao's 曾慥 Leishuo 類說. The urban population was a very important market for this kind of easy-to-read literature. A very rich collection is the Qingsuo gaoyi 青瑣高議 by Liu Fu 劉斧, which includes stories of trivial matters (suoshi 瑣事)、, strange affairs (yiwen 異聞), remarkable biographies (zhuanji 傳記) and vernacular stories interspersed with poems (shihua 詩話). Rather traditional is the collection Lüchuang xinhua 綠窗新話 by the "Master of the Wind and Moon of the August Capital Studio" 皇都風月主人, whose stories were later adapted for many novellas and theatre plays.
Some of the compilers of the Taiping guangji also published their own works and collection. Xu Xuan 徐鉉, a famous paleographer, compiled the collection Jishenlu 稽神錄, which also includes pre-Song period phantastic stories. Part of them are included in the Taiping guangji. Wu Shu 吴淑, Xu's son-in-law, compiled the Jiang-Huai yiren lu 江淮異人錄, which includes stories of magicians, wandering knights, Daoists and strange phenomena. The publication of these two collections broke the path for a rich treasury of short story collections that are, from the viewpoint of literary quality and innovation, generally rated as rather mediocre: Dongweizhi 洞微志 by Qian 錢易, Chengyiji 乘異記 by Zhang Junfang 張君房, Luozhong jiyi 洛中紀異 by Qin Zaisi 秦再思, or Mufu yanxian lu 幕府燕閑錄 by Bi Zhongxun 畢仲詢. All of them are only preserved in fragments. Fully preserved are the collections Kuoyizhi 括異志 by Zhang Shizheng 張師正 and Kuichezhi 睽車志 by Guo Tuan 郭彖. The most famous, most popular and most widespread collection of phantasy tales is Hong Mai's 洪邁 Yijianzhi 夷堅志, which was published in several series. Although the literary quality of the particular stories varies considerably, it is a vast treasure for all popular stories of the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126), which can give a vivid impression of the life and activities of the persons living during that period. The Yijianzhi was the model for similar compilations, like the Xu yijianzhi 續夷堅志 by the Jin period 金 (1115-1234) writer Yuan Haowen 元好問, and the anonymous Ming period collection Huhai xinwen 湖海新聞.
Separately published Song period novels have often historical persons as protagonists. They literary level is quite high, as Le Shi's 樂史 Lüzhuzhuan and Yang taizhen waiji 楊太真外傳. Zhang Shi's 張實 Liuhongji 流紅記 describes the life and love of a palace woman. Love stories are also the genre of Qin Chun's 秦醇 novellas Zhao Feiyan biezhuan 趙飛燕別傳, a modern adaption of the Zhao Feiyan waizhuan 趙飛燕外傳, and Tan Yige zhuan 譚意歌傳, which is influenced by the Tang period stories Huo Xiaoyu zhuan and Yingying zhuan. The same source served Liu Shiyin 柳師尹 for his sad love story Wang Youyu ji 王幼玉記. Another love story is Wang Xie zhuan 王榭傳, where the protagonist travels to the country of the swallows, where he marries the daughter of an old Daoist. Later on they communicate with each other via "carrier swallows". Meifeizhuan 梅妃傳 is the story of the conflict of two women for the love of emperor Tang Xuanzong. The story of Li Shishi waizhuan narrates the love between a singsong girl and Emperor Song Huizong 宋徽宗 (r. 1100-1125) before the background of the Song dynasty’s decay.
The genre of historical novellas also play an important part in several stories on Emperor Sui Yangdi's 隋煬帝 (r. 604-617) rule and downfall, the Sui Yangdi haishan ji 隋煬帝海山記, Milouji 迷樓記, and Kaiheji 開河記. The three stories allegedly base on Yan Shigu's 顏師古 collection Suiyilu 隋遺錄录 (better known as Daye shiyiji 大業拾遺記) from the Tang period. It can be said that this kind of genre really gained shape during the Song period, before it was enlarged to the genre of historical novels (lishi xiaoshuo 歷史小說).