I was recommended this book by my Chinese religon’s professor a few years ago. While reading it he was finally able to understand why it was important for Poetry to be included in the examinations, and how this brought about a shared culture for scholars, similar to that seen in the Glass Bead Game.

I thought the book started strongly, it was interesting to see the fake historical style, which I think worked well in the beginning, but less well as the story progressed and it was divulged from, falling aside completley when convineant. As the book went on I became more disappointed with it. I was wanting more insight about how and why the culture functioned, and some greater challenge to the system. In the end I felt disappointed by the lack of anything happening or changing.

It was only at the end when I was reading the “three lives” that I realised why I had a problem with this book. The most obvious thing to me was that there were no women included in the Castalian order. (And not only that but there were no women in the book at all, I think it wasn’t until 3/4s of the way through that a woman spoke and then it was to talk about how the point of her entire life was the life of her son!)

Not only were women not included, but it was not even mentioned that women might have an interest in things intellectual or academic. But there place was clearly not in this realm. When reading the three lives, even the world that was ruled by women still had men in the position of power and holder of all the knowledge. Needless to say I found this terribly dissapointing. To me this wasn’t the reflection on the Confucian system of ruling literati, rather this was simply the monks of the Catholic church being retold in a variety of ways. It wasn’t really about the pursuit of knowledge, but rather about the pursuit of spirituality.

While I can’t say this was a bad book, it was definitely not one for me. There was the potential for interesting insights, but in the end what was interesting to the author, and what was interesting to me were totally different things.


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