Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Inns

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...

(The entire section is 692 words.)