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Disarming Intruders:

Alien Women in Liaoz/ai z/iyi


(1 RITICAL studies of Liaozhaizhiyi PW,1>n have often focused

\_1 attention on the supernatural heroines-fox women, ghosts,
flower nymphs, and others-who play such a prominent role in
many of the strange tales by Pu Songling -r (1640-1715). In
their evaluation of these memorable figures, scholars express almost
complete unanimity: Pu's work has created, in the words of a re-
cent article, "a unique type of feminine image whose actions are in
total contradiction to the conventional image of mortal women."1
"Daring," "defiant," "alienated from society," "indifferent to
traditional morality": it is in such terms that Pu's heroines are
most commonly described. The uninhibited fox-spirit Yingning,
with her apparent disregard of social norms, is often cited as an out-
standing example. Much given to spontaneous laughter and merri-

This is a revised version of a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for
Asian Studies in Boston, April 10-12, 1987. I am grateful for the helpful comments of Glen
Dudbridge, Patrick Hanan, Qian Nanxiu, and Ann Waltner.
' Marlon K. Hom, "Characterization in Liao-chaichih-i," Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese
Studiesn.s. 12, 1-2 (1979): 274. Among the many earlier statements of this view are Xu Shi-
nian 1??L "Shi tan Liaozhaizhiyi de sixiang" , in Zhongguogudian
xiaoshuopinglunji (Beijing: Beijing chubanshe, 1957), pp. 112-14; and Yang Liu $9VO,
Liaozhaizhiyiyanjiu (Nanjing: Jiangsu wenyi chubanshe, 1958), pp. 33-36. For a recent re-
affirmation of this position, see Li Houji t)17 and Han Haiming *iraM, Rengui huyao de
yishu shijie-Liaozhai zhiyi sanlun R f -( ( W X f (Tianjin:. Tianjin
renmin chubanshe, 1982), p. 173.


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ment, she is rewarded by the author with marriage to a devoted

young scholar, and is seen by some as the embodiment of Pu Song-
ling's feminine ideal.2 A closer reading, however, of Liaozhai in
general and "Yingning" in particular uncovers a more complex
picture. This article re-examines the portrayal of alien women in
Liaozhai and offers a new interpretation of the dynamics that operate
in their relationship with their mortal lovers and with human society.
The inadequacy of the conventional wisdom soon becomes ap-
parent when we reconsider the standard explication of "Yingning. "
The heroine tends to be regarded as naive and child-like: "open and
carefree, her simplistic spirit does not have the complexity of vulgar
human emotions. "3 Readers subscribing to this view usually make
reference to early or central portions of the tale, in which Ying-
ning's innocent gaiety is her most conspicuous trait. But they have
difficulty accounting for the story's conclusion, where Yingning in
effect murders a lecherous young neighbor and exchanges her gay
demeanor for solemn restraint. Critics are dismayed by these devel-
opments, lamenting the first episode as "unnecessary"' and the
change that comes over Yingning as "unfortunate."5 Confronted
by evidence of a more intricate female psychology, they tend to brush
it aside in an effort to preserve their favored image of a charmingly
ingenuous heroine.
It is not entirely surprising that many readers cling so tenaciously
to this conception of Yingning. Her story, like most of Pu's work, is
told primarily from the perspective of the male protagonist. As his
range of vision is restricted in some important respects, so too is our
own. Like the hero, Wang Zifu, we are denied access to Yingning's

Hom, p. 274. For similar assessments of Yingning, see Chun-shu Chang and Hsiieh-lun
Chang, "The World of P'u Sung-ling's Liao-chaichih-i:Literature and the Intelligentsia dur-
ing the Ming-Ch'ing Dynastic Transition, "Journalof theInstituteof ChineseStudiesof theChinese
University of Hong Kong 6.2 (1973): 409; Kong Lingxin R-v , "Lun Liaozhai zhAii de aiqing
zhuti" - Pu Songlingyanjiujikan2 (1981): 130-31; Zhang Renrang
4z and Li Yongchang 4E*, " 'Yingning' shang xi" ((O )XWA , in Liaozhaizhiyijian-
shangji(Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1983), pp. 48-52; Ma Ruifang ,WV , Pu Song-
ling pingzhuan(Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1986), pp. 180-81.
3 Hom, p. 237.
4 Zhao Lisheng 14ill, "Du Liaozhaizhoii zhaji" = Pu Songlingyanjiu
jikan 2 (1981): 25. Ma Zhenfang ,IsuuJtalso deplores the inclusion of this episode in his
Liaozhaiyishulun FJWAAA (Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 1986), pp. 32-33.
5 Hom, p. 275.

