It might have been the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates who once said that an unexamined life is not worth living, but his lessons are remarkably well applied in the novel, The Ten Thousand Things, set in 14th-century China. Author John Spurling has modeled his fictional protagonist Wang Meng by hewing closely to the real-life equivalent, one of the Four Masters of The Yuan and best known for his Chinese landscape painting (see Beyond the Book). Wang Meng's life spanned one of China's most turbulent times: when the end of Kublai Khan's 90-year Mongol empire lead to civil war and anarchy, eventually crowning a new emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang, who launched the Ming dynasty.
As the novel opens, Wang Meng is seventy-eight years old and in jail charged with conspiracy against the government because he attended a private viewing of art. Confused and irritated by this punishment, Wang narrates...
John Spurling talks about why he felt compelled to write The Ten Thousand Things in The Spectator.
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