Manhua Modernity review

Source: Association for Chinese Animation Studies (3/31/21)
Review: John A. Crespi, Manhua Modernity: Chinese Culture and the Pictorial Turn (University of California Press, 2020) 198 pp.
By Jeremy E. Taylor

John A. Crespi’s Manhua Modernity: Chinese Culture and the Pictorial Turn represents an important contribution to the study of print and visual cultures in mid-twentieth-century China. Given the prominence of Republican Shanghai in Crespi’s narrative, this book might also be seen as part of a broader attempt to re-assess the place of this city in the story of modern Chinese print and visual cultures—a trend that is evident in other recent monographs, such as Pedith Chan’s The Making of a Modern Art World (2017) and Paul Bevan’s “Intoxicating Shanghai:” An Urban Montage (2020). Like such scholarship, Crespi’s book challenges what he refers to as the “anti-urban bias” (27) inherent in some earlier work in the field. Yet Manhua Modernity goes much further than this, providing a new set of methodologies for “horizontally reading” pictorial magazines. Indeed, Crespi should be congratulated for his methodological and conceptual ambition, for he seeks not simply to re-assess the evolution of manhua per se, but also to demonstrate the potential contribution of such a re-assessment to fields such as “pictorial studies” and visual cultures. Manhua Modernity contextualizes the manhua form (even as it takes issue with some of the existing literature on the topic) and updates an earlier fascination with images as stand-alone objects. Crespi’s approach also helps to free the history of manhua from a “nation-centered narrative” (34), as per Bi Keguan’s much cited work on the topic and seeks to bring the very notion of “manhua”—a term that Crespi refuses to italicize—into the mainstream of Chinese cultural history. Continue reading

A Century of Chinese Literature in Translation review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Haiyan Xie’s review of A Century of Chinese Literature in Translation (1919-2019): English Publication and Reception, edited by Leah Gerber and Lintao Q. The review appears below and at its online home: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

A Century of Chinese Literature in Translation (1919-2019):
English Publication and Reception

Edited by Leah Gerber and Lintao Qi

Reviewed by Haiyan Xie

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright March, 2021)

Leah Gerber and Lintao Qi, eds., A Century of Chinese Literature in Translation (1919-2019): English Publication and Reception. London & New York: Routledge, 2020. xii + 187 pp. ISBN 9780367321291.

For the past several decades, translation studies have undergone several “turns,” such as that from linguistics to culture or that from culture to globalization.[1] None of these “turns,” however, seems to have escaped Eurocentric discourse, despite the many alternative voices from outside European countries. Against such a backdrop, Leah Gerber and Lintao Qi’s collection A Century of Chinese Literature in Translation (1919-2019): English Publication and Reception is an important contribution to the current “globalization turn” of translation studies, intervening in debates and issues concerning the field of translation studies, including the study of literature in translation from a non-Eurocentric perspective. This collection of essays, focusing on Chinese literature in translation, presents an impressive tapestry of topics, perspectives, and methodologies for a rethinking of the nature of translation and translation practice in today’s globalized context. It also demonstrates the editors’ effort to deconstruct some major stereotypes and dichotomies that, to various degrees, continue to haunt the nature of literature in translation. In doing so, this book also contributes to enriching our understanding of how Chinese literature becomes part of world literature through a “minor” culture of translation. Continue reading

Language Diversity in the Sinophone World review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Ashley Liu’s review of Language Diversity in the Sinophone World, edited by Henning Klöter and Mårten Söderblom Saarela. The review appears below and at its online home: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk A. Denton, editor

Language Diversity in the Sinophone World: Historical
Trajectories, Language Planning, and Multilingual Practices

Edited by Henning Klöter and Mårten Söderblom Saarela

Reviewed by Ashley Liu

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright March, 2021)

Henning Klöter and Mårten Söderblom Saarela, eds. Language Diversity in the Sinophone World: Historical Trajectories, Language Planning, and Multilingual Practices London: Routledge, 2020. xv + 330 pp. ISBN: 9780367504519.

