An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

chuanqi 傳奇 and zhiguai 志怪, tales and stories

Sep 18, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

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), the Southern Dynasties 南朝 (420~589) and the 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 adornments that went beyond the plot itself. Tang period 唐 (618-907) short stories are more differentiated in the characterization of persons acting, as well as concerning the literary style. The protagonists of the stories 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 compared Tang period novels with the famous and refined Tang period poetry.

There are several reasons why popular stories experienced a fast and vivid development during the Tang period. The unification of the empire created a stable atmosphere for a growing economy and the social and economical well-being of larger groups of society in urban places. There were some cities with larger populations, like Chang'an 長安 (modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi), Luoyang 洛陽, Yangzhou 揚州 or Chengdu 成都. For the entertainment of the urban population, the profession of the story-teller was essential. Buddhist preachers also used stories to attract believers and to create a basic religious community by simplifying the complex philosophy of Buddhism with the help of 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 Xuanzong 唐玄宗 (r. 712-755), in his old age, loved listening to stories, as can be seen in Guo Shi's 郭湜 biographic collection 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, who was sent to marry a barbarian ruler, was very popular. This is attested in Wang Jian's 王建 poem Guan man ji 觀蠻妓 and in Ji Shilao's 吉師老 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 well known to famous scholars like Bai Juyi 白居易 and Zhang Hu 張祜 (as attested 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 Bian 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 include a short postface indicating in which way the stories were transmitted, for instance, orally in a circle of friends, and then written down. This is the case for the stories 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 the use of them by scholars preparing their participation in the state examinations. Numerous examinees wrote poems or prose essays dedicated to a person of high standing, in order to gain a better name among literati circles. These essays were brought into circulation (xingjuan 行卷 "circulating scrolls"). Chuanqi stories were also published by the same method, often in several editions (wenjuan 温卷 "warmed-up scrolls").

Short stories were of narrative character, but also included illustrations, and were regularly enriched by poems and short comments. This mixed style of low-class 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 of this mixed style.

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 real 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 not numerous, 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 "Old stories of a mirror" by Wang Du 王度. The dozen stories include the topos of a mirror as a common link. The plots are quite detailed and show a development towards what might be defined as "real" literature, in comparison with the earlier stories. The story Bu Jiang Zong baiyuan zhuan 補江總白猿傳 (short Baiyuanzhuan 白猿傳) 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 traveller spends one night in a strange hostel, where he meets two singing girls delivering their anecdotes and stories. Although the plot itself is quite simple, 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, in which two parrots reveal a murder planned in their presence. The birds were, as a reward, given the title of "Green-Frock commissioner" (lüyi shizhe).

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. Both stories show that the life of ordinary people became the focus of such novels, and not any more ghosts or immortals. A further story of Zhang Yue was Qiu Ranke zhuan 虬髯客傳.

Tang period writers also began collecting and publishing stories they heard of, for instance, Zhang Yue, with the collection Shuofu 說郛 (a forerunner of the famous Shuofu), and Yu Chu zhi 虞初志 (likewise a precedent for the later collection Yu Chu zhi), 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 encyclopaedia 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 were 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 of their Tang period offsprings 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 and Chunyu Fen 淳于棼, respectively, dream of an official career to the top position of Counsellor-in-chief, wielding power and possessing greatest authority. The stories have, of course, a religious background, showing that worldly assets like power and fortune, are vain and ephemeral. Both novels were influenced by the much shorter story Jiao hu miao zhu 焦湖廟祝 in the collection Youminglu 幽明錄 from the Liu-Song period 劉宋 (420-479), in which the dream is narrated in just a few words. The plot in the two Tang period stories is 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 consisting of the topics phantasy 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 able to withstand the destroying forces of the fox spirit in her. 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 of Zhang Qianniang 張倩娘 for her husband Wang Zhou 王宙 causes her soul to leave the 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 (Longnü 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 protagonist's wife Miss Wang 王氏 dies, but her soul 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 Liushi zhuan 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 Benshishi and might base on historical facts. Bai Xingjian's 白行簡 Li Wa zhuan 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 romantic construct of Cinderella-type stories, in which females of low social standing marry into a better family. The characters of these novels are vividly depicted, and the plots 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 Emperor Xuanzong and Lady 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 to Sichuan, the guard forces the emperor to have Yang Guifei executed. Yang was blamed of having caused the whole disaster. After her death the emperor dreams of her every 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 (Chang hen ge 長恨歌) deals with the same story. Chen Hong also wrote 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 wrote the novel Kaiyuan shengping yuan 開元升平源 (probably also written by Chen Hong), and Guo Shi delivered the "outer" story of Gao Lishi, Gao lishi waizhuan. Both are of lesser quality than the former two.

