Dreaming of the wronged dead gives impetus to violent emotions, specifically the desire for vengeance, both on the part of the ghost(s) within the dream and those who dream and feel compelled to act. This paper will examine how the untimely dead encountered within dreams are represented within various genres in the 17th century and explore the links between dreaming, revenge, justice, and emotional reactions of the dead, the dreamer, and those who write (and read) about them. As Barbara Rosenwein (2006) suggests, responses to acts of vengeance by “emotional communities” vary over time and space, and I hope in focusing on one vignette to add to research on the emotional parameters of revenge, its varying representations and reception.
Chen Yixiang (fl. 1602) recounts a case where a murdered official in Fujian in the late Ming appears in a dream to his son Wang Tingshi. The official told Tingshi he was poisoned by servants and described his agonies in detail. On awakening, Tingshi investigated and verified the dream. He immediately took revenge, bypassing legal authorities, and executed three servants, earning approbation as a “filial son”. However, his violent act also sparked controversy over the duty of a son to seek private revenge, the state’s right to administer punishment, and the vexed question of how heroic the killing of servants might be. The dangerous emotion of vengeance, with its concomitant feelings of grief and anger, always evokes complex responses, but what recourse is there when the dead cry out in dreams?