How are we to live under conditions of economic precarity and extreme social inequality? When all aspects of our lives are characterized by brutal competition and when genuine human connection, free of instrumental rationality, seems impossible? When our media are choked with fake news and our expressions of dissent are surveilled and censored by a state helmed by corrupt and incompetent bureaucrats? In such a world, does literature have anything to offer beyond providing a binge-worthy distraction?

So ask three recently translated texts written not in our own uncertain time but in another. Though produced on either side of the Ming–Qing transition, in a variety of genres, styles, and linguistic registers, by authors who range from the obscure to the ubiquitous, these story collections all limn the nightmares and fantasies of a world unglued from its past and heading toward a future that is hard to fathom. This is a...

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