Late Qing zhiguai (strange tale) is considered a stagnant genre compared to its mid-Qing forerunners and modern fiction. Through tracing its formal innovation and cultural afterlives, the thesis attempts to re-evaluate the genre’s continuing significance in late Qing and modern global culture, shedding new light on narrative forms and the dynamics of tradition and modernity. I argue that at the turn of the twentieth century, a “fantastic realism” emerged in this time-honored genre, in which miraculous and strange discourses ironically generated effects of verisimilitude through the new mechanisms of everyday life and plotted fictionality. Moreover, the recurring tropes inherited in the zhiguai – otherworldly travels, coincidental encounters, and miraculous healings – have been manifested in multifaced ways in literature and media culture, embodying the modern mind’s dialectic between the strange and the normal.
The Introduction offers a theoretical reflection on the conceptions of realism and qi (the fantastic/miraculous/strange) to structure the historically grounded analyses that follow. Chapter 2 focuses on modernized otherworldly travels during the age of maritime discovery and mechanical reproduction. Chapter 3 explores a serendipitous dimension of Chinese culture through tracing a genealogy of chance encounters and varied connotations of the coincidence. Chapter 4 examines the metamorphosis of the leper girl narrative and the genesis of a “bio-mimetic” Sinophone horror cinema. Chapter 5 compares two kinds of maritime voyages – zhiguai and Sinophone – and argues that the miraculous legacy could help us to understand the elusive boundaries of identity, ethnicity, and taxonomy in the contemporary world.