The Legend of White Snake (白蛇传) is a tale about a snake fairy who marries the descendant of her benefactor only to find he’s a bit of a plonker. Meanwhile, there’s her old enemy, Fa Hai (法海), to worry about. But with the help of the faithful Xiao Qing (小青; Robin to Madam White’s Batman) and some intervention from Buddha, Madam White defeats Fa Hai who hides inside a crab shell to escape her.
The Oxherd and the Weaving Maiden (牛郎织女) is the story of Niulang (牛郎) and his wife Zhinu (织女), who is the granddaughter of the Jade Emperor. Big surprise, grandma and granddad don’t approve of the match, but with Zhinu’s help, Niulang manages to complete the tasks the Jade Emperor sets him. However, because of a cock-up on the information front, they are limited to meeting each other once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.
The Butterfly Lovers (梁山伯与祝英台 “Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai”) is China’s Romeo and Juliet. Actually, Shakespeare probably would’ve liked it since it starts with the heroine, Zhu Yingtai, dressing up as a boy so that she can go to school. She meets Liang Shanbo and they become sworn brothers. Before they’re separated three years later, she drops several Titanic-sized hints that she’s a girl, although Shanbo is oblivious until Auntie Zhou tells him the truth. (I suspect if she’d flashed him, he would’ve said, “Bloody hell! Those are big mosquito bites!”) Unfortunately, the Zhu family have arranged for Yingtai to marry Ma Wencai (马文才) from the rich and powerful Ma family. When Shanbo hears that he can never marry her, he dies of consumption. When she visits his grave, the earth swallows her, and they’re reincarnated as butterflies.
The translations needed to have been proofread by a native speaker to weed out various errors, but they’re not so many or so great that the English is painful to read.
The problem in many instances is a matter of tone where the translation is a little too colloquial.
That sounds like Liaozhai Zhiyi, which are all boy-meets-hot ghost girl/fox spirit stories, which are generally accompanied by a lot of shagging and a certain amount of reincarnation when ghosts reanimate the bodies of dead wives or other hot babes.
The last collection of stories is Selected Tang Dynasty Stories (唐代传奇选) translated by Yong Xianyi and Gladys Yang, who also translated A Dream of Red Mansions. In The White Monkey (补江总白猿传), a monkey demon seizes the wife of a soldier called Ouyang He who manages to rescue her and kill the demon. In Ren the Fox Fairy (任氏传), a man gets involved with a fox fairy until he forces her on an ill-fated journey and she is chased and killed by dogs. The Dragon King’s Daughter (柳毅传) is a story about a man of integrity who saves a princess from a bad marriage. In Prince Huo’s Daughter (霍小玉传), Li Yi starts a relationship with a daughter born to Prince Huo by his favourite slave, but he proves to be unfaithful and she dies. After her death, Li Yi is perpetually suspicious of any woman he is involved with. Governor of the Southern Tributary State (南柯太守传) is a story about a man who thinks that he’s been given high honours, but finds that it’s all a dream about ant hills. A young man spends a fortune on a pretty enticement who then helps him after his luck runs out in The Story of a Singsong Girl (李娃传). Wang Xianke is betrothed to Wu-shuang in Wu-shuang the Peerless (无双传), but they are separated for a time until they can be reunited by subterfuge and are married for fifty years. The Spendthrift and the Alchemist (杜字春传) is another tale of a dissolute young man, Du Zichun, who keeps being offered increasingly large sums of money by a mysterious man. He turns out to be a priest who tries to perform a rite to make Du Zichun immortal so long as he doesn’t utter a word. As it turns out, the only emotion the young man can’t conquer is love. In The Kun Lun Slave (昆仑奴), a man called Cui calls on a minister and falls for one of his daughters. It’s with the help of a slave called Melek that he wins her. The last story in the collection, The Man with the Curly Beard (虬髯客传), is about Li Shimin and the prediction that he will become a great emperor. (Li Shimin was the Tang Dynasty emperor Taizong, and responsible for sending the monk Sanzang to get the Buddhist scriptures from India, a tale told in Journey to the West.)