Language Diversity in the Sinophone World is a collection of studies on the language policies and practices in polities that “pursue official language policies on the use of one or more Sinitic languages,” which include the PRC, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and Singapore. Whereas the study of language policies and multilingualism in the Chinese-speaking world is not new, the unique contribution of this volume is its “intervention in the developing field of Sinophone studies” (1). Regarding the importance of this volume, Klöter and Saarela highlight the “paradox” that Sinophone studies place an inherent emphasis on language but rarely address issues of language policies and practices (1). The Sinophone world as constructed by Klöter and Saarela is significantly different from that characterized in existing Sinophone studies. Whereas existing Sinophone studies, following the vision of Shu-mei Shih, mainly involve postmodern, postcolonial, and postnational critiques and analyses of literature and cinema, Klöter and Saarela’s volume primarily relies on historical, linguistic, sociological, and quantitative approaches regarding language policies and practices. In doing so, they expand a domain previously dominated by scholars of literature and cinema to include historians, linguists, sociologists, language policy experts, and those who employ quantitative methods. As someone who belongs to the former category—the status quo in Sinophone studies—I evaluate this volume’s usefulness to literary and film studies. Continue reading

A Modernity Set to a Pre-Modern Tune review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Brian Skerratt’s review of A Modernity Set to a Pre-Modern Tune: Classical-Style Poetry of Modern Chinese Writers, by Haosheng Yang. The review appears below and at its online home: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

A Modernity Set to a Pre-Modern Tune:
Classical-Style Poetry of Modern Chinese Writers

By Haosheng Yang

Reviewed by Brian Skerratt

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright March, 2021)


Haosheng Yang, A Modernity Set to a Pre-Modern Tune: Classical-Style Poetry of Modern Chinese Writers Leiden: Brill, 2016. ix + 255 pp. ISBN: 978-90-04-31079-7

Classical-style poetry is an unlucky genre. If one has not experienced suffering and struggled in society, one can hardly write any satisfying poems. . . . The feeling of suffering is not necessarily described in poems immediately. Poems do not necessarily describe suffering directly either. But because of the suffering, one’s emotion can be stimulated more deeply; one will think about writing poems, will be more sympathetic when reading other’s [sic] poems, and will express one’s own feelings more easily, even though those feelings might be far apart from suffering (Yang, 221).

So wrote Nie Gannu 聶紺弩 (1903-1986) in a letter to a friend. Nie, like many Chinese intellectuals of his generation, had enthusiastically embraced new ideas and social progress—including the New Culture Movement, New Literature, and leftist revolution—only to become a victim of the new China he had helped create. After training at the prestigious Huangpu Military Academy, Nie began a career as a journalist and intellectual; he was critical of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government and later joined the League of Left-Wing Writers. However, only a matter of years after the Communists came to power in 1949, Nie was labeled a rightist and sent to the “Great Northern Wilderness” (北大荒) in Heilongjiang for four years of labor reform. After he returned from hard labor, he was arrested again as a counterrevolutionary and only released following another ten years of confinement. What makes Nie’s case interesting is that his time spent doing hard labor inspired him to produce poetry—and not just any poetry, but dense, highly allusive, classical poetry, exactly the form and style attacked so vehemently by the New Literature movement decades earlier. When the supervisor at the labor site instructed the prisoners to compose poetry, as part of a nationwide campaign to create “new folk songs,” Nie recalls, “I do not know why, but suddenly I thought about composing poems in the old style. Maybe the farther I was from the literary circle, the more I believed that only old poetry was poetry. . . . As a result, that might be the first time I wrote about labor, and also the first time I officially composed classical-style poetry” (qtd. 183). The extreme physical and psychological toll of labor reform led this writer in his late fifties to find solace in poetry, and that solace he found most naturally in traditional, classical verse, rather than the modern, vernacular poetry demanded by fashionable literary circles, which he himself had once advocated. Continue reading

Ordinary Days: A Memoir in Six Chapters review

Source: Taipei Times (2/4/21)
Book review: The internationalist writers
A mixture of literary references from different cultures and personal reminiscence makes this a fascinating book
By Bradley Winterton / Contributing reporter

Ordinary Days: A memoir in six chapters, by Leo Ou-fan Lee and Esther Yuk-ying Lee.

Leo Ou-fan Lee (李歐梵) is a professor emeritus at Hong Kong’s Chinese University, and Ordinary Days: A Memoir in Six Chapters is a record of his second, and current, marriage, written in conjunction with his wife Esther Yuk-ying Lee (李玉瑩). Both had been married before, and Leo was almost 60 when he finally married Esther in 2000.

