Academic journal article Chinese Literature, Essays, Articles, Reviews

Li Zhi, A Book to Burn & A Book to Keep (Hidden): Selected Writings

Academic journal article Chinese Literature, Essays, Articles, Reviews

Li Zhi, A Book to Burn & A Book to Keep (Hidden): Selected Writings

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)

Li Zhi, A Book to Burn & A Book to Keep (Hidden): Selected Writings, edited and translated by Rivi Handler-Spitz, Pauline C. Lee and Haun Saussy. Translations from the Asian Classics Series. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016. Pp. xxxvi + 366. $30.00 (paper), $90.00 (hardcover), $29.99 (e-book).

This is the first book-length translation of the writings of Li Zhi ... (1527-1602), the Late Ming Dynasty thinker better known in China by his style name, Li Zhuowu ..., into English. Wang Shouren ... (1472-1529), an important predecessor of Li's, has been widely accepted outside China by his style name Wang Yangming .... Li Zhuowu deserves the same treatment. Although the book comprises only a small portion of his complete works, which in a 2010 scholarly edition count for twenty-six volumes, it nevertheless offers a fascinating glimpse of the author's multifaceted contribution to the sixteenth century intellectual landscape in China.

After the Acknowledgements and an editorial notice (Conventions and Abbreviations), the book moves on to a 21-page Introduction from the editors which discusses, alongside an account of Zhuowu's life story through his tragic end, his interrelationship with fellow literati of his age, with a focus on events and people related to the selections. The reader is well advised to read the introduction before turning to the selected texts, as it contains valuable background information of the writer's life, the milieu of his age, as well as a comprehensive evaluation of his achievements and influences. The introduction, well-informed and cogent in general, hits a minor snag when it names Xu Wei ... (1521-1593), startlingly, as one of "the next generation of playwrights and critics," along with the Yuan brothers, Tang Xianzu, and Jin Shengtan, who "adopted" Zhuowu's theoretical statements about literature and art. Xu, Zhuowu's elder by six years, died nine years before the latter committed suicide in prison. Xu's famous four plays in one collection, Four Screeches from Monkeys ..., remain close to the Mongol Yuan Dynasty drama in their use of straightforward vernacular language and theatrical format. There has been no evidence that they were composed under any impact from Zhuowu's writings.

The translations from Zhuowu's A Book to Burn ... and Another Book to Burn . .. make the bulk of the book. The prefaces in the original version, including the author's own preface for the former and three by others for the latter, are placed in the first part of each. For the rest they follow the original generic structure of the two books in the order of "Letters," "Miscellaneous Writings (Short Essays and Discourses)," "Readings of History" (for the former only), and "Poetry." Two pieces from A Book to Keep (Hidden) ... follow in order, one of them being Zhuowu's marginalia comments ... of the First Emperor, which put the blame of the cruelty and repression of the sovereign's notorious reign on his subordinates.

The selections reveal Zhuowu's inquisitive and reflective mind in his mental exchanges with friends and acquaintances, and his ideas, frequently brilliant and sometimes inspirational, on a number of varied topics. Here one may find Zhuowu's observations on literary works like Outlaws of the Marsh ... and The Pavilion for Worshipping the Moon ..., as well as his close reading of history and religious texts. Each selection is preceded by a head note from its translator(s), and complemented by copious annotations. Following the selected writings from the author is a section entitled "The Historical Record," which consists of a biography of Zhuowu by Yuan Zhongdao ... , the youngest of the three brothers, and the memorial of impeachment submitted to Emperor Shenzong ... by Zhang Wentao ..., the supervising censor, which led to Zhuowu's arrest and imprisonment. The concluding parts of the book contain a 3-page chronology of the author's life, an 8-page bibliography, a brief account of the contributors (editors and translators), and the index. …

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