In the later Chinese romances, stories of wandering knights (youxia 遊俠) are very popular. Tang period novels already include some stories 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 were killed by bandits, whereupon she disguised herself as a man to take revenge. 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 the lover 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. Protagonists of similar, upright and honest character, are exemplified by the Lord of Qiantang 錢塘君 in the story Liu Yi zhuan, Xu Jun 許俊 in Liushi zhuan, or Huang Shanke 黄衫客 in Huo Xiaoyu zhuan. This type of novel with a moral aspect became more popular towards the end of the Tang period.

The Late Tang Period

While there are only a few separately published novellas 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, there was quite a number of collections 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.

Some collections consist of stories written by a single author, while other collections assemble writings of several 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 Boyizhi was extracted from Shen Yazhi's Yimenglu 異夢錄. Many of these extracts are not identical to the originals but were often abbreviated, and the content 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 (jiu niangzi 九娘子) withstanding their marriage to the "lesser dragon" Chaona 朝那小龍. This novella is borrowed from the story of Liu Yi. The nightly discussion of Cheng Zixu 成自虛 with ghosts was lend from the story Nanke taishou zhuan. Many stories are very popular, like Dinghundian 定婚店, or the story of the Xu xuanguai lu narrates how the old man under the moon (yuexia laoren 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 fellow Mu encounters an old Daoist immortal, becomes an adept by himelf and gains extraordinary abilites, but looses these supernatural abilites again 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 steal a precious scarf for his love.

Quite a number of stories report 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 possess supernatural forces, and some of them even kill ghosts, like Guo Yuanzhen 郭元振 in the collection Xuanguailu, who kills a pig spectre which was harrassing the local population.

Even if the plot of some stories is quite simple, particular scenes are often described with a love for details. For example, the girl slave in the story Queyao 却要 in the collection 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 spends the night in a hounted house.

The Tang period was the age of poetry, for which reason there are also many stories about poets, like Xu Yaozuo's 許堯佐 Liushi zhuan 柳氏傳 or Shen Yazhi's Qinmengji, which were in circulation as separate editions, or the stories of Wang Wei 王維, and Wang Huanzhi 王渙之 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 specializing in stories about 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, and they reveal many details on 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 desired to be entertained and with what kind of literature they spent their leisure time. Tang period novellas 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 novellas is mostly prose, but also spicked with poetry-like four-character sentences. Only a few stories, like Youxianku, are fully composed in verse. Tang novellas reache a much higher literary level than the stories of immortals and supernatural phenomena during the Southern and Northern Dynasties period. The short stories left the niche of Daoist tales of "immortals" and were written and enjoyed by famous literati. 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, and Hejian zhuan 河間傳, respectively). Short stories were, nevertheless, never thought of as high-class literature, but only as vehicles of entertainment.

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 清平山堂話本, 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 西廂記 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 10-juan long book Yiwenji 異聞集. The original book is already lost, but part of the stories are preserved in the Song period encyclopaedia 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 by the Wenxue guji Press 文學古籍刊行社. Lu Xun also wrote numerous comments and was virtually the first scholar who compiled a history of the Chinese short story. Wang Biqiang 汪辟疆 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 number of collections of this type were 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. They include the genres of love stories, ghost stories and tales of heroes. Yet 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 periods.

The most important large collection of such short stories is the 500-juan long encyclopaedia 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 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" (Huangdu fengyue zhuren 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 吳淑, Xu's son-in-law, compiled the collection 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) that 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 Han period story 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 immortal. 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 Xuanzong of the Tang. The story of Li Shishi waizhuan narrates the love between a singsong girl and Emperor Huizong 宋徽宗 (r. 1100-1125) of the Song dynasty before the background of the decay of the Northern Song.

The genre of historical novellas also plays an important part in several stories on Emperor Yang 隋煬帝 (r. 604-617) of the Sui dynasty, his rule and downfall. These are Sui Yangdi haishan ji 隋煬帝海山記, Milouji 迷樓記, and Kaiheji 開河記. The three stories are allegedly based on Yan Shigu's 顏師古 collection Suiyilu 隋遺錄 (better known as Daye shiyi ji 大業拾遺記) from the Tang period. It can be said that this kind of genre really won shape during the Song period, before it was enlarged to the genre of historical romances (lishi xiaoshuo 歷史小說).

Lao Hong 勞洪 (1986), "Songdai zhiguai yu chuanqi 宋代志怪與傳奇", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, pp. 783-784. ● Wang Yunxi 王運熙 (1986), "Tangdai chuanqi 唐代傳奇", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, pp. 831-834.