The spirit of Taiwan is everywhere in this book. It’s essentially a series of reminiscences about their marriage by the two authors, but Leo, though born in China, studied at the National Taiwan University (NTU). His father lived in Taiwan and Leo returned to Taipei (one of many return visits) for his father’s funeral.

The book consciously echoes the 18th century memoir, Shen Fu’s (沈復) Six Records of a Floating Life (浮生六記, of which only 4 chapters survive). Another influence is Eileen Chang (張愛玲). Her famous tale Love in a Fallen City (傾城之戀) is re-used in this book as the title of Chapter 4. Continue reading

The April 3rd Incident review

Source: LARB China Channel (1/21/21)
The Surrealism of the Real
Eleanor Goodman reviews The April 3rd Incident by Yu Hua
By Elenaor Goodman

Yu Hua, The April 3rd Incident, trans. Allan H. Barr (Pantheon Books, Nov 2018).

As readers will find in his massive novel Brothers and clever essay collection China in Ten Words, acclaimed Chinese writer Yu Hua has a highly developed sense of the absurd. This is perhaps both a defense mechanism and a literary advantage when living in a country in which the inconceivable has been made real. Yu Hua’s latest collection to come out in English, The April 3rd Incident, presents stories written between 1987 and 1991, yet the sense of foreboding, fear and repression is just as topical today as it was then.

The seven stories in this collection are not linked by plot or character, but they hang together tightly in terms of tone and theme. Throughout, there is death, paranoia, disorientation, ominous knocking, and a confusion between ‘dream’ and ‘reality’ embedded in a world that never seems entirely real. An alienation from one’s own sensations and perceptions, while still being utterly subsumed in them, is a thread that stretches between the stories. Characters recall dreams that seem to become manifest in the world; a truck driver sees the shadow of a boy he accidentally killed in his own son; a man is uncertain that the woman he has fallen in love with really exists. Nothing is ever what it appears to be. Continue reading

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister review

Source: LARB China Channel (1/29/21)
The Sisters Who Made Modern China
By James Carter
James Carter reviews Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister by Jung Chang

One of the great challenges for authors writing biographies is their relationship to their subjects. They risk either putting them on a pedestal and explaining away their foibles, or demonizing them and finding evil intent behind every action. Jung Chang has swung to both horns of this dilemma in the past. In Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China, she interpreted the historical evidence to claim that rather than the hidebound reactionary she is often portrayed to be, Cixi was a progressive visionary who, had she not been thwarted, would have presided over a golden age of Chinese democracy. On the other hand, in Mao: The Unknown StoryChang and co-author Jon Halliday so thoroughly and unskeptically demonized Mao that they achieved the unlikely effect of bringing sinologists to write a book about their book itself, Was Mao Really a Monster?

In Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China, Jung Chang has opened a window onto the lives of the Soong sisters – Soong Ai-ling, Soong Ching-ling, and Soong May-ling – who like Cixi are on the short list of the most famous women in China’s modern history. Chang does not shy away from criticism in this latest book, though that criticism is not, for the most part, directed at her subjects. Sun Yat-sen comes off especially poorly, as a womanizing political opportunist. Chiang Kai-shek doesn’t shine either, and we already know Chang’s views on Mao. Sister’s 300 pages entertain and titillate through remarkable stories of unlikely experiences, but without the controversy or the intimacy of Chang’s earlier books. Continue reading

Rain in Plural review

Source: EcoTheoReview (1/18/21)
Unwinding Underground: A Review of Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s Rain in Plural
By Hannah VanderHart

Rain in Plural by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. Princeton University Press, 2020. 105 pages. $17.95.

