Many features of these stories are strange to the Western reader. They are introduced by sub-stories with similar themes. They have elements of morality tales, switching between narration and quite explicit authorial comment. There is little dramatic tension — even when there are detective elements, for example, the crime is described before the investigation. And an openness about sexuality sometimes extends to quite explicit details of sexual congress (expurgated from many editions), of the kind European literature consigns to specialised erotica.
Despite these things, Ling Mengchu's stories, written for a popular audience and rendered by Scott into lively and idiomatic English, are compelling and need no explanation. They are allowed to stand by themselves, with Scott refraining from footnotes or other commentary and providing just a ten page afterword on the author and on Ming literature more generally. Ling Mengchu was a mandarin, one of the governing elite, but also "an unsurpassed raconteur ... exploiting all the devices of the market-place storytellers and endowing their repertoire with the individual genius of an artist".