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Daoist fiction is a combination of the Daoist belief and fiction and an artistic expression of Daoist feelings. There are both works that directly convey Daoist life as the subject and the idea of immortality as the guideline, and works that embody the idea of immortality and Daoist feelings in worldly life. Generally, Daoist fiction can be classified into the following four categories: Zhiguai (tales of mystery and the supernatural), romance, Huaben (colloquial stories), and Zhanghui (a type of traditional Chinese novel with each chapter headed by a couplet giving the gist of its content).


Zhiguai is the category of Daoist fiction that appears the earliest: The word "Zhiguai" first appears in chapter "Unfettered Excursion"( 逍遙遊 Xiaoyao You ) in the Book of Zhuangzi. Some pieces of Zhigui fiction have tales of immortals and deeds of Daoists as their basic content; some take regions and orientations as the basic framework and relate the local specialties, valuable things and fantastic stories about them; some give a miscellaneous account of heavenly constellations and spirits, divination, marriages between immortals and mortals, or dreams, which are written in various styles. Generally speaking, this kind of fiction is written in simple words and is not too long in length.


Romance is another big category of Daoist fiction: Romance derives from Zhiguai. On the one hand, it inherits the fashion of recounting unusual things in bizarre wording of the Six Dynasties; on the other hand, it "stresses peculiarity" and fabricates legends, displaying the self-consciousness in the creation of fiction. The Tang and Song dynasties are the period when romance was at its height. A great many romances of different kinds were produced. Works reflecting Daoist life and expressing Daoist ideas hold a certain proportion. In addition, some works do not directly have unusual stories of immortals and Daoists as the subject, but have dreams, historical stories, and affairs of human life as the subject. However, the main idea of these works is imbued with a Daoist conceptualization of the world. Take, for example, Precious and Secret Tales ( 枕中記 Zhenzhong Ji ) by Shen Jiji, Biography of the Prefect of Nanke ( 南柯太守傳 Nanke Taishou Zhuan ) by Li Gongzuo, and Unofficial Biography of Li Linfu ( 李林甫外傳 Li Linfu Waizhuan ) by an anonymous person. Either being permeated with the Daoist view of life or suggesting the power of Daoist magic arts, they can be regarded as "the transition form" of Daoist romance.


"Huaben fiction" arises in the Song and Yuan times: "Huaben" refers to the original script used by storytellers. The stories come from a variety of materials, an important part of which is immortals and ghosts. Daoist Huaben fiction refers to the category that has immortals and ghosts as the subject and Daoist belief as the guideline. For example, A Grotto of Demons on the Western Mountain ( 西山一窟鬼 Xishan Yiku Gui ) is centered on the description of spirits and ghosts and the exaggeration of the terrible atmosphere. It is a reflection of the Daoist concept of immortals and ghosts in town life. Compared with Daoist romance, Daoist Huaben-styled short stories are rather successful either in the mastery of materials or in the depiction of characters and ideas. There is often only a single line of the plots, but the stories are complete and clear. Besides, the use of scenes as a foil to the development of stories and the use of foreshadowing make the plots more complicated and dramatic. The language basically keeps the advantage of colloquialism, popular and simple and hence easy to spread.


In the Ming and Qing times, the creation of Chinese fiction was all the more mainstream. On the basis of Huaben and model-Huaben fiction emerged full-length Zhanghui-styled novels. Some of them have Daoist life as the subject and Daoist idea as the gist, such as The Romance of the Gods ( 封神演義 Fengshen Yanyi ), Record of the Four Journeys ( 四遊記 Siyou Ji ), Comprehensive Biography of Han Xiangzi ( 韓湘子全傳 Han Xiangzi Quanzhuan ), Records of Immortal Lü's Brandishing Sword ( 呂仙飛劍記 Lüxian Feijian Ji ), and Immortal Traces in the Wild ( 綠野仙蹤 Lüye Xianzong ). Such works can be regarded as full-length Daoist Zhanghui-styled novels. They have the following three characteristics. First, they combine historical stories and immortality tales; second, they polish the immortality tales spread among the people; third, they are permeated with the Daoist teaching of attaining immortality through cultivation. Daoist Zhanghui fiction plays a special role in the propagation of Daoist doctrines. Being conversant with Daoist scriptures, the authors adapt, reorganize or create immortal tales and embody the reasons in concrete images so as to make the propagation of Daoist ideas more popular and easier to be accepted by people.