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inner consciousness until she reveals herself to him near the end of
the tale. Up to that moment our responses have been so effectively
channelled by the selective point of view that Pu Songling employs,
and our expectations are so fully conditioned by Wang Zifu's
perception of events, that we may well be tempted to discount the
significance of Yingning's disclosures, since they challenge all our
assumptions about her.
There can be no doubt, however, that the author expected his
readers to be prepared to revise their initial impression of Yingning
in light of the final scenes. Possibly anticipating the reluctance of
some to make this adjustment, he made a point of adding a
postscript that underlines the discrepancy between appearance and
When we look at her silly laughter, it seems that she is wholly lacking in awareness,
but what could be more cunning than that prank she played beneath the wall?
When her laughter changed to tears as she mourned her ghost-mother, it suggests
that my Yingning was simply concealing herself in gaiety.6

This passage, which in two eighteenth-century manuscripts ends

"my Yingning was never silly in the least,"' is too important to be
ignored, but its implications appear to have been examined by only
two of the many scholars who have commented upon "Yingning. "
My own discussion of the tale will amplify some of the points first
made by Dan Minglun JMJj in his commentary of 1842 and recent-
ly restated by Nishioka Haruhiko ARRAS8
"Yingning" is the kind of narrative that invites a different inter-
pretation upon rereading. On first encounter with the heroine, one
is inevitably subject to many of the same misapprehensions that
Yingning's behavior induces in Wang Zifu. But on rereading the
tale, we can take advantage of the insights presented by the author's

6 Liaozhaizhiyi huijiaohuizhuhuipingbenF * .*i**, ed. Zhang Youhe 4:

0 (Shanghai: Guji chubanshe, 1978 repr.), 2.159. References to Liaozhai,hereafter incor-
porated in the text, will be to this edition.
This variant is found in the 12-juan Zhuxuezhai X MS (see the collation note in
Liaozhai2.159), and in the 24-juan MS, Ershisijuanchaoben Liaozhaizhiyi itV*4p OWp>
X (Jinan: Qilu shushe, 1981), 3.85.
8 Dan Minglun's perceptive commentary is reprinted in Liaozhai, 2.147-59. Nishioka's

article "Nin Shi to Einei no aida-kitsune yo imeji no hen'yo" El{ e CD CD1'

- C
-;; , was published in Toyobunka58 (1978); his discussion of "Yingning" is found
on pp. 119-25.

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commentary, and respond accordingly. Our strategy on second
reading, therefore, should be to distance ourselves from the hero
and his incomplete and misleading view of things, and instead at-
tempt to see events through the heroine's eyes. Considered from
this perspective, the story acquires a richer level of meaning: the
drama it enacts is that of a woman's efforts to resolve the tensions
generated when she seeks to shed her deviant status and establish
for herself a conventional place in society. Yingning's origins are
highly irregular. The daughter of a fox, she has been raised from in-
fancy by a ghost. Although she never explains her goals in so many
words, when we view her actions in their totality it is clear that she
has two primary objectives: to be assimilated into human society
and to arrange a proper burial for her foster mother. All aspects of
her conduct can be seen as part of an elaborate strategy designed to
disarm the suspicions which her dubious origins would naturally ex-
cite as she makes her entrance into regular life.
Yingning's first task is to win the love of her cousin Wang Zifu.
There is nothing accidental about their first encounter: she deliber-
ately excites his interest and drops a spray of plum blossom in his
path. Her behavior during their subsequent reunion at her country
home (itself created specially for the occasion) is also carefully pre-
meditated, despite appearances to the contrary. Her responses to
Wang's advances, naive though they seem, are calculated to draw
from him ever more explicit protestations of love. By the time Zifu's
family traces him, she has firmly established herself as his chosen
The next step is more difficult. Yingning must now overcome the
reservations that her prospective mother-in-law will inevitably enter-
tain. Mrs. Wang possesses strong evidence of the girl's abnormal
parentage: Yingning is known to be the name given to the child of a
fox who seduced Mrs. Wang's brother-in-law; Mrs. Wang's sister,
who Yingning claims has raised her, has been dead for many
years. Yingning employs a number of tactics to dispel the older
woman's doubts about her suitability. She reveals as little as possi-
ble about her background and responds to inquiries with insouciant
laughter, thereby making it impossible for Mrs. Wang to confirm
her suspicions while at the same time persuading her that Yingning
is too giddy a creature to pose a serious threat to herself or her son.

