Stanford News has a brief feature on Ronald Egan’s new book on Li Qingzhao 李清照 (1084-1150s): The Burden of Female Talent: The Poet Li Qingzhao and Her History in China, they say, “is the first critical treatment of Qingzhao’s writing in English to appear in 50 years.” They don’t know that Chinese surnames come before given names, but the feature is still worth reading. Here’s an excerpt focusing on what makes Egan’s approach important:
Unlike traditional Chinese scholarship, Egan’s groundbreaking approach to investigating Li Qingzhao’s life and writings examines her place in history before analyzing her literary work. Reconstructing the social and literary world in which Qingzhao wrote has to come first, Egan explained, because it enables him to address the gender biases she has faced throughout the past 800 years of Chinese scholarship and criticism.
“I can’t start talking about my understanding of her literary works,” Egan said, “until the reader sees the whole story unpacked and deconstructed. And then we can go back with all that in mind and have a fresh look at her literary works. Only by doing that can we accurately gauge her achievement as a poet.”
Click the image above for the full piece.
The entire run of Sino-Platonic Papers are now available for free download, including Jiaosheng Wang’s translations of The Complete Ci-Poems of Li Qingzhao 李清照 (1989), David McCraw’s Pursuing Zhuangzi as a Rhymester (1995), and Jonathan Ratcliffe on “The Mythos of the One-Eyed Man in Greek and Inner Asian Thought” (2014). From Victor Mair:
Sino-Platonic Papers began in 1986 and for its first twenty years remained a print publication.
In 2006, however, Sino-Platonic Papers became an electronic publication, with all new issues released on the Web for free. Since that time we have been gradually converting the print issues to PDFs so that they could also be made available for free to readers around the world. We are very pleased to announce that process is now complete–Two hundred and forty-nine and counting!
All issues of Sino-Platonic Papers are now available for free at www.sino-platonic.org.
We continue to publish new material, so check our website often to find our latest issues.
The Burden of Female Talent: The Poet Li Qingzhao and Her History in China
by Ronald Egan
Widely considered the preeminent Chinese woman poet, Li Qingzhao 李清照 (1084-1150s) occupies a crucial place in China’s literary and cultural history. She stands out as the great exception to the rule that the first-rank poets in premodern China were male. But at what price to our understanding of her as a writer does this distinction come? The Burden of Female Talent challenges conventional modes of thinking about Li Qingzhao as a devoted but often lonely wife and, later, a forlorn widow. By examining manipulations of her image by the critical tradition in later imperial times and into the twentieth century, Ronald C. Egan brings to light the ways in which critics sought to accommodate her to cultural norms, molding her “talent” to make it compatible with ideals of womanly conduct and identity. Contested images of Li, including a heated controversy concerning her remarriage and its implications for her “devotion” to her first husband, reveal the difficulty literary culture has had in coping with this woman of extraordinary conduct and ability. The study ends with a reappraisal of Li’s poetry, freed from the autobiographical and reductive readings that were traditionally imposed on it and which remain standard even today.
Click on the image for more information & how to order.