I found nice and quite cheap copies of all the Kai lung books at a second hand book shop last month. As someone whose interested in all things Chinese, and western interpretations of China, I thought I had to get them all. This book was originally written in 1900 and for it's time is quite remarkable. It is totally the opposite of the Sax Rohmer books. Here while often humourous the author seems to genuienly like Chinese culture. Currently it's debated if he ever went to China before writing the novels, there are quite a few details he gets wrong in his stories (like someone sitting for the regular exams getting a military posting). But the details he does get right are so much more than I was expecting, random Correct Chinese words thrown in untranslated, Buddhist dieties, actual places, immortality, etc etc. (the village where the storyteller tells his story is called Wu whei (wu wei meaning without action and being the fundemental principle of Taoism something little understood by most Europeans in 19002).
It is written in quite a ridiculous style of paradoy of the self-effacing percieved Chinese style. At times this can be a bit confussing but other times it's very funny. The book is made up of short stories told by a Chinese storyteller.There were stories about a man who accidently turned himself into gold (the longest and probably the best in the collection) a man who goes to murder the village mandarian as he's evil only to have it turn out to be his father, a man who goes through misfortune after misfortune but ends up in charge of the examinations, another man whose very misfortunate and gets chosen to participate in a ritual where the Emperor ploughs (an actual ritual I was quite surprised that Bramah had known about). The closest thing I can think of for these books is the Van Gulik books, but rather than mysteries we have comedy and social satire. (One story he transposes Shakespeare to China and has his storyteller try and discredit that the Chinese Shakespeare actually wrote his sayings by saying they came from an earlier dynasty - though this is the only instance of anything so European that I realised).
I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the books in this series and glad I found them....Continua