Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2019

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

East Asian Languages and Culture: Chinese

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This study offers the first systematic textual analyses and translations of classical-language anomaly accounts, or the so-called “new tales of the extraordinary”, published by China’s first modern newspaper house Shenbaoguan in the latter half of the nineteenth century, during which time China underwent incessant social and political turmoil. The anomaly accounts examined both pay homage to the indigenous zhiguai, or “tales of the strange” tradition, and are clearly influenced by the classical tale masterpieces from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They contain direct mentions of the progress of the Nian and the Taiping Rebellions, vivid representations of encounters with the rebels, and sharp commentaries on the aftermaths of war. Their authors were all survivors of these bloody civil wars themselves. This project taps into this body of commercially successful yet critically neglected narratives to study how nineteenth-century literati storytellers appropriated an ancient tradition to provide unique depictions of human suffering as well as moral, political and ethnical contestations during this war-ridden chapter of China’s early modernity.This study makes five thematic inquiries. Chapter 1 investigates the use of gender tropes as socio-political critiques. Women are exalted as ethical paragons, betraying the male authors’ frustration over their collective failure to maintain order and to be victorious in battles. The growing representations of female sexuality, homosexuality, and transgenderism suggest an updated literary genre that affords more latitude for moral ambiguity. Chapter 2 unpacks the self-reflective caricatures of impoverished and disillusioned Confucian scholars: the scholar’s fall from the pedestal is hyperbolically accentuated by the elevation of the despicable members of the society, suggesting a rapidly declining faith in the shi class’s traditional moral leadership. Chapter 3 explores travel-themed stories that showcase encounters between Han Chinese subjects with frontier ethnic minorities and foreigners. In these cross-country and transnational journeys, distortions of time and space signal a new historical consciousness. Chapter 4 examines the falling out of favor of the scholarly obsession over antiques and the rise of foreign inventions as a new category for material adulation. Chapter 5 discusses how writings of the diseased body serve as a metaphor for the health of the state, and how fiction-writing itself became perceived as a therapeutic practice for the traumatized authors. This study ends with concluding comments and an appendix of fifteen translated tales. Together it argues that these late nineteenth century anomaly accounts emerged not as escapist detours from rationality, but rather a creative expression of resistance to cultural and political hegemony that was characteristic of an incipient literary modernity.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Beata Grant Robert Hegel

Committee Members

Zhao Ma, Marvin Marcus, Jamie Newhard,


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/y0yf-hk10

Available for download on Tuesday, August 15, 2119