Searching for Meaning: Inaccurate Interpretations and Deceitful Predictions in Dream Narratives of the Qing

In: International Journal of Divination and Prognostication
Aude Lucas Centre de recherche sur les civilisations de l’Asie orientale Paris France

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This paper explores cases of inaccurate interpretations or deceitful dream predictions in early and mid-Qing xiaoshuo and biji – Chinese leisure literature of short stories and anecdotes. While most dream narratives from this body of literature drew on the oneiromantic tradition and featured dream omens that get realized, some anecdotes playfully recounted tales of misunderstood dreams or deceptive oneiric forecasts. Such cases reveal a disillusioned stance of Qing authors toward the classical discourse on oneiromancy and a playful use of the usual rhetoric of how dreams were supposed to convey the truth. Through them, one may perceive an intention of Qing authors to reassess the conventional discourse on dreams and find a new way of writing about dreams with other concerns than divination.

This paper reminds how the signifiers of a dream may mean different things to each dreamer or each person that interprets a dream, revealing how dream omens and interpretations are subject to individual understanding. This article is divided into two main parts. The first part is devoted to wrong interpretations of dreams, either because the following events are happier than what the person interpreting the dream expected, or because the realization of the omens turns out more disappointing than predicted. The second part deals with dream predictions that are evidently deceptive. These dishonest forecasts may be granted to dreamers by manipulative beings, or more surprisingly, by forces that are harder to understand. In the latter case, those who are tricked by what seems to be fate itself are left at a loss, looking in vain for the meaning of their dreams.

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