Strange Stories From A Chinese Studio - Theme

Theme

The main characters of this book apparently are ghosts, foxes, immortals and demons, but the author actually focused on the real life of commoners at the time. He made use of the supernatural and unexplainable to illustrate his ideas of society and government during his time. He criticized the corruption and unjustness in the society, and sympathized on the poor. Four main themes are present in Strange Stories.

The first is a complaint about the skewed feudal system during his time. The author argued that many officers and rich people committed crime without ever being punished, because they enjoyed privilege and power, granted to them by the government, purely by their status and/or their wealth. This theme can be found in short stories such as “the Cricket”, “Xi Fangping”, and “Shang Sanguan”. It is fairly clear that the author resents the feudal government, skewed and unfair as it was.

Secondly, the author disclosed the corrupt examination system at that time. Pu had taken imperial exams and subsequently discovered that the exams were unfairly graded. He postulated that many students cheated and bribed examiners or the grading officers. The education system, thus, became pointless in Pu's eyes, as it had destroyed the scholars’ mind and ruined their creativity, as were illustrated in such stories as “Kao San Sheng”, “Ya Tou” (The Maid), and “Scholar Wang Zi-an”.

Pu's third theme was a clear admiration of pure, faithful love between poor scholars and powerless women, writing many stories about the love between beautiful and kind female ghosts and poor students to illustrate the allegory. The author highly praised women who took care of their husbands’ life and helped them achieve success, as can be found in chapters such as “Lian Xiang”, “Yingning” and “Nie Xiaoqian”.

Lastly, Pu criticized the people’s immoral behavior, and thus sought to educate people through Strange Stories. Pu embedded Confucian-styled moral standards and Taoist principles into parables; some examples are “Painted Skin” and “The Taoist of Lao Mountain”.

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