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The Book of Swindles: Selections from a Late Ming Collection (Translations from the Asian Classics)

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This is an age of deception. Con men ply the roadways. Bogus alchemists pretend to turn one piece of silver into three. Devious nuns entice young women into adultery. Sorcerers use charmed talismans for mind control and murder. A pair of dubious monks extorts money from a powerful official and then spends it on whoring. A rich student tries to bribe the chief examiner, onl This is an age of deception. Con men ply the roadways. Bogus alchemists pretend to turn one piece of silver into three. Devious nuns entice young women into adultery. Sorcerers use charmed talismans for mind control and murder. A pair of dubious monks extorts money from a powerful official and then spends it on whoring. A rich student tries to bribe the chief examiner, only to hand his money to an imposter. A eunuch kidnaps boys and consumes their "essence" in an attempt to regrow his penis. These are just a few of the entertaining and surprising tales to be found in this seventeenth-century work, said to be the earliest Chinese collection of swindle stories.The Book of Swindles, compiled by an obscure writer from southern China, presents a fascinating tableau of criminal ingenuity. The flourishing economy of the late Ming period created overnight fortunes for merchants—and gave rise to a host of smooth operators, charlatans, forgers, and imposters seeking to siphon off some of the new wealth. The Book of Swindles, which was ostensibly written as a manual for self-protection in this shifting and unstable world, also offers an expert guide to the art of deception. Each story comes with commentary by the author, Zhang Yingyu, who expounds a moral lesson while also speaking as a connoisseur of the swindle. This volume, which contains annotated translations of just over half of the eighty-odd stories in Zhang's original collection, provides a wealth of detail on social life during the late Ming and offers words of warning for a world in peril.


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This is an age of deception. Con men ply the roadways. Bogus alchemists pretend to turn one piece of silver into three. Devious nuns entice young women into adultery. Sorcerers use charmed talismans for mind control and murder. A pair of dubious monks extorts money from a powerful official and then spends it on whoring. A rich student tries to bribe the chief examiner, onl This is an age of deception. Con men ply the roadways. Bogus alchemists pretend to turn one piece of silver into three. Devious nuns entice young women into adultery. Sorcerers use charmed talismans for mind control and murder. A pair of dubious monks extorts money from a powerful official and then spends it on whoring. A rich student tries to bribe the chief examiner, only to hand his money to an imposter. A eunuch kidnaps boys and consumes their "essence" in an attempt to regrow his penis. These are just a few of the entertaining and surprising tales to be found in this seventeenth-century work, said to be the earliest Chinese collection of swindle stories.The Book of Swindles, compiled by an obscure writer from southern China, presents a fascinating tableau of criminal ingenuity. The flourishing economy of the late Ming period created overnight fortunes for merchants—and gave rise to a host of smooth operators, charlatans, forgers, and imposters seeking to siphon off some of the new wealth. The Book of Swindles, which was ostensibly written as a manual for self-protection in this shifting and unstable world, also offers an expert guide to the art of deception. Each story comes with commentary by the author, Zhang Yingyu, who expounds a moral lesson while also speaking as a connoisseur of the swindle. This volume, which contains annotated translations of just over half of the eighty-odd stories in Zhang's original collection, provides a wealth of detail on social life during the late Ming and offers words of warning for a world in peril.

49 review for The Book of Swindles: Selections from a Late Ming Collection (Translations from the Asian Classics)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chris Carlisle

    The Book of Swindles is a collection of late Ming Dynasty cautionary tales that span a multitude of literary genres. There are stories in here that border on the line between fact and fiction, and there are others that are sheer absurdity. I really like the end notes by the original author/editor Zhang Yingyu. The ending summaries generally include anecdotes and lessons from the story, and sometimes include historical information from classic Chinese tales and philosophy. The footnotes also add The Book of Swindles is a collection of late Ming Dynasty cautionary tales that span a multitude of literary genres. There are stories in here that border on the line between fact and fiction, and there are others that are sheer absurdity. I really like the end notes by the original author/editor Zhang Yingyu. The ending summaries generally include anecdotes and lessons from the story, and sometimes include historical information from classic Chinese tales and philosophy. The footnotes also add so much more to the book, and they further the reader's knowledge in a number of areas. The only complaint I would have about this book is the lack of illustrations, but the cover art and stories remedy this a little for me. The book includes 24 swindle story types: 1. Misdirection and Theft 2. The bag drop 3. Money Changing 4. Misrepresentation 5. False Relations 6. Brokers 7. Enticement to Gambling 8. Showing off Wealth 9. Scheming for Wealth 10. Robbery 11. Violence 12. On Boats 13. Poetry 14. Fake Silver 15. Governnent Underlings 16. Marriage 17. Illicit Passion 18. Women 19. Kidnapping 20. Corruption in Education 21. Monks and Priests 22. Alchemy 23. Sorcery 24. Pandering There are over forty tales in this book, each spanning a couple of pages and always with an afterward by the original author. The book is over 200 pages of fun reading and also gives some insight into the lifestyle and customs of late Ming Dynasty China. Give it a read if you are even slighty interested in Chinese culture.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Qmmayer

