The Scholars, or Ju-Lin Wai-shih as it is called in Chinese, is one of the most famous novels to come out of early modern China. It was written sometime in the early 1700's (during the Ching occupation) by Wu Ching-tzu. The book is a vehicle for satirizing the official exam system of China, where the road to fame and fortune was being able to write eight part paku essays on the Confucian classics.

Following this books may be dificult for readers who are not familiar with Chinese literature and its structure. Like many Chinese books (such as the Water Margin) the book doesn't follow one central character or plotline. Instead, it will follow a character or group of characters for a few chapters, and then suddenly segue into telling the lifestory of their cousin, and then after a few chapters, the action may shift to someone who that person meets on a boat, and so on, for six hundred pages. The book is united by theme, not by plot or character.

The theme of the book is the trials and tribulations of the middle class, educated Chinese people of the 18th century, or those wishing to become middle class and educated. Although most descriptions of the book describe it as being critical of the exam system and Confucian values, my own reading was that certain of the scholars in the book were portrayed as being honest, while others were portrayed as hypocrites.

Although this book may be somewhat tedious for some, especially when you can't remember who exactly the present character is and why you are reading about him, it is a very interesting work for those who want to know about early modern China, and its values and habits. The condemnation of Feng Shui, for example, is very interesting.

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