Over at China Channel, Yunte Huang’s enthusiastic review of How to Read Chinese Poetry in Context: Poetic Culture from Antiquity Through the Tang, edited by Zong-qi Cai, is now live.
It may come as no surprise to scholars well versed in Sinology, but the central thesis that emerges from this eclectic collection of essays bears repeating: poetry played a unique, indispensable role in the making of Chinese culture. Percy Shelley’s romantic hyperbole that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” would have been a shrewd ethnographic description of ancient China, if we were to delete the word “unacknowledged.” As Cai puts it in his succinct preface to the volume, poetry indeed permeated every corner and layer of Chinese society: in the public arena, poetry played a key role in diplomacy, court politics, empire building, state ideology and education; in the private sphere, poetry was used by people of different social classes “as a means of gaining entry into officialdom, creating self-identity, fostering friendship, and airing grievances.”
Click the image to link to the full review.
On his blog at Jacket2 Charles Bernstein has posted Yunte Huang’s 黃運特introduction to his 1997 book SHI: A Radical Reading of Chinese Poetry. Huang has since become one of the foremost figures in Chinese – American literary studies, translating Ezra Pound and Michael Palmer into Chinese, and writing the scholarly books Transpacific Imaginations and Transpacific Displacement, as well as the recent Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History. Here’s how Huang’s intro to SHI begins:
This book is not an attempt to grasp the “essence” of Chinese poetry, nor is it an endeavor to produce an over-polished version of English that claims aesthetic superiority over other works in the same field. It grapples rather with the nature of translation and poetry, and explores poetic issues from the perspective of translation and translation issues from the perspective of poetry. Looking from such a vantage point, translation is no longer able to hide itself in our blind spot; instead, the often-invisible face of translation is being brought to the foreground of poetic texture and the traces of translation’s needle work are being exposed to the reader’s view. With its agenda hidden, translation is too often a handyman for the metaphysical, mystical, or universal notion of poetry. When emerging from obscurity, translation becomes an ally with poetic material and enacts the wordness of the words. And this book strives to strengthen the alliance between translation and poetry through various textual and conceptual means that I will discuss now.