Wilt IdemaThe Resurrected Skeleton: From Zhuangzi to Lu Xun

Columbia University Press, 2014

by Carla Nappi on March 4, 2015

Wilt Idema

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Wilt Idema’s new book traces a story and its transformations through hundreds of years of Chinese literature. The Resurrected Skeleton: From Zhuangzi to Lu Xun (Columbia University Press, 2014) collects and translates variations of the tale of Master Zhuang in his encounter with a skeleton who comes back to life and wreaks all sorts of havoc in the lives of those around him. (In some versions, Zhuang instead comes across a grieving widow and becomes enmeshed in series of misadventures upon trying to help her.) The chapters of the book introduce and present three texts from the seventeenth-century, two short ballads from the nineteenth century or later, and one modern story by Lu Xun, all adaptations and variations of the story of Zhuang and the skeleton. While working through these masterful (and occasionally quite humorous) translations, readers also learn about different genres of texts that have embodied this story over time, from Ming narrative daoqing (sentiments of the Way) texts that incorporated poems, prose passages, and more; to youth books (zidishu, or “bannermen tales”); to precious scrolls (baojuan) meant especially to appeal to women; to satirical one-act dramas, and beyond. The Resurrected Skeleton is a gripping and brilliantly translated set of stories, equally suited to the research scholar, the pleasure-reader, and the teacher who might be on the lookout for excellent primary source translations for use in a university classroom.

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