The multiple layers and the angles of Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s fourth collection of poetry, Rain in Plural, offer many doors though which a reader new to Sze-Lorrain’s work might enter: music, philosophy, dance—along with homages and allusions to the work of other writers, other artists. Even before opening Rain in Plural, there is a door within another door: the book’s cover featuring an image of the painting “Déjà vu, Déjà Blue” (2004) by Howard Hodgkin, the title of which references the 1980 power ballad by Dionne Warwick.¹ The painting itself features oversized, multi-layered blues curving in large brush strokes over the carved figure of a square (a visual door). Through this rich visual entrance that reimagines music via a visual art form—a fitting welcome to the poems that follow—the reader meets a speaker immediately in the poem, “More Vulnerable Than Others.” “So what if I break / I will continue to eat mud / unwind underground,” the poem opens. The first lines catch the reader off-guard—if one has assumed “the others” to be other humans, or if one is not prepared for a slide into metaphor. Poems are notoriously sleight of hand this way—their meanings shift underfoot; the ground is not stable, but the net of language itself. To eat mud and “unwind underground” points to growth and thriving that cannot be seen, that is below ground. It opens up, among other things, the idea of not-knowing—how little the reader knows about what is going on even in the natural world around them, the plant world of the yard or the park or even the houseplant, let alone inside another human being. The sheer agency and authority of the speaker is enviable, the poem’s verbs acknowledging the botanical power to break and live on (and even propagate) through breakage, to flourish underground, as well as to

mask banned signs

chew holes in every tall grapevine

breed my roots after a nap

spread fronds as free

clothes free money Continue reading

Remembering and Forgetting the Traumatic Past

My essay, “Remembering and Forgetting the Traumatic Past,” which reviews Lingchei Letty Chen’s The Great Leap Backward: Forgetting and Representing the Mao Years and Margaret Hillenbrand’s Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China, has been published by the MCLC Resource Center. The review appears below and at its online home: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for his editorial interventions.

Kirk Denton, editor

Remembering and Forgetting the Traumatic Past:
A Review Essay

The Great Leap Backward: Forgetting and Representing the Mao Years, by Lingchei Letty Chen
Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China, by Margaret Hillenbrand

Reviewed by Kirk A. Denton
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright January, 2021)

Margaret Hillenbrand, Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020. 292 pp. ISBN: 978-1-4780-0800-2 (paper); ISBN: 978-1-4780-0619-0 (cloth)

Lingchei Letty Chen, The Great Leap Backward: Forgetting and Representing the Mao Years Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2020. 304pp. ISBN 9781604979923 (cloth)

In The Fat Years (盛世), a novel by Koonchung Chan 陳冠中, a character named He Dongsheng tries to explain to his captors—it’s too complex to explain here—why the Chinese people have forgotten an entire month: “What I want to tell you is that, definitely, the Central Propaganda organs did do their work, but they were only pushing along a boat that was already on the move. If the Chinese people had not already wanted to forget, we could not have forced them to do so. The Chinese people voluntarily gave themselves a large dose of amnesia medicine.”[1]

Much has been made of efforts by the state in the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—famously referred to by Louisa Lim as the “People’s Republic of Amnesia”[2]—to repress memories that do not fit the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) politically-driven historical narrative, which emphasizes its central and singular role in driving the revolutionary past and modernizing the  present. It propagates this narrative through museums, party historiography, state-sponsored “main melody” films, textbooks, mainstream news media, etc. And it suppresses other forms of history that seek to recover memories of the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the 1989 Tiananmen protest movement, and the plight of migrant workers in more recent times. Continue reading

Method as Method review

Source: Cha: An Asian Literary Journal no. 46 (1/15/21)
By Liang Luo

Carlos Rojas (special issue editor), Method as Method, V16: N2 of Prism: Theory and Modern Chinese Literature. Duke University Press, 2019.

Twenty years ago, as a graduate student newly arrived in the United States from mainland China, I was propelled to wrestle with issues such as “Chineseness as a theoretical problem”, “the ethnic supplement”, “the logic of the wound”, and “the hegemony of Mandarin”, as discussed by Rey Chow in her introduction to Modern Chinese Literary and Cultural Studies in the Age of Theory. Many of the issues raised in that volume still resonate in the field today, not least in the recent revamping of the Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese (established in 1997) into Prism: Theory and Modern Chinese Literature (inaugurated in 2019). As the second issue and the first special issue of the journal, Method as Method not only actively intervenes in the ongoing debate on theory and modern Chinese literature, but also energises the field with fresh insights, signalling a “methodological turn” in modern Chinese studies.

