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