Feng Menglong (commonly known by his given name Menglong) is perhaps the greatest writer in all of Chinese history. Very little of his work was available to non-Chinese readers until Yang & Yang, translators par excellence, published all 120 short stories of Feng Menglong over the span of a decade (from 2000 to 2009). English readers owe a large debt of gratitude to Yang & Yang for their accomplishment.
- Stories Old and New, is the first set of 40 tales, first published by Feng Menglong in 1620 (25 years before the collapse of the Ming Dynasty). You can buy it here from Amazon.com.
- Stories to Caution the World, is the second set of 40 tales, first published by Feng Menglong in 1624. You can buy it here from Amazon.com.
- Stories to Awaken the World, is the third set of 40 tales, published by Feng in Suzhou in 1627, when Feng was 53 years old. You can buy it here from Amazon.com.
All together, Feng Menglong’s stories range from the early Tang Dynasty to the mid-Ming, some 700 years, though most stories appear to date from the Song Dynasty. In these stories we meet people from many walks of life: rulers, beggars, soldiers, farmers, merchants, scholars and courtesans. There is, in my opinion, no better way to get a feel for life in Imperial China than by reading these stories. The translations are lively and well footnoted so that many, otherwise-mysterious-elements, are explained to non-expert readers.
These are not really folktales, such as the ones the Brother’s Grimm collected in the early 1800s. Instead, these stories are largely factual (not all them) or else they were chosen because they suggest moral lessons. We do not know how many of the stories were invented by Feng Menglong, but it does not matter. He wrote them in a coherent fashion when no one had done it before.
Feng Menglong was not the only man in China who wrote stories. He was the best among a group of writers who made a good living publishing books for the millions of literate men (and women) of late Ming China. His chief rival is Ling Mengchu who I will talk about in a later blog post.
One might ask: so, which of the three books is the best? For me, it would be Book 2 (Stories to Caution the World), so many great stories are found in this collection. Next would be Book 3 and lastly would Book 1. I could describe the great stories from each book, and perhaps I shall, someday.
Update: There is a somewhat biographical film about Feng Menglong – I haven’t seen it yet – Feng Menglong’s Legend (馮夢龍傳奇) (2017).