The Art of Ingenuity: The Swindle Story around the World

Colloquium: Center for Chinese Studies | April 24 | 4 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Christopher Rea, University of British Columbia

 Weihong Bao, East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley

 Center for Chinese Studies (CCS)

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.

 ccs@berkeley.edu, 510-643-6321