Some critics have praised Shen Congwen for creating characters with beautiful souls. Readers credit him with having described beautiful and fulfilling styles of life, even in materially primitive surroundings, that conjure up the "health and dignity" prized by the Crescent Moon writers. Other critics value Shen Congwen as a realist writer. He has written many works exposing the abuses of the military in the countryside, and the vanity of the urban bourgeoisie. His stories reveal the plight and the strength of the common people.
Stories in this collection are:
‧The New and the Old 新與舊
‧The Husband 丈夫
‧Staff Adviser 顧問官
‧Qiaoxiu and Dongsheng 巧秀和冬生
Most of the stories come from Shen''s "classic" period, when he had already honed a fine writing style, and they are about rural folk from Shen''s native region, people he knew from experience. The contradictions seen here are between the "old" and the "new," and also between human values with enough integrity to nurture life, versus corruption that leads to the decline and death of a culture. It is not just a conflict between "good" and "bad." We can often see morals in Shen Congwen''s works, but they are subtle, and as a modern man, his sense of good and bad was too relative for him to be called a moralist. Even "barbaric" violence had its place in his ethic, if it were properly atoned for, as in the opening story of this collection. Moreover, he could always see good and bad in the same person. Shen Congwen was an optimist, a religious man who believed in the goodness of life and the universe, and in God, though his concept of God was abstract (sometimes he said it was precisely "the Abstract" that he loved, and I think this may be what he meant by God). Yet, Shen Congwen had his dark moments, as when he tried to commit suicide. In the pages below, I see contradictions and reversals in Shen''s Congwen''s portraits of "paradise," and even in his depictions of "corruption."