EDITED BY CORINNE H. DALE
ALBANY: SUNY PRESS, 2004
HARDCOVER: XXII. 247 PAGES. ISBN: 0-791-46022-3
Reviewed by ROBERT ANDRE LAFLEUR
The past few decades have seen a growing demand among teachers and scholars of Western literature for clear analyses of Chinese aesthetics. While there are many fine introductory materials, there remains a need for what might be called “intermediate” materials that prepare the serious readers for specialized works, Chinese Aesthetics and Literature: A Reader admirably fills part of that gap, with eleven well-written pieces by experts in Chinese literature who speak to a wide audience.
Corinne Dale, Professor of English at Belmont University, has drawn the essays in her collection from a wide range of works, and therein lies its strength, as well as its relatively minor weaknesses. Beginning with the “big picture,” Pauline Yu and Theodore Hunters articulate the broad outlines of the “imaginative universe” of Chinese literature with their essay on the implications of the Pangu origin myth for later writing. A rich array of essays follow, including pieces on language, visions of nature, and the “central” tradition in Chinese thought by Roger Ames, Tu Wei-ming, and Wilt and ldema Haft. Subsequent essays round out the picture, with a discussion of gender and moral virtue by Wendy Larson and Stephen Owen’s witty analysis of “meaning in the Chinese lyric.” Paul Ropp, Elizabeth Wichmann-Walczak, Leo Ou-fan Lee, and Yan Haiping introduce the reader to the major works and settings of Chinese fiction and drama, all the way up to the twenty-first century. Howard Goldblatt’s closing essay contextualizes Chinese writing for Western readers,
The greatest compliment that can be given to the volume as a whole is that it inspires the reader to pursue further reading. The notes give ambitious readers advice on the translations and scholarship that might serve them in further studies. Only two small criticisms emerged from my reading. First, the discussion of literature overwhelms that of aesthetics. Second, the reader who is not fully aware that the pieces in the volume were collected from other writings may be frustrated by the varying tone from one essay to another, since the individual pieces were written for different audiences and at different times over the past twenty years. They do not read with the consistency one hopes to find in essays written specifically for edited volumes. Dale’s chapter introductions are nonetheless helpful, and the volume is an admirable one that pulls the reader toward further study of the Chinese literary tradition.