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The Chinese Dreamscape, 300 BCE–800 CE

The Chinese Dreamscape, 300 BCE–800 CE

Robert Ford Campany

ISBN 9780674247796

Publication date: 10/13/2020

Winner of the Stanislas Julien Prize
Winner of the Joseph Levenson Prize for Scholarship on Pre-1900 China

Dreaming is a near-universal human experience, but there is no consensus on why we dream or what dreams should be taken to mean. In this book, Robert Ford Campany investigates what people in late classical and early medieval China thought of dreams. He maps a common dreamscape—an array of ideas about what dreams are and what responses they should provoke—that underlies texts of diverse persuasions and genres over several centuries. These writings include manuals of dream interpretation, scriptural instructions, essays, treatises, poems, recovered manuscripts, histories, and anecdotes of successful dream-based predictions.

In these many sources, we find culturally distinctive answers to questions peoples the world over have asked for millennia: What happens 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 nonhuman animals? The Chinese Dreamscape, 300 BCE–800 CE sheds light on how people in a distant age negotiated these mysteries and brings Chinese notions of dreaming into conversation with studies of dreams in other cultures, ancient and contemporary. Taking stock of how Chinese people wrestled with—and celebrated—the strangeness of dreams, Campany asks us to reflect on how we might reconsider our own notions of dreaming.


  • While the book is written for an academic audience, the writing is wonderfully engaging. In the end, it challenges us to revisit our assumptions about dreams: what can and cannot be known about them and how much is a product of cultural context.

    —Leanne Ogasawara, Asian Review of Books


  • 2022, Winner of the Joseph Levenson Book Prize
  • 2022, Winner of the Stanislas Julien Prize


  • Robert Ford Campany is Professor of Asian and Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University. He is author of Signs from the Unseen Realm: Buddhist Miracle Tales from Early Medieval China and Making Transcendents: Ascetics and Social Memory in Early Medieval China.

Book Details

  • 282 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center

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