Review and quick cross cultural analysis of Classic Chinese Short Stories

Narrated by: Charlton Griffin
Length: 4 hrs and 27 mins
Release date: 01-22-04

So on audible, the book is split up into 2 volumes.

But below is a little bit about each story.

Essentially though, the book aims to tell classic Chinese stories in English, and from it I think you’re supposed to understand what stories were shared during the time the stories were written and what is perhaps still shared today.

Most of the stories translate well, however at certain times it is the culture that doesn’t translate.  As you’ll see from some of the notes I took on each of the stories.

Things like calling foreigners monkeys, learning to accept diversity, yet in a different story celebrating non-diversity and the ‘Chinese way’, dealing with hardship and ironic misfortunes.  And sometimes the story just doesn’t go anywhere, it just seems to end without really concluding things.  Or at other times, it will end on a quote that while translated into English…there is a clear meaning and history behind the meaning, which is neither given context for nor explained in any way.

Narration

I believe the narrator is the same for all the stories, but not 100% sure.

It’s a male voice anyway.

The male voices are fine, the scholars are voiced in a wimpy way….but the way the women are voiced…. Hahha pretty funny… they all sound so timid and repressed in some way.

In a way its funny, but also I wonder if that was done on purpose because it’s the way women were perceived during those particular times.

Recommendation

If you are interested in Chinese culture and are perhaps learning the language, then this would be an interesting book for you.

For those of us that DO study Chinese & the culture, we know that their language is deeply rooted in their culture, and their culture is deeply rooted in their history.  Historical culture in the form of these books then provides great insight into what might have influenced the way things are done, people are perceived, and how Chinese think about certain things.

Whilst I wouldn’t say all of the books are good, in fact some stories I was struggling to finish, I would say that you do gain insight from listening to this collection.

If you are a Chinese language/ culture scholar, then it might be worth finding these same books in Chinese and having a go at them.  Having listened to it in English at least you’ll now have a decent context to understand the original text.

IF you are not interested in Chinese culture at all, then I would highly recommend you give this a miss.  You’re not going to enjoy it.

Individual stories:

  1. The White monkey

-Generals wife is kidnapped by the white monkey.
-Infers that he is just a white man, a different tribe from the original China.

-He spoke Chinese, and was hairy.

-Seems to be written in a time that there were many different tribes of people and Chinese lived in relatively small villages, yet did not leave or explore neighbouring places at all, thus creating a severe lack of understanding for people just outside their immediate circle.

-Talks about being cautious and having a lack of understanding of people outside their lands, disliking it, and then eventually completely accepting it.

-The general ends up giving up his wife after losing to a contest of skill, and instead the honour seems to be more important rather than the love for his wife.

-As compared to Western (Greek/ Roman stories) where there are great stories of people waging massive wars over the love of a woman… this seems quite strange.

  1. The Jade goddess

-Story of a Jade statue

-The story of Cheng po the Jade carver.

  1. The Book Worm

-‘Being an honest official, his father had accumulated almost no property.’
-Great line.  Shows that corruption in government officials went all the way back  to this time.
That it was and has been systemic and accepted within the culture for 100’s of years (if not thousands), and seems like it will continue to do so.  That this is just the accepted norm.

-Infers that being an honest official is a rarity, and that being dishonest is an accepted practice.

  1. The Canary Murders

-Tells the tale of a wealthy family’s son being murdered for a prized canary; the father offering a sizeable reward with proof of where the son lay; a poor and stupid family’s father deciding that his 2 sons could collect the money if they kill him and present his head thoroughly decay in the mud…  and therefore trick the wealth father; and the hunt for the real killer who is eventually brought to justice along with the poor and stupid family too.

-I thought this was going to be a story with Chinese morals, but it ended without really coming to any conclusions

-“When the old turtle won’t turn tender you shift the blame onto the firewood.”  A quote that clearly makes sense in Chinese (probably an idiom with a well-meaning backstory) however no explanation is given in this recital….which is of course confusing and jarring.

-Each chapter ends with ‘indeed’ for some reason.

-240 cuts as a punishment before being killed.

  1. K’ung I-Chi

-Tells the tale of a self-taught scholar that dies… for no real reason.

-I get the feeling that this one doesn’t translate very well either

  1. Mr pan In Distress

-About a family moving from a war torn area to Shanghai

-Talks about Sikh policeman and portrays them as good honourable people.  (on an island off the coast of Xiamen we were told about Sikh policemen also employed there as well, and how the Chinese held them in high regard)

-Back home “the newspaper can’t be relied on”.  Interesting to see that even during this time it can’t be relied on, that the citizens knew of propaganda.

