A Ghost Story’s Ghost Story


Everyone loves a good ghost story, and one of the most popular ghost stories in the Chinese literary canon is that of Li Huiniang, a cruelly executed concubine who fights for justice from beyond the grave.

At the Appendix, Maggie Greene tells the tale’s history in reverse, from a hugely popular 1981 movie version all the way back to the first formally published version, which appeared during the Ming dynasty:

Li Huiniang had faced the ire of cultural radicals since 1963, even inspiring a ban on portraying ghosts in theater—the harbinger of the PRC’s swiftly increasing radicalization of culture and politics.

What harm could there be in telling the tale of a ghost, or of an upright official?

Lauren O'Neal is an MFA student at San Francisco State University. Her writing has appeared in publications like Slate, The New Inquiry, and The Hairpin. You can follow her on Twitter at @laureneoneal. More from this author →