Thursday, February 12, 2015

Historical Context: Nip Siu-sin

My "Spiritual" Ex-Lover is based on one of the short stories in Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, written by Pu Songling.

The Story of Nip Siu-sin

Nancy Sit as Nip Siu-sin & Edwin Siu as Ling Choi-sun
Nip Siu-sin (聶小倩) is a girl who died at the age of 18 and lives as a ghost inside a temple. One day, a scholar named Ling Choi-sun (寧采臣) visits the temple, hoping to find temporary shelter. At night, he encounters the beautiful Siu-sin. She first tries to seduce him and then attempts to lure him with money. He rejects her both times. Admiring his uprighteousness, Siu-sin confesses that she is being forced by a demon to kill people. Upon hearing this, Ling enlists the help of his demon-slayer friend, Yin Chik-ha (燕赤霞), to kill the demon.

Angela Tong as Yin Chik-ha
Ling then takes Siu-sin back to his home, where he lives with his mother and sickly wife. Initially, his mother appears to be afraid of Siu-sin. However, Siu-sin eventually wins over the elderly lady with her sincerity. Siu-sin continues to stay with Ling's family, doing the household chores and taking care of his mother. After Ling's wife dies, he marries Siu-sin. As she has been in contact with humans for a long time, she regains human qualities and has two children with Ling.

Author's Profile: Pu Songling

Steven Ma as Pu Songling in Ghost Writer
Pu Songling (蒲松齡) is a writer who lived during the Qing Dynasty. As a young scholar, his goal was to achieve success in the imperial examinations. However, despite doing well in the local exams, he never found success at the provincial level. Disheartened, he turned to writing. His most famous work is Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio (聊齋誌異).

Strange Tales is a collection of short stories featuring supernatural beings. The stories generally tell of an interaction between humans and the supernatural, such as ghosts, foxes, demons or other spirits. Legend has it that Pu Songling ran a teashop and offered free tea to any passerby who could tell him a story (although historians believe this is false since Pu Songling was poor for most of his life and would not have been able to afford to set up a teashop).

There are several themes in the book which reveals the author's views about society. Via his stories, Pu Songling criticized the corruption in the feudal system and imperial examination process. He also admired pure, faithful love between men and women, particularly between poor scholars and beautiful female spirits. In addition, he hoped to educated people by injected Confucian and Taoist moral principles into his stories.

At the advanced age of 71, Pu Songling was granted the rank of "gongsheng" (a top rank for scholars at the local level) in honour of his literary achievements. He died a few years later. Strange Tales was formally published after his death. The book is regarded as a classic for its rich content, brilliant structure, elegant prose and overall creativity.

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