Tamkang Review 20.4 (summer 1990), pp. 359-82.

T'ang Legends: History and Hearsay (abstract)

Despite the fact that the content of T'ang legends typically revolves around the marvelous, there is ample evidence that their contemporary authors and readers generally accepted them as factual. Although T'ang stories may have functioned similarly to fictional stories in entertaining and teaching their audience, they are not fiction, in the sense of a product of the imagination that is a representation of life written to entertain or instruct. In fact, the evidence indicates that rather than creating their stories out of whole cloth, the T'ang writer often heard his stories from other sources. These stories are actually what folklorists call legends--stories that are alleged to be true as part of an unselfconscious tradition. Their editors continually emphasize that rather than creative works of the imagination, the stories are sometimes history, and sometimes hearsay. The implications for readers of Chinese literature are important: far from being the earliest Chinese fiction, these legends demonstrate a sense of wondering belief in the marvelous that persisted in the narratives--fictional and otherwise--of later times.