Idle Talk under the Bean Arbor

A Seventeenth-Century Chinese Story Collection

Aina the Layman
With Ziran the Eccentric Wanderer
Edited by Robert E. Hegel

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  • Published: April 2017
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; Literature / Fiction
  • Bibliographic information: 320 pp., 4 bandw illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Written around 1660, the unique Chinese short story collection Idle Talk under the Bean Arbor (Doupeng xianhua), by the author known only as Aina the Layman, uses the seemingly innocuous setting of neighbors swapping yarns on hot summer days under a shady arbor to create a series of stories that embody deep disillusionment with traditional values. The tales, ostensibly told by different narrators, parody heroic legends and explore issues that contributed to the fall of the Ming dynasty a couple of decades before this collection was written, including self-centeredness and social violence. These stories speak to all troubled times, demanding that readers confront the pretense that may lurk behind moralistic stances.

Idle Talk under the Bean Arbor presents all twelve stories in English translation along with notes from the original commentator, as well as a helpful introduction and analysis of individual stories.
Robert E. Hegel is Liselotte Dieckmann Professor of Comparative Literature and professor of Chinese at Washington University. The translators are Lane J. Harris, Robert Hegel, Li Fang-yu, Li Qiancheng, Mei Chun, Lindsey Waldrop, Annelise Finegan Wasmoen, Alexander C. Wille, Xu Yunjing, and Zhang Jing.

"Employment of separate translators was a brilliant move since the stories are all told in different voices."
-Stephen West, co-translator of The Orphan of Zhao and Other Yuan Plays

"This use of a frame story has elicited frequent comparisons to the Decameron. . . . [And since the collection] was written shortly after the fall of the Ming, the stories offer a complex range of attitudes toward the values of dynastic loyalty and martyrdom."
-Maram Epstein, author of Competing Discourses: Orthodoxy, Authenticity, and Engendered Meanings in Late Imperial Chinese Fiction

"A landmark collection of short stories from the early Qing, Idle Talk under the Bean Arbor brings sophisticated innovations to the vernacular storytelling tradition. Refreshingly shorn of the formulaic didacticism of its late Ming predecessors, these stories' pervasive irony, dark humor, subversive views of history and cynical exposure of moral bankruptcy are conveyed in a lively vernacular expertly rendered by the dedicated team of translators under Robert Hegel's seasoned editorship. Highly recommended."
-Grace S. Fong, author of Herself an Author: Gender, Agency, and Writing in Late Imperial China

Introduction Gossip and Exaggeration in Aina's Short Stories / Robert E. Hegel
Terms of Measurement and Titles
Chronology of China's Historical Periods (Dynasties and States)

Preface: Dashed off by Whistling Crane of the Empty Heavens / Translated by Li Qiancheng
Foreword written by Aina the Layman from Shengshui, with Commentary by Ziran the Eccentric Wanderer from Yuanhu / Translated by Li Qiancheng

Session 1: Jie Zhitui Sets Fire to His Jealous Wife / Translated by Mei Chun and Lane J. Harris
Session 2: Fan Li Drowns Xishi in West Lake / Translated by Li Fang-yu
Session 3: A Court-Appointed Gentleman Squanders His Wealth but Takes Power / Translated by Alexander C. Wille
Session 4: The Commissioner's Son Wastes His Patrimony to Revive the Family / Translated by Li Fang-yu
Session 5: The Little Beggar Who Was Truly Filial / Translated by Zhang Jing
Session 6: The Exalted Monks Who Faked Transcendence / Translated by Zhang Jing
Session 7: On Shouyang Mountain, Shuqi Becomes a Turncoat / Translated by Mei Chun and Lane J. Harris
Session 8: With a Transparent Stone, Master Wei Opens Blind Eyes / Translated by Alexander C. Wille
Session 9: Liu the Brave Tests a Horse on the Yuyang Road / Translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen
Session 10: Freeloader Jia Forms a League on Tiger Hill / Translated by Robert E. Hegel and Xu Yunjing
Session 11: In Death, Commander Dang Beheads His Enemy / Translated by Lindsey Waldrop
Session 12: In Detail, Rector Chen Discourses on the Cosmos / Translated by Robert E. Hegel

Afterthoughts on Stories
Historical and Cultural References
Glossary of Chinese Characters

"Editor Robert Hegel has assembled an erudite team of luminaries in late imperial translation and scholarship. . . . It is, in short, a valuable and comprehensive research tool for the original Doupeng xianhua in particular and for late imperial fiction in general. Being so many different things, the volume is accessible and useful to a number of audiences: casual readers looking to escape the heat of a summer afternoon reading; undergraduates familiarizing themselves with the breadth and depth of Chinese letters; and specialists in the field."
-Nathaniel Isaacson, China Review International