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Reading Narratives in Premodern China


Admission requirements



Brief introductory description of the course. Please include course subject and teaching materials used.
What are the most enduring stories in the Chinese tradition? How is a story narrated, for whom, and what does it mean to the people who read those stories? In this course we will try to answer these questions through reading several major types of narratives in premodern China: historical, (auto) biographical, fictional, and legal texts. We will get familiar with five important topics in the narratives spanning the former Han dynasty (206 BCE- 8CE) to the 18th century: War, history, and heroism; the supernatural and the fantastic (fox spirits and ghosts); love and sex; personal and collective memory; death and violence. The texts dealt with are not confined to fictional tales, as this course intends to provide a broad view of the themes shared by a range of different narrative types.
Through our discussion of those texts, we will gain insight into the mutual borrowings and influence between the literary and nonliterary genres in premodern China, which helps us rethink the modern notions of “fiction” versus “nonfiction”. We will also examine the social and cultural contexts in which those narratives emerge, explore their possible functions and interpretations in those contexts, and find out more about the effects they might have on readers of premodern China as well as on the modern readers. Visual materials such as book illustrations will be included to enrich our outstanding of the texts.

Course objectives

Concise description of the course objectives formulated in terms of knowledge, insight and skills students will have acquired at the end of the course. The relationship between these objectives and achievement levels for the programme should be evident.

  • Provide insights in a number of major types of Chinese narratives and the social processes that have shaped it

  • Develop the close reading and analytical skills necessary for critical engagement with and writing about premodern Chinese texts


See the course schedule the website of China Studies for day, time and location

Mode of instruction


Course Load

A brief calculation of the course load, broken down by:

  • Total course load for the course (number of EC x 28 hours), for a course of 5 EC is 140 hours, for 10 EC 280. – Hours spent on attending lectures and seminars (eg 2 hours per week x 14 weeks = 28 hours) – Time for studying the compulsory literature (as a possible criterion approx. 7 pages per hour with deviations up and down depending on the material to be studied) (if applicable) time for completing assignments, whether in preparation at the college – (If applicable) time to write a paper (including reading / research)

Assessment method

Informal response papers 20%
Attendance and active participation (discussion and oral presentation) 20%
Short essay (4-6 pages, deadline March) 20%
Final essay (6-8 pages, deadline mid May) 40%

The grades for “informal response papers” will only be included in the final grade if the student passes “Attendance and active participation”. Students must complete all requirements (response papers, attendance& participation; essays) to pass the course. Guidelines for preparation of written work and the criteria for grading will be provided during the first meeting.


The course uses Blackboard for announcements, availability of syllabus, supplementary course documents, etc.

Reading list

(subject to change)
(Note: All texts will be made available electronically. Readings will be selected chapters or excerpts from the books /articles on this list. Some of the titles will be available on a reserve shelf in the East Asian Library.)

Abbott, H. Porter. The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge
University Press, 2008.

An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. Ed. Trans. Stephen Owen. New York:
W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.

Classical Chinese tales of the Supernatural and the Fantastic: Selections from the Third to the Tenth Century. Ed. Karl S. Y. Kao. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.
Feng, Menglong. Stories Old and New: A Ming Dynasty Collection. Volume 1. Trans. Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000.

Hanan, Patrick. The Chinese Vernacular Story. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,

Inscribed Lanscapes: Travel Writing from Imperial China. Ed. Richard E Strassberg. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Li, Yu. Stories for the Summer Heat. Trans. Patrick Hanan. New York: Ballantine Books, 1992.

Liu Yiqing. A New Account of Tales of the World. 2nd ed. Trans. Richard B. Mather. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies, 2002.

Pu, Songling. Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. Trans. John Minford. New York: Penguin
Books, 2006.

Records of the Historian: Chapters from the Shih Chi of Ssu-ma Ch’ien. Trans. Burton Watson.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1969 [1958].

Ropp, Paul S. Banished Immortal: Searching for Shuangqing, China’s peasant woman poet. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001.
Traditional Chinese Stories: Themes and Variations. Ed. Ma, Y.W., and Joseph S.M. Lau. Cheng & Tsui, 1986.
True Crimes in Eighteenth-Century China. Comp. Trans. Robert E. Hegel. Seattle: University of Washington Pres, 2009.


Registration through uSis. Not registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registrationprocedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

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Contact information

For further information about the content of this course, please contact the lecturer Wu Yinghui: e-mail,