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The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature

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VICTOR MAIR, ED.

NEW YORK: COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1995

(PAPER, 1996) XXXVII + 1325 PAGES

This fine anthology by a first-rate scholar may soon become standard fare in courses in Chinese or Asian literature. Indeed, Mair states that the book is directed to teachers and students (xxxvi). There have been several comparable anthologies, most dominated by poetry. This wide-ranging work extends to many genres, and has thus been precedented only by Cyril Birch’s aging two-volume Anthology of Chinese Literature. Teachers of Chinese literature and culture, particularly at the higher postsecondary level, may find this an excellent replacement for such works.

The 278 selections are divided into five broad categories. Part 1, “Foundations and Interpretations” (145 pages) oddly juxtaposes readings from (1) ancient inscriptions and divination texts; (2) texts of ancient thought, along with a few Buddhist texts (but no comparable texts of later Daoist or Neo-Confucian religious thought); and (3) works on literary theory and criticism. Part 2, “Verse” (357 pages) contains 165 items from many forms of Chinese poetry, including “Folk and Folklike Songs, Ballads, and Narrative Verse.” Part 3, “Prose” (250 pages) is a catch-all for forty-nine items of nondramat
ic nonfiction, such as biographies. Part 4, “Fiction” (340 pages) features twenty-eight short stories and extracts from novels and other texts of “fiction.” Part 5, “Oral and Performing Arts” (230 pages) presents thirteen extracts from the genre in which Mair is most expert.

The clearly attributed translations, many previously published, are generally excellent productions by leading scholars. A few are by Mair himself. The only real shock is an extract from Confucius’s Analects inexplicably drawn from the untrustworthy 1933 pseudotranslation by the dilettante Ezra Pound, who could not read Chinese.