The Law of the Ghost: Late Nineteenth Century Ghost Stories in China and Britain


The laws of the human world is often seen as inadequate in implementing justice, so that imaginations about an alternative law appear frequently in literature, and that is the law of the ghost. Cultural imaginations of the ghost in both East and West are closely related with ideas of justice. In traditional Chinese culture the ghost in literature and folklore is often perceived as a force to rectify wrongs that cannot be satisfactorily redressed in the patriarchal patrilineal society, thus the moral axiom 'In this world there is the law of the state; in the netherworld there is the law of the ghosts' that underlines numerous Chinese ghost stories in the zhiguai ('records of the strange') style. In English literature, ever since the pivotal ghost in Hamlet, the avenging ghost has featured prominently in Gothic fictions and ghost stories, its moral association sometimes ambiguous. While the function and rational of the ghost has more to do with conceptualizations of cosmic justice in Chinese culture, revealing the authors' varying perceptions of the relation between heaven and men, the avenging ghost in English literature is more often connected with the wrongs suffered in a personal history, offerings vignettes of otherwise shadowed subjectivities. This paper focuses on ghost stories written by several late nineteenth century Chinese and British writers (Wang Tao, Vernon Lee) to investigate how the ghost functions as an agency of justice in each culture, the different conceptualizations of justice therein, and the shifting visions of justice in the fin-de-siècle.

Author Information
Mengxing Fu, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Paper Information
Conference: LibrAsia2016
Stream: Literature - Comparative Literature

This paper is part of the LibrAsia2016 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon