Angela Jung Palandri
[Fortress Besieged] is predominantly a social satire…. Although it focuses on the Chinese intellectual or pseudointellectual class, especially sham academicians with shallow Western pretensions, it also deals with the broad spectrum of Chinese society permeated with ignorance, corruption, and hypocrisy during the early stages of the War of Resistance against Japan. The picaresque humor serves as comic relief to the prevailing mood of pessimism symbolized by the passive, nonaggressive protagonist's growing disenchantment with life.
Despite its large canvas and thematic complexity, the narrative is held together by artistic coherence. Its structural unity is achieved by means of a simple plot, according to Aristotle's definition—all the actions and events revolving around the hero (or rather anti-hero, in this case) follow in a logical sequence. The book consists of nine chapters. The first chapter provides the reader with the protagonist's background and reveals in the hero's character the flaws that lead to his downfall. Chapters Two through Nine deal in three stages with the protagonist's gradual alienation and descent into despair. (pp. 102-03)
[It] is clear that the story is commonplace, lacking the glamor of high romance or the thrills of sensationalism. But what makes this book extraordinary and delightful reading is not just the author's psychological insight into his characters or his display of wide erudition, but his manipulation of language…. It is this rich verbal texture that makes this prose narrative border on poetry. (p. 103)
Angela Jung Palandri, "China: 'Fortress Besieged'," in Journal of Asian Studies (copyright 1980 by the Association for Asian Studies), Vol. XL, No. 1, November, 1980, pp. 102-04.