India, Tibet, Japan, and China add their own masterpieces to the sum of universal literature that Martin Bodmer longed to see formed. Sanskrit manuscripts in the epic and religious tradition, Buddhist literature, treatises by Confucius, imperial calligraphy, encyclopedias and woodblock books, Noh theater and monogatari or “narrated things,” illustrated with drawings and paintings in which all the art of the Japanese schools of painting is concentrated—this rich collection enables visitors to grasp the specific contribution of these different civilizations.
Written in the second half of the 17th century by Pu Songling, the most fantastic storyteller of the early Qing Dynasty, Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio is one of the most important prose works in Chinese literature. Unifying this collection of some five hundred tales written in classical Chinese is the central theme it explores, i.e., the strange, the supernatural, even the fantastic, a theme that is dear to the Chinese literary tradition. The Martin Bodmer Foundation’s manuscript is conserved in its original state. The copy alternates pages of text, whose columns of calligraphic Chinese characters always occupy the same virtual square, with pages of watercolor drawings painted on sheets of silk paper. It boasts a Leporello binding (also known as a concertina binding), and contains only three tales (“The Bookworm,” “The Great Sage Equal to Heaven,” “The Frog God”), although it was probably once part of a collection made up of 140 to 150 identical volumes. In this regard, it would be the only known extant fragment attesting to the existence of a complete Liaozhai Zhiyi manuscript. It was very likely executed during the reign of Daoguang (1820-1850).