“All the world’s a stage”, said Shakespeare, “ and all the men and women merely players.” His near-contemporary, Chinese dramatist Li Yu goes one step further and says that even in love, or perhaps especially in love, we can only play out our roles.
The Yijing (I Ching), or Scripture of Change, is traditionally considered the first and most profound of the Chinese classics. Originally a divination manual based on trigrams and hexagrams, by the beginning of the first millennium it had acquired written explanations and a series of appendices attributed to Confucius, which transformed it into a work of wisdom literature as well as divination. Over the centuries, hundreds of commentaries were written, but for the past thousand years, one of the most influential has been that of Zhu Xi (1130–1200), who synthesized the major interpretive approaches to the text and integrated it into his system of moral self-cultivation.
Late Ming China didn’t have the “Nigerian advance-fee scam”, but if Zhang Yingyu’s contemporary The Book of Swindles is any indication, it had just about every other con ever tried. This collection of short cautionary tales is, according to translators Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk, “said to be the first Chinese story collection focused explicitly on the topic of fraud.”