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Another aspect of Yingning's design is to ingratiate herself with the
whole family, from Mrs. Wang down to the humblest maidservant,
and develop solid alliances with the local community of women. As
she proves herself a popular and valuable member of the household,
she gradually calms Mrs. Wang's fears, and her marriage to Zifu
goes ahead: her first objective has been attained.
For Yingning to accomplish the interment of her foster mother's
remains, it is vital that she enjoy the complete trust and support of
Zifu and his mother. The episode involving the lecherous young
man next door, far from being superfluous, is for Yingning an effec-
tive test of their loyalties: it presents them with incontrovertible
proof of her magical powers and her capacity to destroy those who
offend her.9 When the youth's parents file a lawsuit and accuse
Yingning of sorcery, the menace she poses would surely be driven
home to Mrs. Wang if she still harbored any suspicions about her
daughter-in-law's intentions. In the event, her mild response to
Yingning's misdeed gives Yingning final confirmation of the total
security in which she is ensconced. Now and only now can she strip
off the mask she has worn from the beginning, and her outward
manner henceforth accurately reflects her inner seriousness. Soon
afterwards she enlists Zifu's aid in carrying out the second of her
goals. The story closes with the birth of Yingning's son, a trium-
phant realization of her aspirations in life, for it fulfills her social
obligations to the family which shelters her, and marks the con-
solidation of her place in the human community.
This reading of "Yingning" thus entails an evaluation of the
heroine's personality that is just the reverse of her popular image. If
the above analysis is correct, it would seem that those readers who
see Yingning as endearingly ignorant of society's expectations are
simply falling victim to the same brilliant imposture of which Wang
Zifu and his mother are the targets. Once her disguise is penetrated,
Yingning appears in a very different light as a character fundamen-
tally committed to traditional values.

9 This incident also seems to me to be necessary to the story as a whole, for the startling
powers she displays here furnish an explanation for the uncanny accuracy of Cousin Wu's im-
provised story that she lives in the southwestern hills. If Yingning can induce delusions in the
mind of the neighbor, it suggests that she can with equal ease implant ideas in the head of
Cousin Wu.

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This appraisal of Yingning's pattern of behavior has wider im-
plications. The distinction often made between Pu Songling's mor-
tal women (conventional, submissive) and his supernatural women
(unorthodox, iconoclastic) now seems much less clear-cut. Ying-
ning's essential strategy (though not, of course, her specific tactic) is
in fact reminiscent of the steps taken by young brides in Chinese
society to neutralize possible hostility and establish a secure position
in the marital home. If a human bride was traditionally regarded, in
Margery Wolf's words, as "an object of suspicion and potentially
dangerous because she is a stranger,"10 then a fox-spirit, in view of
her sinister propensities, is doubly likely to be perceived as a menac-
ing and subversive intruder. Pu Songling, an author keenly in-
terested in women's roles in society, offers us in "Yingning" his vi-
sion of the process by which one such woman might overcome
human prejudice and install herself in her husband's family.
"Yingning" is by no means the only story in Liaozhai to examine
the entrance into human society of alien women. Such tales mark a
new stage in the representation of supernatural women in Chinese
fiction. Until the appearance of Pu Songling's work, liaisons be-
tween such women and their mortal lovers were presented as tem-
porary arrangements that did not entail the full assimilation of the
women into society. As depicted in earlier literature, such relation-
ships typically end in one of two ways. Many stories conclude with
the lovers' separation, when either the human hero returns from the
supernatural realm or the alien woman departs from human socie-
ty. This was a pattern established in the zhiguai ,i1%anecdotal tradi-
tion of the Six Dynasties (317-589),"1 and often recurs thereafter: it
is common to both Jiandeng xinhua r (author's preface dated
1378) and Jiandeng yuhua E (preface dated 1420), and to later
Ming works such as "Liaoyang haishen zhuan" 100*4 (1536),
and "Zhaoti qinjing ji" TB32w3F,3of the Wanli era.12 In a second

'1 Margery Wolf, Womenand the Family in Rural Taiwan (Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 1972), p. 35.
" See Karl S.Y. Kao, ed., ClassicalChineseTalesof theSupernatural
from the Thirdto the TenthCentury(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), p. 31.
"Liaoyang haishen zhuan" is found in LuJi M (1515-1552), comp., Gujinshuohait
-& (1821 ed.), "Shuo yuan" X 16.1a-17a. "Zhaoti qinjingji" is found in Yuanzhu
zhiyu xuechuangtanyi f a collection of twenty-eight Classical tales whose
author's pseudonym is Diao Yuanhu Ke i A Ming edition is preserved in Dalian

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type of plot, the romance culminates in the death of the female in-
terloper, whether she be a benign figure such as Ren Shi in the
Tang tale of 781 or a demon like those who appear in the Song col-

lections Yijianzhi g.,A and Gui Dong A& ' This latter characteriza-
tion of alien women as maleficent beings who must be unmasked
and destroyed was perpetuated in the Ming period in such tales as
Qu You's 2i (1341-1427) "Mudan dengji" L#'i?k , and numer-
ous pieces in the 1629 collection Youguaishi tan X-. 15

Although an irrevocable separation was thus seen as the natural

conclusion to such entanglements, authors at times conceived for
the female protagonists a somewhat more integrated role in human
society. Thus, in a Sou shenji APP4PE anecdote, a goddess takes leave
of her mortal lover, but returns later to resume the relationship and
set it on a permanent footing."6 Before she perishes, the fox-lady
Ren Shi demonstrates admirable human qualities and actively pro-
motes her lover's interests, and Li Shi, the fox heroine of another
Tang tale, is an ideal wife who bears her husband seven sons and
two daughters during the twenty years of marriage prior to her fatal
illness.'7 Similarly, although ultimately stigmatizing Hu Meiniang
as a demon, Li Zhen 14 (1376-1452) presents her until her exor-
cism as a devoted spouse, universally applauded for her expert
management of the household.'8 In such tales, as in the vernacular