Taking Lu Xun’s work as its starting point, Carlos Rojas, in his editor’s introduction to the volume, titled “Method as Method”, proposes to denaturalise both theories and objects and attend to their mutual formations by inviting us to focus on methodologies. Here method is presented as a way to enable objects and theories to speak to each other in productive ways. In his essay “Translation as Method”, Rojas tests this promise by reading translation as a method for negotiating not between different languages or dialects but rather between difference voices. This translational approach, he argues, offers a way of examining the possibilities and limits of fictional writing when it attempts to manifest the voices of socially marginalised figures. For Rojas, both Lu Xun and Yan Lianke attempt to grant their readers a voice or a vision they want to convey but they themselves may not share or have access to (232). He further argues that a similar translational framework may be at work when critics attempt to access fiction’s own attempts at rendering these marginalised voices. Continue reading

Photo Poetics review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announced publication of Jiangtao Gu’s review of Photo Poetics: Chinese Lyricism and Modern Media Culture, by Shengqing Wu. The review appears below and at its online home: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk A. Denton, editor

Photo Poetics:
Chinese Lyricism and Modern Media Culture

By Shengqing Wu

Reviewed by Jiangtao Gu

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright January, 2021)

Shengqing Wu, Photo Poetics: Chinese Lyricism and Modern Media Culture New York: Columbia University Press, 2020. 384 pp. ISBN: 9780231192217 (paper); ISBN: 9780231192200 (cloth); ISBN: 9780231549714 (e-book)

Reading Shengqing Wu’s new book Photo Poetics: Chinese Lyricism and Modern Media Culture, is like looking into a kaleidoscope of texts and images drawn from the late Qing and early Republican periods. The reading experience can be disorientating at times, but ultimately pleasurable and enriching, especially considering our otherwise barren knowledge of photo practices in China during this period.

Distinct from dominant discourses on the topic, which often privilege photography’s relationship with progressive and revolutionary cultures, Wu’s book is uniquely focused on the Chinese literati tradition and its engagement with the then-nascent medium. Counter to many May Fourth intellectuals’ disparagement of the tradition’s obsolescence and decay, Wu insists that the literati practice of lyricism was by no means “an ossified or dead entity” (27). Front-loaded with this argument, the book then asks us to consider the literati’s absorption of photography as evidence of the tradition’s longevity and vitality despite rapidly changing technological and social conditions. Continue reading

Utopian Ruins review

Source: (1/12/21)

Jie Li, Utopian Ruins, a Memorial Museum of the Mao Era. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020
Reviewed by Silvia Calamandrei

Utopian Ruins but also Ruins of an Utopia are the subject of Jie Li’s work, enquiring how to build  a memorial of the Maoist era, an archive-museum assembling together different pieces and traces of the past: on paper, in films and photographical work , as objects of articraft, as architectural environmental and landscape  signs, so to help new generations to fight against imposed amnesia and old generations to awaken  and remember: in fact historical narrative is  the fruit of intergenerational imbrication and stratification of memories, open to new readings.

A result of the “cultural studies” approach, this study of materials and signs evoking Maoist China memories is a useful tool in the debate on history and research into archives: the open question is how to narrate a controversial past as the Cultural Revolution period,  not flattening it to the reasons of the winners or the losers and reflecting all the contradictory aspects and complexity of past experiences. Continue reading

Detecting Chinese Modernities review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Jeffrey Kinkley’s review of Detecting Chinese Modernities: Rupture and Continuity in Modern Chinese Detective Fiction (1896-1949), by Yan Wei. The review appears below and at its online home: Many thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk A. Denton, editor

Detecting Chinese Modernities: Rupture and Continuity in
Modern Chinese Detective Fiction (1896-1949)

By Yan Wei

Reviewed by Jeffrey Kinkley

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright December, 2020)

Yan Wei, Detecting Chinese Modernities: Rupture and Continuity in Modern Chinese Detective Fiction (1896-1949) Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2020. 283 pp. ISBN 978-90-04-43127-0 (hardback), 978-90-04-43128-7 (e-book).

China has known and loved the “detective story” formula of Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle for more than 120 years. Detecting Chinese Modernities, a thoughtful, instructive, and well-researched monograph by Yan Wei, notes that after the first translation of a Sherlock Holmes story appeared in 1896, “detective fiction immediately became the most novel and popular Western literary genre among Chinese readers” (33). The mystery stories that swamped Chinese publishing in the first decade of the twentieth century were mostly translations, adaptations, and imitations, but soon Chinese authors contributed their own styles to the global fiction phenomenon. “The popularity of native Chinese detective fiction crested during the Republican period, in the 1920s to 1940s—the ‘golden age’ of the genre,” Wei affirms (4). After 1949, native crime and detective fiction fell on hard times, not only in the PRC, where it was banned for political reasons, but throughout the Sinophone world. Meanwhile detective novels flourished in Japan, in quantity and quality. Translations of them are bestsellers in the PRC today. Continue reading

