Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Courtesan's Jewel Box

Book: The Courtesan's Jewel Box

Country: China

Description: This is a selection of popular Chinese stories from the 10th to 17th centuries. These stories were written in the spoken language that developed as a literary medium after the emergence of an urban commercial economy in the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1279). Originally the manuscripts of ordinary street story-tellers, this genre of fiction –deriving its material from the life and times of the period, with vivid writing and intricate plots, descriptions that are natural and vivacious– has now attained a lofty place as literature.
The twenty stories in this book were selected from over two hundred in several collections published at the beginning of the 17th century. (from

This was a good book, I thought. It gave me a much better feel for what it would actually be like to live in China than either of the other two books I've read about China. The stories in this book were purposefully mostly about normal people, so I got a feel for the customs of China. This included the fact that women were only bargaining chips in some of the stories (but not all), the fact that men could have more than one wife, the social structure of China, the mixture of religions, the fact that money is carried around on strings, and lots of other small but interesting facts.

Since it was an anthology, there was a mixture of stories, some better than others. Some of my favorites were "The Courtesan's Jewel Box" (a love story) and "Lazy Dragon" (the story of, essentially, the Chinese version of Robin Hood).

Would recommend to anyone with an interest in traditional Chinese culture.

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