The Lecherous Academician

Ling Mengchu

translated from the Chinese by James Scott
Rapp and Whiting 1973
A book review by Danny Yee © 2002
John Scott has translated an entertaining quartet of stories by 17th century Chinese writer Ling Mengchu. "Lazy Dragon the Master Thief" recounts some of the exploits of an urban Robin Hood, a refined thief who takes from the unworthy and gives to those more worthy. ("In which a master criminal signs himself with a sprig of plum blossom. This noble thief with effortless ease plays three subtle games.") "The Miraculous Recovery" is a story about a young woman who commits suicide. "The Lecherous Academician" tells the story of a scholar who delves into Taoist alchemical and sexual experimentation and comes to a sticky end. And "The Merchant and the Fox" is a supernatural romance involving a fox spirit.

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".

April 2002

Related reviews:
- books about China + Chinese history
- more Chinese literature
- more short fiction
%T The Lecherous Academician
%A Ling Mengchu
%M Chinese
%F Scott, James
%I Rapp and Whiting
%D 1973
%O hardcover
%G ISBN 085391186X
%P 176pp