A Chinese Bestiary presents a fascinating pageant of mythical creatures from a unique and enduring cosmography written in ancient China. The Guideways through Mountains and Seas, compiled between the fourth and first centuries b.c.e., contains descriptions of hundreds of fantastic denizens of mountains, rivers, islands, and seas, along with minerals, flora, and medicine. The text also represents a wide range of beliefs held by the ancient Chinese. Richard Strassberg brings the Guideways to life for modern readers by weaving together translations from the work itself with information from other texts and recent archaeological finds to create a lavishly illustrated guide to the imaginative world of early China.
Unlike the bestiaries of the late medieval period in Europe, the Guideways was not interpreted allegorically; the strange creatures described in it were regarded as actual entities found throughout the landscape. The work was originally used as a sacred geography, as a guidebook for travelers, and as a book of omens. Today, it is regarded as the richest repository of ancient Chinese mythology and shamanistic wisdom. The Guideways may have been illustrated from the start, but the earliest surviving illustrations are woodblock engravings from a rare 1597 edition. Seventy-six of those plates are reproduced here for the first time, and they provide a fine example of the Chinese engraver's art during the late Ming dynasty.
This beautiful volume, compiled by a well-known specialist in the field, provides a fascinating window on the thoughts and beliefs of an ancient people, and will delight specialists and general readers alike.
List of Illustrations
Plates I to LXXVI for the Guideways through Mountains and Seas
Richard E. Strassberg is Professor of Chinese at the University of California, Los Angeles and author of Inscribed Landscapes: Travel Writing from Imperial China (California, 1994), Enlightening Remarks on Painting by Shih-t'ao (1989), and The World of K'ung Shang-jen (1983).
"At last! Richard Strassberg’s stunning new work provides a lively introduction in words and pictures to one of China’s best loved and least understood classics, the Shanhai jing or Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. This classic of mythical geography and fantastic ethnography, full of wondrous stories and creatures, contains a treasury of information about the Chinese worldview and has inspired Chinese writers and artists for over two millennia. But until now, its strange vocabulary together with patchy transmission of both text and illustrations, have made it difficult to present to English-speaking audiences. Relying on a rare 1597 edition of the classic, Strassberg has faithfully captured its combination of entertaining whimsy and deep religious intent. His new book, the product of years of study by one of the few people truly qualified to analyze both text and the images, is sure to delight specialist and nonspecialist alike."—Suzanne Cahill, author of Transcendence and Divine Passion: The Queen Mother of the West in Medieval China