Title: The Shadow Book of Ji Yun: The Chinese Classic of Weird True Tales, Horror Stories, and Occult Knowledge
Author: Ji Yun, Yi Izzy Yu, John Yu Branscum
Goodreads page: Link
Imagine if H.P. Lovecraft were Chinese and his tales were true.
Or if a national, political figure like Benjamin Franklin was also a paranormal investigator—one who wrote up his investigations with a chilling, story-telling flair that reads like a combination of Franz Kafka and Zhuangzi. In China, at roughly the same time that Franklin was filling the sky with electrified kites and about a century before Lovecraft was spat into this moist plane, a figure existed who was a little bit of both these things. He was Special Advisor to the emperor of China, Head of the Department of War, Imperial Librarian, and one of the most celebrated scholars and poets of his time. His name was Ji Yun.
Beginning in 1789, Ji Yun published five volumes of strange tales that combined supernatural and frequently moving autobiographical accounts with early speculative fictions. By turns darkly comic, terrifying, and transcendentally mystical, they revolutionized Chinese speculative fiction AND nonfiction and portrayed a China never before depicted: one poised between old ways and new, where repeating rifles shared the world with Tibetan black-magic, Jesuit astronomers rubbed elbows with cosmic horrors, and a vibrant sex trade of the reanimated dead was conducted in the night.
Combining insights into Chinese magic and metaphysics with tales of cannibal villages, sentient fogs, alien encounters, and fox spirits, alongside nightmarish narratives of soul swapping, haunted cities, and the “jiangshi” (the Chinese vampire), there is no literary work quite like that of Ji Yun. Designed by him to be both entertainment and an occult technology that awakens readers to new dimensions of reality, one cannot walk away from these stories unchanged. The Shadow Book of Ji Yun is a literary translation of Ji Yun’s most masterful tales.
This book is a collection of the best stories from the five volumes that Ji Yun published back around 1790. These volumes were all filled with weird and paranormal tales narrated at the time in China, written like they were narrated directly to the author or assisted by him.
Various of these are really interesting and entertaining and some can make the reader wonder how they could be conceived back in the XVIII Century; like, for example, one of the story is basically an alien abduction, only described in a way that was not yet polluted by the modern pop-culture while still talking of the same event.
Most of the more interesting stories, in my opinion, are focused in the first 30% of the book while the rest seem more like satirical pieces or moral tales.
The first part of the book synopsis speaks of Ji Yun as a Chinese H.P. Lovecraft but take it with a grain of salt: if we use this comparison to say that both speak about creatures and horrors that we maybe could only imagine I totally agree, but stylistically Ji Yun is more similar to Yamamoto Tsunetomo.
Like in Yamamoto’s Hagakure we can find stories to teach some kind of ethic to the Samurai, in Ji Yun’s tales are doing the same for generally all the reader but leaning to the Confucianism teachings.
The book is surely entertaining and not a bad one but you have to know beforehand that it’s a series of really short stories and the ones that will give you the same vibe as Lovecraft or Kafka are really few. If you are only looking for many different weird tales I will almost recommend you to skip this one, but if you are also interested in getting to know a bit the China of the XVIII century’s end from an unusual point of view, this could be the right book for you.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.