Yiqing's From a New Account of Tales of the World: Importance & Analysis

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

''A New Account of Tales of the World'' is a 5th-century Chinese book that is filled with short anecdotes of ancient Chinese life. This text lesson will help you learn about this book and its importance.

A New Account of the Tales of the World

Have you ever read the gossip columns and thought, 'Now this is real literature'? If so, you might just enjoy a 5th-century Chinese book called A New Account of the Tales of the World. Its Chinese title is generally written in the Latin alphabet as Shishuo Xinyu or Shih-shuo Hsin-yu. So the question inevitably is: what's all this buzz about A New Account of the Tales of the World?

In the mid-5th century CE, the Chinese prince Liu Yiqing (403-444 CE) called together a bunch of scholars and writers to help him compile a massive set of popular stories and anecdotes about the administrators, generals, and lords of imperial China. These stories, 1,130 in total, feature people from the Han dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE), the state of Wei of Three Kingdoms period (220-280 CE), and the Jin dynasty (265-420 CE). That's a lot of history to cover, and a lot of stories, but nobody knows how to spill the tea like ancient China.


A portion of the original text of From a New Account of Tales of the World

A New Account of the Tales of the World contains 1,130 stories, most of which are only a few sentences long. So wait, what's the point? Was Liu Yiqing simply an insatiable gossip? No, there really was a reason for this, believe it or not!

All of these stories contain lessons about proper and improper behavior. They are examples of notable, and real, people who did something so admirable or foolish that it was worth preserving and passing on. In fact, A New Account of the Tales of the World is organized into 36 distinct chapters, each consisting of stories related to that theme. Here are all 36 chapters, in order:

Virtuous Conduct, Speech and Conversation, Affairs of the State, Letters and Scholarship, The Square and the Proper, Cultivated Tolerance, Insight and Judgment, Appreciation and Praise, Grading Excellence, Admonitions and Warnings, Quick Perception, Precocious Intelligence, Virility and Boldness, Appearance and Manner, Self-Renewal, Admiration and Emulation, Grieving of the Departed, Reclusion and Disengagement, Worthy Beauties, Technical Understanding, Skill and Art, Favor and Veneration, The Free and Unrestrained, Rudeness and Arrogance, Taunting and Teasing, Contempt and Insults, Guile and Chicanery, Dismissal from Office, Stinginess and Meanness, Extravagance and Ostentation, Anger and Irascibility, Slander and Treachery, Blameworthiness and Remorse, Crudities and Slips of the Tongue, Delusion and Infatuation, Hostility and Alienation.

Curious about what could possibly be in some of these chapters? Take a peak at these excerpts, and think about what these are trying to teach the reader about Chinese society and proper behavior (they've been edited slightly for clarity):

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