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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 ...

#AsiaNow Speaks with Christopher Rea

Christopher Rea is Associate Professor of Modern Chinese Literature at the University of British Columbia and author of The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China, published by University of California Press and winner of the 2017 AAS Joseph Levenson Book Prize (Post-1900 China). To begin with, please tell us what your book is about. The book’s about how Chinese humor changed (and how it didn’t) in the modern age. It reconstructs the emergence of several comic cultures over about forty years, from the 1890s to 1933, the “Year of Humor.” Part of the story is about language, about how people started talking about what’s funny in new ways. It tries to convey how you can be funny in Chinese—and how people were, using modern technologies like cinema. Another part of the story is about cultural values, about how people in a tumultuous age used laughter as a barometer for what matters to the individual, to the group, and to humanity at large. I argue that irrev ...

#AsiaNow Speaks with Anna M. Shields

Anna M. Shields is Professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton University and the author of One Who Knows Me: Friendship and Literary Culture in Mid-Tang China, published by Harvard Asia Center (2015) and winner of the 2017 AAS Honorable Mention for the Levenson Book Prize (pre-1900).   To begin with, please tell us what your book is about. My book explores mid-Tang [Dynasty] literature in order to understand the complex value mid-Tang writers discovered in friendship―as a rewarding social practice, a rich literary topic, a way to negotiate literati identity, and a path toward self-understanding. I look at the evolution of the performance of friendship in a wide range of genres, including letters, prefaces, exchange poetry, and funerary texts, and I translate and explicate dozens of texts. The book follows the life-course of mid-Tang literati men, from youthful competition in the exams through career vicissitudes to death and commemoration.   What inspired you to research this topic? I was ...

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