By Richard E. Strassberg
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Additional resources for A Chinese bestiary: strange creatures from the guideways through mountains and seas = [Shan hai jing]
Depicts a scene in which a female prisoner in Italy is shown after having given birth to a headless child who is represented in the manner of the illustrations of the decapitated rebel Xingtian [no. 233]. The caption explains that when she was bound with rope in prison, she became obsessed with the idea that she would lose her head and then suddenly gave birth to this anomaly. It goes on to quote the passage in the Guideways describing Xingtian, slyly suggesting that perhaps the child belongs to this species.
Everyone who witnessed this was amazed. Someone explained that when the prisoner had been bound with rope she feared that she would lose her head and this obsessive thought engendered the pregnancy which resulted in the birth of this strange creature. However, the Guideways through Mountains and Seas records that in the Land of the Single-Arm People [no. 231] is someone named ‘Xingtian’ [no. 233] who has a headless body where his nipples became his eyes and his navel became his mouth and who dances holding a spear and shield.
He had previously seen a version in the library of a relative and became obsessed with its illustrations of strange creatures. Among those that particularly impressed him were the human-headed beasts, the nineheaded snake Minister Liu [no. 244], the Three-Legged Bird [no. 277], the winged Feathered People [no. 216], the single-footed beast Kui [no. 304], the sacklike Dijiang [no. 99 This whetted his lifelong appetite for popular woodblock prints and illustrated books, of which he was to amass a considerable collection and whose artistry he tirelessly promoted.