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The Art of Ingenuity: A Brief History of the Chinese Swindle Story

The Language Research Centre "Language of Literature" Speaker Series is proud to present,

 Title: The Art of Ingenuity: A Brief History of the Chinese Swindle Story

Speaker: Christopher Rea

 Why have authors and editors felt compelled to compile collections of swindle stories at certain times and places? In China, for example, the swindle story, though not been regarded as a formal genre, has enjoyed renaissances in the 17th century, the early 20th century, and during the last 20 years. The existence of comparable works around the world begs a broader set of questions about history and narrative. What, for example, do Zhang Yingyu’s Book of Swindles (Ming China, 1617), Richard King’s The New Cheats of London Exposed (Georgian England, ca. 1800), and P.T. Barnum’s The Humbugs of the World (Reconstruction-era United States, 1867) have in common? 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 highlights an enduring thread running through this literary history: connoisseurship of the swindler’s ingenuity.

 Christopher Rea is Associate Professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. He is author of The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China (California, 2015); 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). He is currently co-translating a Ming dynasty story collection called The Book of Swindles.