Critical Context

The southern Chinese school of writing at the turn of the century made extensive use of satire, in particular ridiculing officialdom and indicting its representatives for their ignorance, greed, and philandering. Yet some of these works rely too heavily on censure, and their characters lack the good-natured temper that Lao Ts’an exercises.

While many of these books remain important social documents, few have found the honored place in world literature attributed to The Travels of Lao Ts’an. Admired in China today for its masterful use of language and its descriptive power, it speaks to the universality of both human fallibility and the concept of the ideal man, whom Lao Ts’an represents with such fullness.