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Contrary to the usual sympathetic image of Kang Youwei found in historical studies, The Big Cheat offers a starkly negative portrayal of Kang. Its author, Huang Shizhong, a late Qing revolutionary and prolific author of over 20 novels, depicts Kang as a lifelong master fraud. His attack on Kang sheds light on the reform-revolution divide featured in every narrative about the rise of modern China.

Huang’s novel stands as a period testimony to the political and ideological struggles for China’s future during the last years of the Qing dynasty before it fell in 1912. This is the first English language edition of the novel, translated by Luke S. K. Kwong, who offers an extensive introduction contextualizing this lessor-known historical perspective on the last years of imperial China.