Swindle All the Way!

Holiday Advice From the Late Ming Dynasty


In The Book of Swindles, Rea and Rusk give us hilarious and sobering proof that swindling isn’t just a contemporary concern but has been around for centuries. . .  Besides giving insight into deep societal concerns, The Book of Swindles is a great read.

~Ian Johnson, author of The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao

The year may be coming to an end we are looking back over 400 years for some fun wisdom. In today’s guest blog post Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk, translators of Zhang Yingyu’s The Book of Swindles: Selections from a Late Ming Collection, relay this advice from the stories in Yingyu’s work.

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“I’ve heard it said that eras of decline are rife with vice and thievery.”

To warm your heart and lift your spirits this holiday season, we present ten tips for surviving and thriving in an age of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” This advice comes from Zhang Yingyu’s The Book of Swindles, which was first published some four hundred years ago—and just over twenty years before the Ming dynasty collapsed.

10. Shun Moral Degenerates

In dealing with people of habitually immoral conduct, one must keep them from getting too close. (“Inciting a Friend to Commit Adultery and Swindling Away His Land”)

9. Don’t Pay Up Front

The lesson is clear: trust no one. If you really want to buy scholastic advancement, sealing up silver in advance is not the way to go. (“Silver with Sham Seals Is Switched for Bricks”)

8. Hide Your Valuables

A traveler on the road doesn’t seek ill-gotten gains and keeps his own property safely hidden. It’s the only way to prevent loss. (“Dropping a Bag by the Roadside to Set Up a Switcheroo”)

7. Don’t Trust Go-Betweens

The perils of dealing with brokers are legion. They go behind their clients’ backs to use the goods they bring in for all sorts of underhanded deals. They often steal from their suppliers, and they invariably use the stock of one client to pay off debts to another. (“A Conniving Broker Takes Paper and Ends Up Paying with His Daughter”)

6. Don’t Flatter Yourself

Why on earth would someone he’d just met on the road agree to sleep with him? Was he so handsome that the woman fell in love with him just like that? It is the sweetest words that are laced with poison. That’s why from her honeyed words alone one could tell she was a con woman. (“Three Women Ride Off on Three Horses”)

5. Spurn Lawyers

Some folks nowadays claim that it’s the clerks who know the law best. What they fail to realize is that it’s the people who know the law best who are most wont to abuse it! ….Grasp not and scheme not, and you’ll never be taken in by crooks’ swindles. (“A Fake Freeloader Takes Over a Con”)

4. Stay Out of Court

Court underlings depend on swindling for their very livelihood; it’s how they’re able to live so comfortably. The volume of their swindles is beyond reckoning. Everything—they swindle! Every day—they swindle! Everyone—they swindle! (“Swindled on the Way Out of a Court Hearing”)

3. Steel Your Mind against Sorcery

Dark sorcery beguiles like a fox spirit: it can lead astray only a mind that already has some evil in it. Keep your mind upright, and even if evil spirits surround you they will not be able to harm you. (“Trusting in Alchemy Harms an Entire Family”)

2. Understand How Political Manipulation Works

Whenever a government officer engages in treachery, it’s because he understands his chief’s character and can manipulate it to his own ends. (“An Officer Reprimands a Captured Criminal in Order to Halve His Flogging”)

1. Never Abuse State Power

Hence the sages teach us again and again to treat ordinary people as one’s betters and never to use state power to be domineering. Pride has been the undoing of innumerable kings, dukes, and other great men—to say nothing of ordinary nobodies! (“Haughtiness Leads to a Lawsuits That Harms Wealth and Health”)


Explore more book in the Translations from the Asian Classics series and save 30%  through December 31, 2019 on our website when you use coupon code: Holiday2019 at checkout.

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