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For example, premodern anthologies such as the seventeenth-century generally favor formal essays of serious import that cleave to Confucian values, while more modern collections increasingly favor heterodox views, and include more “individualistic” essays on small, private matters.This is in part due to the gradual acceptance in the late imperial period that informal or casual writing possesses its own aesthetic value that can be appreciated by posterity.
In addition to a more in-depth and informative introduction, I think the book as a whole could have included more scholarly apparatus, including a less sketchy, multi-lingual bibliography, without harming its appeal to a general audience.
If Pollard assumes anything about his audience, it is that they are familiar with the European prose essay, which I think leaves some room for doubt especially with respect to the younger generations.
I applaud his insistence that personal taste—an important theme in ancient and modern essays—was his principal guide.
This accounts for his enthusiastic inclusion of essays by Gui Youguang (1506-1571) despite their criticism by the modern essayist Lin Yutang, his exclusion of Lin Yutang’s own essays, and no doubt as well the inclusion of contemporary writer Yu Qiuyu, well-known for his popular, fictionalized imaginings of significant historical moments, over those with strong links to the Republican period essay tradition like Wang Zengqi, Zhang Zhongxing and Ji Xianlin.
Pollard’s effort is commendable, and should be interesting not only to the general reader but a great boon as well to instructors of courses devoted to Chinese literature or to the essay across cultures. As a much-published translator, and author of (Zhou Zuoren, the pioneer of the modern Chinese literary essay), there could hardly be a better choice for this task.
Not only are the translations faithful to the semantic meaning of the original texts (as far as I can tell), but Pollard’s clipped, dry, and often humorous style is also often perfectly suited to the spirit of the essays presented here.
On the other hand, in his note on sources Pollard states that “the classical prose section consists almost entirely of anthology pieces; they had to be so in order to represent the classical heritage” (369).
He also states that he felt he had to include certain perennial classics (both traditional and modern) that may not have been among his favorites, even when they were available in other collections.
I am not certain, but a general English readership (which has already proven itself lukewarm to Chinese fiction and poetry in translation) may not be inclined to delve into this anthology thus described.
Why not say more about the extraordinary personalities and intellectual genius evinced in included works by Tao Qian, Han Yu and Su Shi, Lu Xun, Zhou Zuoren, Feng Zikai and Zhang Ailing?