The Travels of Lao Ts'an

by Liu E

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Themes and Meanings

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Author Liu E was a farsighted man who attempted to promote commercial, industrial, and transportational projects. Although he met with little success in his own life, he did inspire those who followed him. Lamenting his failures and dying in political exile, Liu E remained forgotten until 1925, when his identity as the author of The Travels of Lao Ts’an was established.

To an extent, then, Lao Ts’an represents his creator’s idealized persona: a balanced man of action and meditation who brings about change. Through his character, Liu E reveals his own philosophy, which combines the precepts of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Lao Ts’an’s dedication to doing good, his hatred of tyrannical authority, his unquestioning trust of others, his honesty, and the spontaneity of his actions are all derived from these philosophies. The adventures that he enjoys during his travels might, in this light, be considered allegorical, for they illustrate how such virtues could bring about change in a stagnant and often corrupt society. Uncontaminated, selfless, and solitary, this idealized figure represents not only outward progress but also beauty of the soul, a progress far more important.

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