The Columbia History of Chinese Literature
Author: Victor H. Mair
Publisher: Columbia University Press
This ambitious history explores a wide range of Chinese literature, from the classics to humor to folk tales to oral traditions, and moves from ancient times to the end of the 20th century. The 54 chapters also include discussions of Chinese literature by women and minorities and assess its reception in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.
A lengthy chapter explains the language and script, emphasizing the diversity and the changes over time. All the discussions deal with the social, political, and philosophical backgrounds that either inhabit or inhibit the literature. Early texts, for example, are usually grounded in Confucian and Taoist thought, while more recent writings deal with, or at least suggest, political ideologies. This being a history and not an anthology, no literature is included, except for an occasional short quotation. And, of course, the many transliterated titles, authors’ names, and dates make for difficult reading, even though everything is translated and Chinese characters are omitted. Mair (Chinese language and literature, Univ. of Pennsylvania) has overseen a host of excellent scholars writing on a vast subject. Highly recommended.