Municipal Library; I have used a mimeograph copy in Beijing University Library. The work
was completed no earlier than 1574, a date to which the second tale (A.4a) refers. "Zhaoti
qiniine ii" is found in A. 26a-28b.
Taipingguang1i(Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1981 repr. of 1961 ed.), 452.3692-97, dis-
cussed by Glen Dudbridge in The Tale of Li Wa: Studyand CriticalEditionof a ChineseStory
from theNinth Century(London: Ithaca Press, 1983), pp. 61-67.
Patrick Hanan discusses several examples in The ChineseShortStory:Studiesin Dating,
Authorship,and Composition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973), pp. 188-95.
15 "Mudan deng ji" is found in Jiandengxinhua, wai
erzhong4Yfi # -- (Shanghai:
Guji chubanshe, 1981), 2.49-53. It is discussed in Hashimoto Takashi **, "B6rei to no
majiwari-Botan t6ki ni okeru 'oni' no egakikata" t L6 i
:e ffi _s
Fr*JQ)4O h4c in Yoshikawahakasetaikyuikinen:Chagokubungakuronsha )1I ?'tZ,2 1
R@3fW$ (Tokyo: Chikuma shob6, 1968), pp. 589-604. Youguaishi tan, of which there is a
Ming edition in Nanjing University Library, is a collection of ninety-four Classical tales
edited by a Hangzhou author, pennamed Bishan woqiao XllI lF.
16 Gan Bao TW, Soushenji, ed. Wang Shaoying HEl (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979),
'8 Jiandengyuhua 3.226-28, inJiandeng xinhua, wai erzhong.

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fiction of the Ming period,"9 a certain interest in the domestication
of alien women is apparent. In much of his own work, Pu Songling
chose to pursue the possibilities suggested by these antecedents and
explore more fully the social dynamics which might allow a female
spirit to regularize her anomalous position in human society.
My remarks about Pu Songling's narrative technique in "Ying-
ning" also have broader application, for, like "Yingning," most of
Pu's romantic tales take their title from the name of the heroine, but
regulate very strictly the reader's insights into the motivations of the
key female character. In this respect, Pu was continuing a long-
established tradition. By permitting the reader only an exterior view
of his heroines, he often achieves surprise effects similar to the one
achieved by Song Maocheng *;ff (1569-1622?) in "Fuqing nong
zhuan" AI1R1f when Du Shiniang opens her jewel-box, whose con-
tents had hitherto been concealed from both her lover and the
reader.20 Like Song's tale, Pu's work often forces the reader to con-
sider the heroine's actions anew in the light of final revelations. The
discussion that follows is informed by such a reassessment of Pu
Songling's tales.
Supernatural women in Liaozhai who contrive to attain social in-
tegration can be identified by a number of distinctive signs. In
treating them collectively as a recognizable character type, I will bor-
row the terminology of immigration and naturalization categories,
and designate them Resident Aliens. Resident Aliens tend first of all
to be dissatisfied with their existence as ghosts or spirits. Tormented
by their sense of exclusion from normal society, they desperately
want to be accepted as legitimate members of the community. This
self-loathing is perhaps most fully articulated by Li Shi, the ghost
heroine of "Lianxiang":

19 See Patrick Hanan, The ChineseVernacular Story(Cambridge: Harvard University Press,

1981), pp. 44-49.
Patrick Hanan discusses the narrator's selectivity in this tale in "The Making of 'The
Pearl-Sewn Shirt' and 'The Courtesan's Jewel Box,'" HJAS 33 (1973): 147. The dates of
Song Maocheng are problematic. As Hanan points out in "The Making of 'The Pearl-Sewn
Shirt,' " p. 126, n. 6, evidence suggests that Song was born in 1569. According to his
biography by Chen Zilong, he died aged fifty-one sui, which would place his death in 1619.
See the appendix toJiuyueji i'*$, ed. Wang Liqi FEitIJ (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue
chubanshe, 1984), p. 329. But in his tomb inscription, written by Wu Weiye (seeJiuyueji ap-
pendix, p. 331), it is indicated that Song died in 1622.

