The Travels of Lao Ts'an Analysis

Liu E

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Inns. True to his name, Lao Ts’an moves to a series of inns of varying quality. These lodgings are spartan, but differ in cleanliness and service. Walls surrounding the inns allows animals and carts to be kept inside. Interior buildings include the owners’ residences, kitchen areas, and guest rooms. Rooms are furnished simply with wooden tables, chairs, and benches. Important fixtures are heated brick beds called kangs that are also used for sitting. Travelers bring their own bedding and towels; the inns provide hot water for washing and drinking. Doorways and windows usually have curtains (lientzu) for privacy. In the summer these are light, but in winter they are heavy padded cotton to keep warmth inside. To supplement the modest heat radiating through the kangs, rooms have charcoal braziers. Some inns serve meals, but more often guests have food brought in from outside restaurants. Lao Ts’an’s preference for such lodgings is a marker of his modesty and upright character.

Government offices

Government offices. Lao Ts’an visits a number of different yamen or magistrate’s offices located near centers of walled cities, within their own walled compounds, which contain linked courtyards that are hierarchically arranged. Buildings typically include the officials’ living quarters, courtrooms and halls for business, small garden areas, offices for staff, and siderooms for bailiffs and runners. The grandeur of a yamen reflects the importance of the official who resides there. Some of the novel’s action occurs in the halls where magistrates take evidence in their roles as judges. Lao...

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The Travels of Lao Ts'an Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Dolezelova-Velingerova, Milena, ed. The Chinese Novel at the Turn of the Century. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980. The chapter by Donald Holoch analyzes the two allegorical incidents in the novel’s first chapter and claims that the remainder of the novel can be seen as a structural elaboration of these opening allegories.

Hsia, C. T. “The Travels of Lao Ts’an: An Exploration of Its Art and Meaning.” Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies 7, no. 2 (August, 1969). This article combines a thorough analysis of the novel’s key aesthetic features with interesting historical research on the pro-Boxer-Rebellion officials who served as Liu E’s models for Yü Hsien and Kang Pi, who run roughshod over the guilty and the innocent alike in order to garner fame as hanging judges.

Lang, D. M., and D. R. Dudley, eds. The Penguin Companion to Classical, Oriental, and African Literature. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969. The section on Liu E emphasizes the stylistic advance represented by The Travels of Lao Ts’an in its highly original prose descriptions of landscape and musical performances.

Lu Hsün. A Brief History of Chinese Fiction. Translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang. Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1976. This book’s section on “novels of exposure” of the Ch’ing dynasty contains an analysis of The Travels of Lao Ts’an’s portrayal of the official Kang Pi, whose incorruptibility is offset by his autocratic and ruthless ways.

Shadick, Harold. Introduction to The Travels of Lao Ts’an, by Liu E. Rev. ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990. Includes updated introductory material. An excellent starting place.