A spirited, enchanting collection of stories from the 17th- century Chinese playwright and raconteur in a vivid translation, the first in English: a fitting companion to Li Yu's acclaimed erotic satire The Carnal Prayer Mat (1990). Although the original text from which these six spicy tales were taken contained a dozen stories, the full measure of Li Yu's wit comes through in Hanan's selection. Each narrative begins with a short poetic introduction and commentary and concludes with a quick critique, in a style typical of the day, but the distinctive ribald nature of this assortment soon becomes apparent. The title story follows a young man using the latest in modern technology—a telescope—to spy on his neighbors in search of an acceptably pretty wife, whom he proceeds to win by tapping his secret knowledge of her to make her think him omniscient, then tricking her father into agreeing to the match. Other tales are built on similarly delightful subterfuge, whether through the manipulations of an audacious con artist, the scourge of all China, who finally decides to lead a righteous and holy life but first dupes a pair of rich benefactors into building his temple; or through the wiles of a young rake gratefully unburdened of an ugly wife by her early death, who pursues the most beautiful girl in the area and her equally lovely maid/companion, winning them both after having turned his attentions from the former to the latter, a sharp- witted, practical woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. Subtle comedies of marriage and Chinese society, these give charming evidence of a true master's touch, easily bridging more than 300 years to be fresh and vibrant today.
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