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That day I was disconsolate and sick at heart. Hopelessly regarding myself as an
alien creature, I was conscious that my form was unclean. After we parted, I was
too upset to return to the grave, but allowed the wind to carry me hither and yon.
Every time I saw a living human being I was overcome with envy. (2.229)
After Li Shi's rebirth, her friend and erstwhile rival, the fox lady
Lianxiang, is so jealous of her new status that she grows sick and
dies (2.230). Qiurong and Xiaoxie, Tao Wangsan's two ghost
friends, compete in a desperate race that will decide which of them
will resume human form, and the loser is heartbroken (6.777-78).
Unhappiness with their current status is coupled with an intense
desire to transform themselves into regular members of human
society. There are two aspects to this transformation, one physio-
logical, the other social. Pu's supernatural heroines often undergo
physical changes that mark the transition to full human identity.
As the gentle ghost Liansuo explains to her mortal lover, "As I
have been fortunate to receive your love for a long time, I have
ingested the breath of life, and as I daily consume cooked food, my
blanched bones are suddenly revitalized. All I need is the semen and
blood of a living person, and I can be reborn" (2.336). Through
such reincarnations, she and other women shake off their alien past
and enter the human fold.
Equally vital is the social dimension of their transformation. In
order to demonstrate that they possess all the requisite qualifications
for membership in society, Resident Aliens seek to become model
wives and daughters-in-law. Nie Xiaoqian is an instructive exam-
ple. By untiring service, she makes herself indispensable to Ning
Caichen's mother, finally dispelling the fears of the older woman
and convincing her that she is an ideal match for her son:
In the morning Nie would go and greet his mother and bring a basin of water for
the old lady's ablutions. Then she would attend to household chores, never failing
to satisfy her wishes.... Prior to this, Ning's wife had been incapacitated by ill-
ness and her mother-in-law had been severely overworked, but now that she had
acquired Nie's aid, her life was eased immeasurably. Inwardly she appreciated
Nie's kindnesses, and as she gradually became more familiar with her she grew to
love the young woman as if she were her own daughter, and even forgot that she
was a ghost. (2.166)
The ghost Wanxia persuades her mother-in-law of her sincerity by
pawning her jewelry and waiting upon her solicitously (1 1. 1481).
Qingmei, daughter of a fox, is unstinting in her efforts:

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After her marriage, she treated his parents with deference and went out of her way
to please them, showing greater devotion even than their son. In her housework she
was diligence itself, and though she subsisted on a diet of chaff and husks, she ut-
tered no complaint. Thus the entire family loved and respected Qingmei. (4.448)
Although in these cases the strategy proves to be a complete suc-
cess, not all of Pu's supernatural women find it so easy. Despite her
selfless contributions to the household economy, the mouse-spirit A
Xian fails to silence gossip, and in a poignant little scene she admits
One night she said to Sanlang: "In the years that I have been with you, I have
never been found lacking in my fulfillment of a wife's duties, but now I am cast
aside and not treated as a human being. Please issue me a bill of divorce, and you
will be free to select a fitting partner for yourself. " Tears fell from her eyes as she
finished. (10.1383)
Child-bearing has always been a decisive step towards a Chinese
woman's consolidation of her position in the family. Supernatural
women in the Yingning mould typically fulfill this precondition to
social assimilation and provide their human families with at least
one heir. Their alien origins seem to present no obstacle to normal
childbirth. Ghosts such as Qiaoniang (2.263) and Wanxia (1 1.1481)
and fox-spirits such as Songniang (1.62-63) and Qingmei (4.453)
alike prove capable of adding extensions to their husband's line,
and thereby clinch their place in human society.
In contrast to this first type of supernatural woman, one can
distinguish a second category, whose members more fully embody
the qualities commonly attributed to Liaozhai heroines. These can
be described as Transient Aliens. Unlike their sisters in the first
group, they appear quite content with their anomalous position-
some, indeed, like the heroine of "The Joking Fox" (4.500-4),
positively revel in their unique status. Showing little interest in
becoming integrated into the human community, the Transients
tend to regard their association with a mortal man as only a short-
term affair, which they are bound sooner or later to terminate. In
many cases, Transient Aliens attribute their liaison with the hero to
predestination and not to any deliberate design on their part. Conse-
quently they often leave as soon as the allotted time period has ex-
pired. Third Lady announces her withdrawal in these words: "I
have now fully discharged my predestined obligation and would like

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to say good-bye" (5.685); Huifang's farewell to her lover is couched
in similar terms: "I have been banished to the mortal world for over
ten years, and because I was predestined to be allied with you I
therefore lingered here temporarily. Now I am parting from you. "2
Even those Transients who appear to have personally selected
their human lover do not regard this partnership as a binding com-
mitment. They feel free to put an end to the affair if, like Fourteenth
Lady Xin, they have grown weary of society (4.545), or, like the
ghost Wenji in "The Young Gentleman of Jiaping," they have
become disenchanted with their man (11.1590). This autonomy
gives them an assertive confidence that the Resident Aliens typically
lack, and in scenes such as the following we see them holding the up-
per hand and setting conditions that their companions dare not ig-
She was displeased and said, ". . You are heading for disaster. I cannot bear to
see you comne to grief, so I wish to make my departure right now."
Alarmed and frightened, the young man started crying, at the same time assur-
ing her that he regretted what he had done. Her response was: "If you want me to
stay, you must observe these terms. From now on you will close the door to visitors
and cease all social intercourse. You will also refrain from excessive indulgence in
wine." He punctiliously followed these instructions. (4.542)

