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Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, #1)
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Bridge of Birds > A Slight Flaw in His Character...

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P. Aaron Potter (PAaronPotter) | 585 comments I see up top that Becca or somebody made me discussion reader. To quote Sheen of Jimmy Neutron, "I accept this responsibility, understanding the consequences that you have bestowed against me."

I love the heck out of this book, and it's partly because of how neatly Hughart wraps up all the loose threads by the end. However, some mysteries remain, and one which has tickled my brain is the nature of Li Kao's "slight flaw" in his character. At several points, Master Li himself hints that it is his amorality, and certainly he's a scam artist of the first water, happy to lie, cheat, steal, and murder his way towards his goals. But those goals themselves regularly prove to be eminently moral ones.

So where's the "flaw?"


Mr. Noah Sturdevant (noahsturdevant) | 173 comments I wondered this too. I kind of see him announcing his slight flaw as a warning he gives his opposition to give them a fighting chance. Basically, he tells everyone he meets "I don't fight fair." Totally agree on the ending btw.


message 3: by Sarah (last edited Feb 02, 2013 09:52AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sarah | 19 comments Well, his goals might be moral but still, while discussing the plan to obtain the root Li Kao says:

"Unfortunately that means that we will have to murder somebody, and I have never truly enjoyed slitting the throats of innocent bystanders. We must pray that we will find somebody who thoroughly deserves it.”

This might be open to interpretation but it does imply several things. The first being that Li Kao has, in the past, killed an innocent bystander(s). This explains how he knows he doesn't enjoy doing so. The second thing that it suggests is that if there wasn't a not-so-innocent person available, he would have considered doing it again.

Is that enough to count as a 'slight flaw'?


Mapleson | 94 comments My take on the matter is that traditional Chinese society is very much about the 'proper' way of doing things. Master Li does not conform to society in this way and as such his character is flawed according to the mores of the time.

Also, his actions bring rise to the question: do ends justify the means?


Tina (javabird) | 340 comments I haven't read very far yet, but I interpreted the "slight flaw" to mean he was a drunkard or alcoholic, which was the state in which #10 Ox found him.


Paul (latepaul) | 112 comments Yes, I read it as him being too fond of wine too.


Paul Harmon (TheSaint08D) | 531 comments Ahhh the Flaw will be revealed you have to be VERY patient and observant until the very end ;)


Paul (latepaul) | 112 comments Paul wrote: "Ahhh the Flaw will be revealed you have to be VERY patient and observant until the very end ;)"

I've finished the book and I still thought it was about being a drunk - have I missed something? or is it revealed in the sequels?


Paul Harmon (TheSaint08D) | 531 comments Paul wrote: "Paul wrote: "Ahhh the Flaw will be revealed you have to be VERY patient and observant until the very end ;)"

I've finished the book and I still thought it was about being a drunk - have I missed s..."


I'll private message...no spoilers :)


P. Aaron Potter (PAaronPotter) | 585 comments On the contrary, in the second book, it turns out that Master Li does his best work under the influence of mind-altering substances. Kinda like Ray Charles.


Paul Harmon (TheSaint08D) | 531 comments Motley Crue only recorded one Album sober...Dr Feelgood Ironically...yeah that might be a bad example though.


Casey Hampton (caseyhampton) | 570 comments I guess I interpreted the "flaw" as being ironic considering it was only someone with a character flaw (pun?) that was able to achieve success in navigating society's pitfalls.
But I easily could be wrong on this one.


Mapleson | 94 comments I've now finished the book and Master Li explains his flaw in Chapter 22: (view spoiler)


David Sven (Gorro) | 1548 comments As it turns out Master Li's general alertness increases with wine

I propped the old man’s head up and poured wine down his throat until he had revived enough to grab the jar and finish the rest of it at a gulp,


Paul (latepaul) | 112 comments @Mapleson - that merely re-states that he has a flaw, not what the flaw is.


Andrew | 28 comments surely his flaw is his Machiavellianism ( is that a word? ) which fortunately he uses to achieve a type of justice, or at least a balance?


P. Aaron Potter (PAaronPotter) | 585 comments Then how is it a flaw?


Andrew | 28 comments some people would see low cunning and sneakiness as a character flaw


Kris (KVolk) | 759 comments I think his intentions are pure but his methods are not...as some one said above "does the end justify the means"...by framing the question about ends and means, as a character flaw issue, you can get some new more interesting debate started...


