Of Spongers, Sharpers, and Cannibal Eunuchs: The Swindle Story around the World
- Christopher Rea
- Wednesday 18 October 2017
- China Seminar
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 2
2311 BZ Leiden
Why do collections of swindle stories appear at certain times and places? In China, for example, the swindle story has experienced bursts of popularity during the late Ming, the early Republican era, the early Mao era, and during the last 20 years. And comparable works exist around the world. What, for example, do Zhang Yingyu’s Book of Swindles(Ming China, 1617),Richard King’s The New Cheats of London Exposed (Georgian England, 1792), and P.T. Barnum’s The Humbugs of the World (Reconstruction-era United States, 1867) have in common—and how do they differ? Swindle stories, clearly, serve a double purpose: they teach techniques for navigating perilous social environments, and they entertain. But theirs authors tend to frame these narratives within a questionable claim: that ours is an age of unprecedented peril. Focusing on the example of China, this talk will highlight one thread running through literary history: connoisseurship of the swindler’s ingenuity.
Christopher Rea is Associate Professor of Asian Studies and former Director of the Centre for Chinese Research at the University of British Columbia. He is author of The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China (California, 2015), which won the 2017 Joseph Levenson Book Prize (post-1900 China). He is editor of China’s Literary Cosmopolitans: Qian Zhongshu, Yang Jiang, and the World of Letters (Brill, 2015) and Humans, Beasts, and Ghosts: Stories and Essays by Qian Zhongshu (Columbia, 2011); and co-editor of The Business of Culture: Cultural Entrepreneurs in China and Southeast Asia (UBC Press, 2015). His most recent book, translated with Bruce Rusk, is The Book of Swindles: Selections from a Late Ming Collection (Columbia, 2017); the original work, said to be China’s first collection of stories about fraud, celebrates its 400th anniversary in 2017.