Peach Blossom Paradise review

Source: Ploughshares Blog (11/27/20)
Peach Blossom Paradise, by Ge Fei
NYRB Classics | December 8, 2020
Reviewed by Mandana Chaffa

Peach Blossom Paradise, the first book in a trilogy by Ge Fei, is a coming-of-age story, a captivating blend of history and mythology, and a lyrical study of society and politics during the turn of 20th century China. In the original myth of the Peach Blossom Spring, written during the Jin dynasty, a fisherman accidentally wanders into a pristine and peaceful utopia, unaware of the political unrest outside, and never finds his way out again. It’s an apt allegory for Fei’s book: those in the village of Puji are mostly oblivious to the tumult in the Empire. The novel builds on the Peach Blossom myth, suggesting that the quest for utopias can lead to horrific subjugation, insanity, and more often than not, premature death.

The book begins when fifteen-year-old Xiumi meets Zhang Jiyuan, an intellectual and revolutionary sympathizer, whose alliances and activities plant seeds that will ultimately shift Xiumi’s worldview, even after his abrupt death at the end of the first section. Indeed, much of Xiumi’s journey to womanhood is shaped by external forces: her father goes missing. Her mother is more concerned with her wealth and status than her child. She survives a kidnapping and horrific rapes. All the while, she reads Zhang Jiyuan’s diary, the man wooing her from beyond the grave. Despite her hardships, Xiumi becomes a young woman of strength, courage, and a certain cool ruthlessness, but she still has a kind of naïveté in her idealism and single-mindedness. She continually underestimates the forces around her—including disloyalties in her own household and from purported allies. In Xiumi’s world, true intimacy and trust are less experienced than mourned. Expressed, tangible love between people is as delicate and fleeting as the lotus, chrysanthemums, and impatiens that Xiumi gardens. Continue reading

The Organization of Distance review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Benjamin Ridgway’s review of The Organization of Distance: Poetry, Translation, Chineseness (Brill 2018), by Lucas Klein. The review appears below and at its online home: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

The Organization of Distance:
Poetry, Translation, Chineseness

By Lucas Klein

Reviewed by Benjamin Ridgway

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright November, 2020)

Lucas Klein, The Organization of Distance. Leiden: Brill Press, 2018. xi + 298 pgs. ISBN-978-90-04-36868-2 (cloth).

To disuss the contributions of Lucas Klein’s The Organization of Distance, Poetry, Translation, Chineseness, as well as its flaws, one needs to start at the ending. Klein draws on the insight made by Friedrich Schleiermacher in 1813 that translators tend to either leave the writer of a work alone and endeavor to move the reader toward the unfamiliar culture of that work, in an act that Klein terms “foreignization,” or move the work closer to the reader’s horizon of expectations, making it more familiar and palatable, in an act he calls “nativization.” These two terms, informed by his understanding of debates on translation and translingual practice in the study of both modern and premodern Chinese literature, form the critical fulcrum for his interrogation of the “Chinesenss” of poetry written in both modern and classical Chinese. To grasp what Klein means by “Chineseness,” one needs to link points raised in the conclusion of his book back to the introduction. On the one hand, Klein intends to upset the binary between modern and premodern Chinese poetry through a reinterpretation of poetry of the Tang (618-907). His resistance to a static notion of Chineseness is deeply informed by the 1990s debates spurred by Stephen Owen’s article “What Is World Poetry.” In his introduction, Klein discusses the range of reactions to one of Owen’s most controversial claims—that modern Chinese poets wrote under the assumption/anticipation their poetry would be translated into Western languages. Klein notes that in this debate both those critics who, like Owen, disparage modern poets for cutting themselves off from a rich “native” classical poetic tradition and those who praise the radical clashing of the modern with the staid “Chineseness” of this tradition share a common blindness. He keenly observes that “For both of them, upholding premodernity as the seat of Chineseness lost, mournfully or gleefully, to a changing world is afforded by the fact that neither side looks very closely at the cross-cultural and translational elements of premodern Chinese poetry” (pp. 12-13). Continue reading