Escape from Blood Pond Hell

The Tales of Mulian and Woman Huang

Translated by Beata Grant and Wilt L. Idema

  • Published: 2011
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; Literary Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 368 pp., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

These translations of The Precious Scroll of the Three Lives of Mulian and Woman Huang Recites the Diamond Sutra are late-nineteenth-century examples of baojuan (literally, "precious scrolls"), a Chinese folk genre featuring alternating verse and prose that was used by monks to illustrate religious precepts for lay listeners. They represent only two of numerous versions, composed in a variety of genres, of these legends, which were once popular all over China. While the seeds of the Mulian legend, in which a man rescues his mother from hell, can be found in Indian Buddhist texts, the story of Woman Huang, who seeks her own salvation, appears to be indigenous to China.

With their graphic portrayals of the underworld; dramatization of Buddhist beliefs about death, salvation, and rebirth; and frank discussion of women's responsibility for sin, these texts provide detailed and powerful descriptions of popular religious beliefs and practices in late imperial China, especially as they relate to women.
Beata Grant is professor of Chinese language and literature at Washington University, and author of Eminent Nuns: Woman Chan Masters of Seventeenth-Century China and coauthor of The Red Brush: Writing Women of Imperial China. Wilt L. Idema is professor of Chinese literature at Harvard University. His recent publications include Meng Jiangnč Brings Down the Great Wall: Ten Versions of a Chinese Legend and Heroines of Jiangyong: Chinese Narrative Ballads in Women's Script.
Note on the Translations
The Precious Scroll of the Three Lives of Mulian
Woman Huang Recites the Diamond Sutra
Glossary of Chinese Characters
Selected Bibliography

"The translation is very accessible, with notes and a glossary, and is suitable as a text for courses on Chinese religion and popular literature."
-Chun-Fang Yu, The Journal of Asian Studies

"The literary merits of both precious scrolls are recognizable in the high scholarly translations. . . . One can recommend Grant and Idema's book to students of Chinese religion, literature, anthropology, and social history, as well as of those of whole East Asian region."
-Rostislav Berezkin, Asian Ethnology 71.1, 2012

"The translators' well-written, informative introduction provides a host of insights and useful information about the stories; the translations are faithful to the original texts and easy to read. A good resource for those interested in traditional literature or popular religion in China. Summing Up: Recommended."
-Choice, April 2012