The Transient Alien sees her role as that of a lover, not a mother.
Such women are almost always infertile. Some shrink from the
discomfort of labor, while others declare unequivocally that they
cannot bear children. The reasons, it would seem, are psychological
as well as physiological: children are unwelcome to them, for they
restrict their freedom of movement and burden them with a respon-
sibility they are often unwilling to bear. Third Lady is an exception
to the rule, though in her case the delivery is unusual, a reflection of
the woman's remarkable self-reliance:
She had been pregnant for over ten months, and now calculated on what day her
child was due. She went into the bedroom and bade Zong close the door and turn
away callers. Then with a knife she made an incision beneath her navel and
brought out a baby boy. She told Zong to tear some strips of cotton to bind the
wound, and by the following day she had recovered. (5.685)

21 Liaozhai6.802. These parting declarations resemble the farewells made by transcendent

women in earlier Classical tales. See, for example "Taixue Zheng Sheng" tMXt by Shen
Yazhi j5t (781?-832?), Taipingguangji 298.2373.

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Thus in contrast to the Resident Aliens, who become more and
more human as events progress, the Transients remain unalterably
different. They are well aware, however, of the importance their
men attach to the continuation of the family line, and disclaiming
any proprietorial monopoly of their lovers' sexual favors, they often
take steps to procure a suitable surrogate.22 Princess Yunluo is one
One day she said, "My body is delicate and cannot endure childbirth. My maid
Fanying is very robust-we can have her take my place." Then she took off her
underclothes and put them on the maid, after which she shut her in the bedroom. A
short time later they heard a baby's wail. When she opened the door to see, it
turned out to be a boy. (9.1269)
Jinse too selects an understudy of child-bearing potential, saying,
"This woman's physiognomy promises many sons. She can spare
me much travail" (12.1688). The concubine gives Jinse's lover five
sons and two daughters, relieving her of any such obligations.
The tales involving Transient Aliens commonly end with the
heroine locating an appropriate mortal woman for the hero to
marry. She can then retire from the scene, knowing that the
substitute will take on the roles that she is not prepared to per-
form-to live permanently with the man and give him children.
Xiaocui, for example, informs Wang Yuanfeng that she is in-
capable of bearing children and urges him to remarry. She mean-
while alters her physical appearance to coincide with that of his
future wife, and as soon as the marriage takes place she disappears,
confident that Yuanfeng will be consoled in her absence by the sur-
rogate's similarity to herself.23 Likewise the barren Fourteenth Lady
Xin convincingly simulates her own death so as to facilitate her
replacement by the fecund concubine Lu'er (4.545-46). The subtle
machinations of the ghost Huanniang enable Wen Ruchun to
marry the lovely Ge Lianggong (7.986-89), and the parrot-spirit A
Ying, a skilled beautician, enhances the looks of her former lover's
wife in order to strengthen the bond between the newlyweds (7.921).
Again, one is reminded of certain precedents for this type of presentation in earlier tales.
In Soushenji 1. 17, the heroine tells her lover, "I am a goddess and will not bear you a child.
But I have no tendencies to jealousy and will not interfere with your duty to marry."
23 Liaozhai7.1007-8. An interesting examination by Wang Siyu 3E.84 of "Xiaocui" can

be found in Liaozhaizhiyijianshangji, pp. 318-29.

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In a variation of this pattern, the elusive spirit Fang Wenshu reluc-
tantly bears Deng Chengde's son, but immediately passes the
unwelcome infant on to Deng's childless wife, thereby hastening the
couple's reunion and enabling herself to withdraw from the relation-
ship (12.1696-98).
Having outlined the general characteristics of the Transient
Alien, let us consider a representative figure in greater detail. "Huo
nu," even more than "Yingning," demonstrates how faithfully Pu
Songling observed the convention of restricting the point of view to
the male perspective. The tale describes the seduction and subse-
quent abandonment by Huo Shi of three different men; she is clear-
ly the central figure in the drama. But again Pu tells the story from
the point of view of the men involved, and offers us no insights into
Huo Shi's inner life. The heroine consequently is shrouded in mys-
tery from beginning to end, and her origins remain uncertain. At
three key points in the story, when other characters ply her for infor-
mation about herself, each question is deftly evaded. Pu Songling,
for his part, conspicuously declines to resolve the enigma, and
offers in his postscript only the obvious conclusion, "She was an im-
mortal, I imagine" (8.1097). Huo Shi's insistence on privacy in-
vests her with a power and authority that perplex and intimidate her
lovers and mark her out as a Transient Alien.
In keeping with this status, Huo Shi acts consistently in accor-
dance with her own personal code of conduct, often violating con-
ventions. She deliberately squanders much of Zhu Daxing's fortune
and almost succeeds in embroiling his neighbor in a ruinous
lawsuit. She lies to Huang about her past history and tricks him into
selling her to an admirer. Soon afterwards she returns to Huang,
justifying her fraudulent transaction with the explanation, "It is my
principle in life to ruin the miserly and deceive the wicked"
(8.1094). Her ruthlessness and promiscuity are accompanied by
acts of charity and compassion, but these too appear to be prompted
by her private code of values rather than by society's expectations,
to which she is wholly indifferent.
Like other Transients, Huo Shi ends her relationship when she
judges it has run its course. After several years of cohabitation, she
gives Huang notice that changes are being contemplated: "I have
been with you for some years, but I have been unable so far to give

