The Time-Travel of Liu Chen and Ruan Zhao: The Wonderland Romance and Its Variations in Medieval Chinese Literature

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project is a new attempt to explore the formation and evolution of an important literary theme and its variations, by researching the provenance of this theme and its adaptations in Chinese literature from the third to the thirteenth century.

The original tale is found in the Youming lu 幽明錄, a fifth-century anthology of zhiguai 志怪 (“recording the uncanny”) tales. It relates the adventure of two fellows, named Liu Chen and Ruan Zhao, who accidentally enter a mythical Shangri-La realm, where they enjoy romantic pleasure with some beautiful ladies. After ten days, the homesick fellows want to leave but are “detained” for a few more months. Only upon returning do they discover that seven human generations have passed.

While the Liu-Ruan tale has its predecessors, it became a model for adaptation and re-creation in later periods and formed a cluster of literature, which includes approximately a hundred poems, several narrative pieces and a dozen plays. In a comprehensive study of this cluster of literature, the project examines the prototypical elements of the tale and discusses how the protagonists, Liu and Ruan, and the plots were received and re-cast in later adaptations. The scope of the study covers significant examples of this type of literature between the second and the thirteenth century. The project will investigate the themes in a wide variety of literary genres, such as zhiguai narratives, folklore, chuanqi 傳奇 (“transmitting the unusual”) narratives, scriptural writings, shi poetry, ci poetry, and drama. Tentatively divided into nine chapters, the project explores various facets of this tradition of literary representations, including but not limited to literary devices, prosody, eroticism, food culture, religious and folklore elements, and politics.

The anticipated outcome of the project is a book manuscript written in English. Through an examination of the Liu-Ruan literary tradition, the project is intended to enhance our understanding of literary creation and re-creation. It aims to reconstruct the genealogy of literature concerning accidental discovery of the wonderland and the ensuing romantic encounter. The innovative features, such as new angles and research methodology in the project, will make an important contribution to the study of Chinese literature as well as literary and cultural studies. More importantly, it will add freshness and new inspiration to the study of literature.
Effective start/end date1/01/1431/12/15


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.