The Tale of Li Wa (《李娃傳》) is a short novella by Bai Xingjian (白行简).

The story involves a tribute student (a provincial examinee), Zheng, trying to get the affections of Li Wa, a female prostitute in Chang’an. The protagonist spends his money on Li Wa and neglects his studying for the imperial examinations. He lives with Li Wa for two years and spends all of his money, which is ultimately exhausted. Li Wa is not the only aspect obstructing Student Zheng from his studies. There are portions of the story that, as written by Feng, are “devoted to a world without her, in fact, takes on an impetus and logic all of its own.”

After Zheng can no longer pay the prostitution costs, Li Wa abandons him, as does her madam. Student Zheng begins working at a funeral parlor as a dirge singer and at one point is the winner of a singing competition. The student’s father discovers him while visiting Chang’an and severely beats him, as he is upset that his son is in this condition. The father leaves the son for dead, disowning him. Later Li Wa encounters the protagonist, who is now a beggar. She helps him recover his health, reconcile with his father, and study for the examinations. The father exclaims that he and his son are “father and son as before” (C: 父子如初, P: fùzǐ rúchū, W: fu-tzu ju-ch’u) when they reconcile. Student Zheng remains devoted to Li Wa and the two marry.

Edited by staff

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