-Creates parallels to the Great War and the Europeans saying that they sent their kids to school during the war, so why shouldn’t we.  Provides much knowledge of the outside world, whereas other stories, and even modern real Chinese times, people seem wilfully ignorant.

-Can only assume that it ended with a rhetorical question that was obvious in Chinese… Because the English is not really a conclusion, nor did it make sense in any way.

7. Intoxicating Spring Nights

-Writer that is in poverty struggling for work, meets a girl gets 1 payment…then it doesn’t really end, he’s still in poverty. I don’t get it.

  1. Passion (written in the Tang dynasty 9th century)

Narration. The female voices are all sounding timid and vunerable. Those that are not married at least.

Story didn’t make enough of an impact on me to remember it or even to take notes

-Apparently was about the story of a man who wins the love of a woman, only to abandon her.

9. Curly Beard

-A story from the 9th century tang dynasty

Sui empire crumbling.

-From audible description: When a man vies for power, will he eschew his attempt when he realizes the Fates are not on his side?

-Honestly it didn’t make an impression on me at all

10. Wine & Dumplings  (early 17th century)

– the most unlikely of men is called to a position of honour.

-Also didn’t make an impression on me.

  1. Madam D

-Beautiful woman is married to a government official. Seems to like pearls, there’s a naughty nun involved.

-Seems to think that she’s meeting a man that the nun arranged because she like pearls.

-Ends up cheating on her husband. And then marrying that man.

-Seems to be stating that one should follow their heart and interests to find someone that they love rather than just accept an arranged marriage.

-This message really seems at odds with most of the stuff I know about Chinese society and relationships.  For the most part, yes they state that they wish to marry for love, but in practice this rarely happens.

-This story leans more to the lady making an acceptable choice even though society at the time was obviously against such a decision.

-Provides great insight into how courtships were made at that time… and even parallels today’s modern Chinese society for male, female relationships, ie. Gift giving, obvious flattery, and essentially buying the way to a woman’s heart at least at the start.  And then building a relationship based on shared interests from there (Although unfortunately the buying the way to the woman’s heart is continued even after the initial courtship is made in modern Chinese society)  Which is a little sad.

  1. The Wolf of Changshun

-A Moxian.  (seems like some kind of peaceful, religious wanderer)  Who saves a wolf who has been injured after being chased by hunters by hiding him in his sack.

-The wolf is then starving and asks if he can eat his saviour to continue living; the human says no and they put it up to a vote from 3 ‘edlers’; they ask a tree and something else, who both say that humans use them for resources and then chop them down…and that’s just the way that life goes, so the wolf should be able to eat the Moxian.

Then they ask another elderly man, who hears out both stories and says he dis-believes that the man could hide the wolf in the sack to save him so asks the wolf to prove it, meaning the wolf allows himself to be tied up and put in the bag… and then the elderly man tells the Moxian that he is now free and can beat the wolf inside the bag…. Yet apparently his moral conscious is too strong to know if he can do it or not.

-Then the book just ends there

-It seems like it’s telling some kind of well-known fable of trickery –tricked and be tricked kind of thing, but also …doesn’t really come to a salient conclusion.

  1. Spring Silk Worms

-About silk worm farmers that don’t like foreigners.

-What is a Picul? Unit of measurement.

-The family just seems to get poorer and poorer and keep on investing in silk worm farming…And I think never recovering from it.

Weird didgeridoo like Chinese music playing. Pretty good.

  1. Autumn Harvest

-Almost seems related to the Silk Worms story, they keep referencing silk worms… but I don’t think its actually related

-Very long story

-Goes in about “the long hairs” who are apparently barbarians who go about disturbing or warring with regular Chinese or something.

-Teung Pao. Main guy.

-A family on hard times, starving. Is able to borrow from wealthy family. And ends up feeding the village with their share.

Daoist Huang, Wang,

Best/funniest line in the book. “Abominable, abominable I tell you, they ate up my old cock. They ate my old cock. It abominable”
Teung Pao,  “The murderers, I see they ate up your old cock, the murderers.”

-Lots of foreign devil talk in the last 2 stories.

-Prolonged story about mistrusting foreigners…And then realising that foreigners have better technology…. For farming.

-Not even sure if the story ends on a happy note or not.  Doesn’t seem to be a real conclusion or moral.

-Other than perhaps share and care, rich people are bastards, foreigners sometimes have more decent technology that you can also leverage, and don’t be greedy with your farm work.

-But none of this really leads to a definitive conclusion.

The White Monkey (story 1) , The Jade Goddess (story 2) & The Canary Murders (story 4) were probably the most interesting and my favourite out of the 14.