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  • Hong Mai's "Record of the Listener" and Its Song Dynasty Context
  • Paul Jakov Smith (bio)
Alister David Inglis . Hong Mai's "Record of the Listener" and Its Song Dynasty Context. SUNY Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture. Albany: State University of New York, 2006. xii, 237 pp. Hardcover $65.00, Isbn-10 0-7914-6821-6, Isbn-13 978-0-7914-6821-0.

In recent years, a growing number of Western scholars have mined Hong Mai's (1123–1202) Record of the Listener (Yijian zhi) for information on Song culture, society, and particularly religion. Despite the increasing recognition of the Record as a source, however, guides to the nature and content of Hong Mai's massive compilation are rare, especially in English.1 Inglis seeks to fill this gap with a study of the text and its historical context, a task at which he partly succeeds.

For a social historian like me, the strength of Inglis's study is the constellation of insights into the Record that he generates as a specialist in literary texts.

The Record has been customarily slotted into the category of anomaly accounts, or zhiguai (志怪). Inglis does not wholly disagree with this categorization, but he builds on the work of Robert Ford Campany and others to argue that the zhiguai tradition from which the Record stems is far more related to the genre of history—construed as the factual reporting of what people actually experienced and believed—than to fiction. For while zhiguai writing focuses on "paranormal" dreams, omens, gods, and ghosts, it is exactly the existence of such strange or anomalous phenomena and their intrusion into the mundane realm that the majority of Song folk believed in (pp. ix–x). Thus the central achievement of Inglis's book is to demonstrate how Hong Mai combined the historian's concern for factual reliability with an insatiable obsession with tales of the strange.

Hong Mai came from a distinguished Boyang (Jiangxi) family. His father, Hong Hao 皓, 1088–1155), was sent as ambassador to the Jurchen Jin in 1129, where he was detained for the next fourteen years, and his brother Gua (or Kuo, 适, 1117–1184), served as chief councilor for a short time in 1166. In the first of his five chapters, "The Author and His Collection," Inglis employs tales from the Record to illustrate the centrality of gods, ghosts, and prognostications to the Hong family, while demonstrating just how thoroughly Hong's own life was given over to the compilation of his Record from the 1140s until shortly before his death in 1202. As an accomplished scholar and scion of an official family, Hong was in and out of office until his formal retirement in 1196, at the age of seventy-four. But he spent much of that time working on his anthology, which ultimately comprised three full series of ten installments each, plus a fourth, incomplete series of two installments.2 In terms of sheer biographical information, Inglis does not supersede the short notice by Chang Fu-jui, among the more accessible sources,3 but he puts the Record at the center of Hong Mai's life, portraying Hong—unlike his [End Page 470] politically more accomplished brother Gua—as far more devoted to collecting and recording anomalous accounts than to pursuing a civil service career.

The depth of Hong's obsession with collecting and recording is revealed in the extant prefaces to the successive installments, whose analysis comprises the major portion of chapter 2, "Authorial Voice and Textual Reception." Hong wrote prefaces for thirty-one of his thirty-two installments, whose dates of completion Inglis tabulates on pages 21–22. Thirteen of the original prefaces, starting with the second installment of 1166, are extant, and another seventeen are summarized in the notebook (biji 筆記) collection Bintui lu (賓退錄) by the late Song literatus Zhao Yushi (趙與時, 1175–1231). Inglis gives annotated translations of all thirty original and reconstructed prefaces, which together document Hong's views about the nature and significance of his work, while providing invaluable information about "literary and textual criticism, the purported historical veracity of the collection, publication details, facets of the author's personal life, genre-related issues, and so on...


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