Casey Hampton (caseyhampton) | 570 comments Kris wrote: "by framing the question about ends and means, as a character flaw issue, you can get some new more interesting debate started."

Really? Hmmm, not sure. The whole ends justifying the means argument seems pretty flat since it merely depends on the position of the observer to the observed. While the character flaw issue is intriguing.


Kris (KVolk) | 759 comments Casey wrote: "Kris wrote: "by framing the question about ends and means, as a character flaw issue, you can get some new more interesting debate started."

Really? Hmmm, not sure. The whole ends justifying the..."


yes I am glad we agree about it...


Kdawg91 | 285 comments I think its a case of the character being very and pardon the expression "House" (TV show) like. He like the others have stated is amoral, a drunk, and about 5 steps ahead of the curve which is a drastic glaring difference from the society he lives in


Mapleson | 94 comments @Paul, the quote is pretty concise about what the flaw is, (view spoiler).

Having now finished the book, I'm not sure Master Li's intentions are so pure either. He's so smart that crime doesn't challenge or interest him much, but solving crimes is ten times as hard. Rather than embarking on this quest for the good of the children of ku-fu, he's about it for a sake of interest and challenge that he doesn't fine in everyday life.

At no point does Master Li claim his intentions are pure, he's just following through to the end because its such a delightful puzzle.


Paul (latepaul) | 112 comments Mapleson wrote: "@Paul, the quote is pretty concise about what the flaw is, [spoilers removed].

I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on that. When someone talks about "a flaw" I'm thinking of something specific like a tendency to jealousy, a bad temper, laziness, drunkenness etc. What you quoted is very general, hence why I read it as just saying he has a flaw but in a different way.

Clearly you see it differently and that's ok.


message 25: by Lepton (last edited Feb 09, 2013 05:23PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lepton | 176 comments I take Li Kao's flaw as a lack of virtue or morality specifically from a Confucian perspective of virtue.

Is that too formulaic of an answer?

However, I don't really regard him as a man of Tao, which might have been the natural tendency for his opposition to take regarding Confucianism.

It's funny to note that he is Li Kao, yet he specifically lacks li, propriety or etiquette, conformance to social norms. He is man of knowledge but not of moral character.

If he were a man of Tao, I'd suspect there would be a good deal less emphasis on his knowledge and intelligence as these are empty and transient as most things are in Tao.


Ruth (till-tab) | 1020 comments I'm not yet halfway through the book, so my feelings may change, but I kind of took it that this was a mis-truth, because, in fact, he has a rather massive flaw in his character. Actually, he seems to lack a great deal to redeem his character, which makes him enjoyable. It's like when people say 'it's a little bit windy' during a hurricane.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 1760 comments While I agree he revealed his flaw in the end, I kind of see Master Li as an annoying uncle who keeps repeating the same stories. "When I worked in advertising" or "walking uphill both ways"... it kind of has that sort of effect.


Frank | 10 comments Master Li's flaw is not that he has done things which are bad in the name of good. His flaw is his hubris in declaring himself judge, jury, and executioner of said actions whenever it is convenient for him to do so. His drinking problem is a sign that he is trying to forget those mistakes he has already made, or at the least dull the pain of them.


message 29: by Cliff (last edited Feb 20, 2013 09:01PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cliff | 57 comments Lepton wrote: "I take Li Kao's flaw as a lack of virtue or morality specifically from a Confucian perspective of virtue.
...
It's funny to note that he is Li Kao, yet he specifically lacks li, propriety or etiquette, conformance to social norms. He is man of knowledge but not of moral character."


Actually, I think you've hit the nail on the head here. It's entirely in keeping with the rest of Barry Hughart's novel to point out the double meaning in the phrase "flaw in my character."

The cleverness comes from the use of the word "character." It is being used to mean both the flaw in him as a person as well as the flaw in the "character" used in his name. Meaning that while the character Li (propriety/etiquette) is used to write his name, it does not accurately describe him. So, the statement, "there is a flaw in my character" not only states that there is a flaw, but what the flaw is.

Or maybe I'm overthinking it. LOL.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 1760 comments Actually Cliff, you are probably exactly right. I love that!


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