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you children. This is unfinished business. Ugly though I may be, I
am luckily not yet old, so if someone is prepared to give you a thou-
sand taels, then sell me off; thus you will be assured both wife and
property" (8.1092). For reasons of her own-perhaps her aware-
ness of the young man's emotional dependence upon her-she de-
cides however to postpone the full implementation of this scheme.
Through deception she acquires a fortune for Huang, and then
proposes a second plan of action, which, like the first, she embarks
upon despite her lover's misgivings:
"Now I have a plan for you. I want you to purchase a woman in order to provide
for your posterity. If you buy a concubine, however, the price will be high. Instead,
we should pretend that you are my elder brother, and ask my father to arrange
your marriage. Then it will not be difficult to find a woman of good family."
Huang was opposed to this idea, but Huo Shi ignored his objections. The daughter
of a Senior Licentiate Zhang had recently been widowed, and she was available for
a bride price of one hundred strings of cash. Huo Shi insisted that he take her as his
wife. (8.1094)

Shortly after Huang's marriage to A Mei, Huo Shi sets off to visit
a relative, promising (falsely, it transpires) to return within two
months. In her absence, Huang and A Mei draw closer together.
They return to his home, where A Mei gives birth to a son whom
they name Xianci ("Immortal Bestowed") in honor of their myste-
rious matchmaker. Apart from Huo Shi's brief encounter with the
child, we know nothing of her subsequent activities: she resumes
that shadowy, itinerant existence from which both Huang and the
reader are excluded.
While a broad distinction can be drawn between Resident and
Transient Aliens, this is not to say that these are rigid formulas to
which Pu Songling restricts his characters. The frog-spirit Tenth
Lady, for example, embodies contradictory tendencies. The success
of her union with Xue Kunsheng is jeopardized by her wilful in-
dividualism; conflict with her mother-in-law places an intolerable
strain on her marriage and leads to her expulsion from the
household. Later there is a reconciliation, and Tenth Lady makes
her position secure by bearing children. But she also indicates that
she exercises full control over her reproductive functions and could
have remained childless had she so chosen:

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Tenth Lady said, "In the past, owing to your fickle frivolity, I thought there
was no guarantee that we would spend our whole lives together, so I was unwilling
to bring a child into the world. Now that I know you are committed to me, I am
going to give birth." . . . The following day, Tenth Lady gave birth to two sons.
(11. 1468)
Thus Tenth Lady, while essentially pursuing Resident objectives,
shows some of the characteristic traits of the Transient Alien.
Also, although a reading of "Yingning" and "Huo nil" reveals
striking differences in the heroine's personalities, it is impossible to
overlook an equally striking similarity. Like Yingning, Huo Shi is a
consummate actress. She glides through the story in a bewildering
array of roles, adopting and discarding them at will. As soon as she
takes up with Huang she abandons her former guise as hypochon-
driac prima donna and becomes instead the diligent housewife. In
the early days of Huang's marriage to A Mei she gives a convincing
performance as his sister, and is last seen playing the part of benign
godmother to Huang's son. This facility with role-playing and
dissimulation is shared by almost all of Pu's supernatural women;
they exploit it to the full as they play upon male susceptibilities to
further their own ends. A classic example is the fox-spirit Heng-
niang. As mentor to her human friend Zhu Shi, who has been
shunted aside by her husband in favor of a concubine, Hengniang
gives the other woman a training course in all the manipulative
ploys-feigned indifference, duplicity, sexuality-which will shift
the balance of power and bring her mastery over her husband
(10.1431-35). In this story the fundamental dynamic of sexual rela-
tionships in Liaozhai is clearly exposed. The passive male pro-
tagonist does not act so much as simply react, responding predic-
tably to circumstances controlled by the female character.24
There is yet another type of alien woman who appears in
Liaozhai: the predatory demon familiar to us from her conspicuous
role in earlier fiction. Some of Pu's tales draw heavily on this tradi-
tion of the alien woman as a sinister, threatening figure: "The
Painted Skin," his most notable work in this vein, owes much to

As others have noted, the inactive role of the male protagonist is a characteristicfeature
of the supernatural tale. See Kao, ClassicalChineseTales, p. 30.

