"The Lady Who Was a Beggar" is a morality tale about a man who gets rid of his wife once he attains fortune; it is prefaced with a shorter tale about a woman rejecting a husband who later makes good.
The romance "The Pearl-Sewn Shirt" is the longest of the stories and the most impressive. With a seduction, a scheming go-between, love tokens gone astray and other mix-ups, the plot is reminiscent of one of Shakespeare's comedies — as is the shrewd characterisation.
"Wine and Dumplings" is a heroic biography based on a historical figure, telling of a poor man's rise from obscurity to eminence. In the same genre, "The Journey of the Corpse" is the story of a man who goes to extreme lengths in the name of friendship; it is given here alongside the Classical Chinese short story from the Tang on which it drew.
"The Canary Murders" is a 12th century (Song) crime story, a gritty low-life tale in which one almost accidental murder leads to progressively bloodier mayhem. And "The Fairy's Rescue" is "the nearest one could come in Chinese writing to the Western concept of a fairy-tale".
An introduction gives some background on Ming fiction and Feng Menglong. There is some uncertainty about how much of Stories Old and New is his work: Birch writes here that "the stories are far from being Feng's own", but Patrick Hanan (in The Chinese Vernacular Story) argues that "Feng is the probable author of nineteen stories, almost half the collection". Birch also prefaces each story with a brief analysis.
You don't need to be interested in scholarly debates or literary criticism to appreciate Stories From a Ming Collection, however: the stories in it can stand by themselves.
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- Related reviews:
- Patrick Hanan - Falling in Love: Stories From Ming China
- more Chinese literature
- more short fiction