    Not what I was hoping for. I expected a collection of cons, ie scams that were employed by swindlers to steal money during China's Ming Dynasty. Instead, this is more a collection of particular stories about specific people who were relieved on money in various ways. And in fact, it more often resembles a collection of gossip, as in "I heard about this woman who once had sex with a monkey . . ." (That example is, unfortunately, taken from the book.) Some of the stories involve blunt force (basic Not what I was hoping for. I expected a collection of cons, ie scams that were employed by swindlers to steal money during China's Ming Dynasty. Instead, this is more a collection of particular stories about specific people who were relieved on money in various ways. And in fact, it more often resembles a collection of gossip, as in "I heard about this woman who once had sex with a monkey . . ." (That example is, unfortunately, taken from the book.) Some of the stories involve blunt force (basic robbery), others occur entirely by happenstance, and a few rely on ludicrous amounts of planning (years of false friendship). Only a handful detail what I could consider to be a classic "swindle": advanced planning, a clever deception based on the greed/gullibility of the victim, and the potential for it to be repeated. The book is perhaps more useful as a contemporary window into of some of the preoccupations of the period, as least as embodied by the author. There is clear distrust of authority and religion and an expectation that merchants will be preyed upon by crooks, especially while traveling. (There's also a pervasive undercurrent of misogyny that is unremarked upon by the editors.) But ultimately I felt like it fell short there as well. There is a worthwhile introduction but very few footnotes in the text itself and they are mainly devoted to translation issues. Without more commentary, I found it wanting as a genuine sociological view of the times.

  3. 5 out of 5

    dao

    Some insight about Chinese ancient society. Yes i would recommend this book to my Australian friends. I wonder if anyone is writting a similar book about the modern time swindles, things like: fake news...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Clare Walker

    A birthday present I finally got round to reading. I enjoyed it a lot, aside from the painful sexism, which was to be expected. Some of the tales were a little hard to follow, but the author had a helpful summary and commentary at the end of each. Interesting and 4.5 stars.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Yun Rou

    How could someone who immerses himself in the creation of stories from Chinese history not find this book fun, fascinating, and a plot-stimulant, too. If you like Asian TV shows and movies, particularly the ones with historical settings, you'll love this little treasure trove.

  6. 5 out of 5

    George Mchenry

  7. 5 out of 5

    David

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sam

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sally Tramel

  10. 4 out of 5

    Diego Milano

  11. 5 out of 5

    Peter

  12. 5 out of 5

    James Robert

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ekaterina

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ching Chang

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mikael Izkovellarosy

  16. 5 out of 5

    Asita

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lydon

  18. 5 out of 5

    David Hull

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jaq

  20. 5 out of 5

    Pip

  21. 5 out of 5

    kaguracramoisie

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ivan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brian B

  24. 5 out of 5

    Franklin

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  26. 4 out of 5

    Fouad Bouakline

  27. 4 out of 5

    ✨ Alexandra Tsao-Trim ✨

  28. 5 out of 5

    Vytautas Rimkus

  29. 5 out of 5

    Padraic Cghln

  30. 5 out of 5

    Adam

  31. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Duschell

  32. 4 out of 5

    Brian

  33. 5 out of 5

    Andyhat

  34. 4 out of 5

    Nyai

  35. 4 out of 5

    Cherinne

  36. 4 out of 5

    Eadweard

  37. 5 out of 5

    Ishani Reddy

  38. 4 out of 5

    The Uprightman

  39. 5 out of 5

    !Tæmbuŝu

  40. 5 out of 5

    Rían

  41. 5 out of 5

    muraguri

  42. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

  43. 5 out of 5

    Erika Jost

  44. 5 out of 5

    Belén

  45. 5 out of 5

    Marcus Zelenski

  46. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  47. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  48. 5 out of 5

    Mathew Benjamin

  49. 5 out of 5

    Nick Massey

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