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earlier demon stories.25 But Pu at times transforms these characters
from dangerous succubi into sympathetic figures, who are stricken
with guilt when they imperil their partners' lives. One fox lady
shows genuine concern for her ailing lover, first curing him, then
giving him directions for finding a new and safer companion
(5.683-84). Nie Xiaoqian is an unwilling seductress, compelled by
a demon stronger than herself to be an accessory to murder (2.162),
and Li Shi is moved to tears when she discovers Sang Xiao on
his death bed (2.225). Qiurong and Xiaoxie, initially bent on be-
witching Tao Wangsan, soon realize the errors of their ways and
thereafter firmly renounce sexual activity that might damage his
health (6.774-77). In such cases, the alien woman, endowed with
essentially human values, comes to regard with shame her propensi-
ty to inflict injury on her partner, and it is her conscious aspiration
for a normal identity that propels her in the direction of naturaliza-
tion as a Resident Alien.
Finally, there are stories in Liaozhai where it is the male pro-
tagonist who crosses boundaries and enters the supernatural realm.
In this setting, the woman is the native, and the man the outsider.
Women in these tales are as varied in character as the territories
they inhabit. Some stories, following the traditional pattern, end
with the hero's return to society,26 while in others the heroine accom-
panies him and takes up temporary residence in the human world,27
or emigrates and becomes fully acculturated.28

25 Some analogous tales are brought together in Zhu Yixuan

X-A, ed., Liaozhaizhiyi
ziliao huibian(Henan: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe, 1986), pp. 38-42. Other major stories in
Liaozhai are "Scholar Dong" (2.133-36), "Fourth Sister Hu" (2.201-4), "Hua Guzi"
(5.634-41), "Li Shi" (5.680-1), and "Xiangqun" (10.1322-29).
26 E.g. "Pianpian" (3.432-36), "The Rakshas and the Sea Market" (4.454-64), and

"Gongsun Jiuniang" (4.477-83).

E.g. "The Island of Immortals" (7.946-55) and "Qinse" (12.1682-89).
"The Yaksha Country" (3.348-54). As we conclude this survey of alien women in
Liaozhai,some comments on alien men are in order. Tales involving such charactersfall into
two different types. Some concern foxes and other demons who seduce and abuse human
females: "The Fox in the Bottle" (1.75), "The Merchant's Son" (1.125-29), "Wu tong"
(10.1417-25), and "Shen Shi" (10.1426-28). It is thus implied (and made explicit in "Hu
Shi" [3.302-5]) that whereas a union between a human male and an alien woman can be seen
in a positive light, the reverse is viewed as intolerable. In a second type of story, benign fox-
fairies enjoy cordial friendships with men: "Lingguan" (1.97-98), "The Drinking Compan-
ion" (2.217-19), "The Fox of Weishui" (2.273-75), "Hu Si Xianggong" (4.559-63),

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Pu Songling's mortal women deserve a separate study. For the
present, suffice it to say that as mothers and widows, wives and con-
cubines, they play a prominent role in Liaozhai stories. The power
that women exercise over their husbands or other women, their
resourcefulness in protecting and promoting their own interests, are
themes common to many of these tales. We see how a teenage girl
quickly brings her unruly husband to heel, and maintains her
supremacy into old age (9.1272-73); how a shrewish wife subjects
her spouse to one humiliation after another (6.861); how a jealous
wife will beat a concubine so as to provoke a miscarriage (6.723), or
mount an insidious campaign to terrorize her rival and drive her to
suicide (7.883-84); how a woman can be a tyrant towards her
daughter-in-law, only to be dominated herself by the wife of her sec-
ond son (10.1409-11); and how husbands are so often helpless or
acquiescent in the face of female assertiveness.29 A fascination with
women's roles in society thus informs the bulk of Pu Songling's col-
Andrew Plaks has argued recently that Chinese novelists in the
sixteenth and seventeeth centuries were consciously manipulating
the literary and thematic conventions of the vernacular genre for
new purposes.30 To an extent, it is possible to see this kind of devel-
opment taking place also in the Classical tale. Classical authors of
the Tang period and later had often explored the intriguing problem
presented by the intrusion into human society of alien women. In
his own tales, Pu Songling made extensive use of this traditional
subject matter, but in so doing subjected relations between the
sexes to sustained examination, achieving a degree of creative so-
phistication that found few precedents in earlier collections.

"Scholar Guo" (5.696-98), "Scholar Zhen" (10-1301-4), and "The Sub-director of

Schools" (I 1. 1508-9).
" See Liaozhai7.902-4, 8.1112, 10.1409-11, 11.1564.
Jonathan D. Spence also notes the
ability and determination of Pu's fictional widows in The Death of WomanWang(London:
Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978), p. 62.
30 See Andrew H. Plaks, "After the Fall: Hsing-shihyin-yuan chuanand the Seventeenth-
Century Chinese Novel," HJAS 45.2 (1985): 543-54.

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