Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture

By Layton, Kelly | The China Journal, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture


Layton, Kelly, The China Journal


Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture, edited by Edward Davis. London: Routledge, 2005. xxxiv + 786 pp. £125/US$210.00 (hardcover).

Comprising entries ranging from lesbianism in literature and Political Pop to sex shops and dakou musical culture, the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture represents an attempt both to survey and to understand recent cultural developments in China. The 1200 entries by more than 200 contributors are organized alphabetically and cover issues and subjects related to (among others) dance, music, medicine, literature, cinema, politics, architecture, media, fashion and sport. There is a useful "Classified entry list" at the front of the volume which divides and categorizes all the entries under 18 headings, from "Architecture and space" to "Women and gender", making it easy for the reader quickly to locate entries listed under more general interests and areas.

In the preface, Edward L. Davis reflects upon what could be meant by "contemporary Chinese culture", which he acknowledges to be a potentially awkward term. He defines the "contemporary" period as starting in 1979 and continuing to the present. Commendably, although editorial policy takes the period from 1979 to the present seriously, some entries in the encyclopedia do not fit tidily into the dates defined by Davis. Thus, one of the strengths of the encyclopedia is that it contains some entries on the ways in which "traditional" practices have been transformed and reinterpreted by contemporary sociopolitical forces and agents and so still need to be discussed as contemporary. There is, for example, an entry on "acupuncture and moxibustion" which discusses the influence that Chinese Communist Party policy and the growth of global biomedicine has had on the practice of traditional Chinese medicine.

Davis also acknowledges that the notion of "Chinese culture" is deeply problematic. As he says, "a single-volume encyclopedia cannot possibly do justice to the cultures of the transnational space designated by 'Cultural China'" (p. xvii). Therefore, those looking for similar detail on a broader "Cultural China" may be disappointed. Compiling an encyclopedia that covers the vast output of the mainland is already an extraordinarily difficult task. However, the encyclopedia contains expansive sections dedicated to discussions of elements of culture in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. …

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