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English Translation of the Book 山海经 (Shanhai Jing; Classic of the Mountains and Seas): A Chinese Bestiary by Richard E. Strassberg


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I’m new to all this, so please pardon my extreme ignorance on all levels. I recently stumbled across an English translation of the ancient book 山海经 (Shanhai Jing; Classic of the Mountains and Seas) for free! It’s A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas by Richard E. Strassberg, published in 2002.


A Chinese Bestiary can be downloaded for free at the following link: https://archive.org/details/AChineseBestiary.山海经; Shanhai Jing; Classic of the Mountains and Seas can also be downloaded for free at https://archive.org. Search for “山海经 Classic of Mountains and Seas.”


A Chinese Bestiary weaves together translations from 山海经; Shanhai Jing; Classic of the Mountains and Seas with information from other texts. The author, Richard E. Strassberg, is a Professor of Chinese at the University of California, Los Angeles. His book is apparently written for general people and not just academics. It’s apparently more accessible to general people than its preceding English translation The Classic of Mountains and Seas by Anne Birrell, published in 2000. (See comments on Amazon.)


Regarding 山海经; Shanhai Jing; Classic of the Mountains and Seas, according to Wikipedia, “Earlier Chinese scholars referred to it as a bestiary, but apparently assumed it was accurate. In fact, the information in the book is mythological. It is not known why it was written or how it came to be viewed as an accurate geography book.”


This and other things I’ve read on the internet about the very many different categories that the book has been put into are part of what has drawn my interest to the book. I’m the most curious about what it may have to say about core Chinese principles and culture.


According to Wikipedia, 山海经; Shanhai Jing; Classic of the Mountains and Seas “is a Chinese classic text and a compilation of mythic geography and beasts. Early versions of the text may have existed since the 4th century BCE, but the present form was not reached until the early Han dynasty. It is largely a fabulous geographical and cultural account of pre-Qin China as well as a collection of Chinese mythology.”


“The exact author(s) of the book and the time it was written are still undetermined. …the consensus among modern Sinologists is that the book was not written at a single time by a single author, but rather by numerous people from the period of the Warring States to the beginning of the Han dynasty.”



How did my ignorant self get here, lol? I recently watched the 2017 Chinese TV series A Life Time Love (上古情歌), starring Huang Xiaoming (黄晓明) and Victoria Song (宋茜) (on Viki), because Victoria Song is one of my favorite actresses. My thought was that there was so very very much going on in the story that the TV series mustn’t have been able to do justice to the book that it was adapted from.


So, I went looking for the book. It was the xianxia novel Once Promised (曾许诺) by Tong Hua (pen name of Ren Haiyan; 任海燕). According to MyDramaList.com, Tong Hua is one of the most famous contemporary romance novelists in China. Her novels are a mix of romance and history.


In the case of Once Promised, she drew history from 山海经; Shanhai Jing; Classic of the Mountains and Seas. It started from Creation (Pan Gu). I’m retired and finding myself looking into far more things than I ever thought I would look into, including Chinese history at times. (The books in this post are far too difficult for me to translate myself. I’ll never reach that level. Instead, I’ll read English translations or watch very loose TV renditions, lol.)

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