The Chinese Dreamscape, 300 BCE – 800 CE

About the Book

Dreaming is a near-universal human experience. But there is no consensus on why we dream, or how we should approach dreaming. This book investigates what dreams meant to people in late classical and early medieval China. It maps a common dreamscape—an array of divergent ideas about what dreams are, and how they should be responded to—that underlies texts of diverse persuasions and genres over several centuries. These include manuals of dream interpretation, scriptural instructions, essays, treatises, classics, poems, recovered manuscripts, histories, and anecdotes of successful dream-based predictions.


What was thought to happen when we dream? Do dreams foretell future events? If so, how might their imagistic code be unlocked to yield predictions? Could dreams enable direct communication between the living and the dead, or between humans and animals? By answering these questions, The Chinese Dreamscape, 300 BCE–800 CE sheds light on how people in a distant age negotiated dream experiences. Yet it also brings Chinese notions of dreaming into conversation with studies of dreams in other cultures ancient and contemporary. Ultimately this book investigates how Chinese people wrestled with—and celebrated—the strangeness of dreams, and reflects on how we might reconsider our own notions of dreaming.


This book is also available in paperback.

About the Author

Robert Ford Campany is Professor of Asian Studies and Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University.

Harvard University's Asia-Related Resources