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Excerpt: The Book of Swindles

The roads and rivers of China saw a steady stream of travelers during the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), as merchants moved from place to place, creating a vibrant commercial network that bound together the country’s flourishing southern cities. On the road, however, people were vulnerable: cut off from familiar places and faces, it was easy to fall prey to the roving con men who had devised a plethora of get-rich-quick schemes that would relieve their victims of money and goods. English-language readers can now learn about a wide range of the frauds perpetrated in 17th-century China by picking up The Book of Swindles: Selections from a Late Ming Collection (Columbia University Press, 2017), written by Zhang Yingyu (fl. 1612-17) and recently translated by AAS Members Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk, both professors in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia. Zhang’s work, Rea and Rusk write in the book’s introduction, “presents a panoramic survey of dec ...

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