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.
Moreover certain Republican period publications such as Shen Qiwu’s 1932 (The Late Ming xiaopin: twenty masters) exerted an influence on the modern Chinese essay, and these could at least have been mentioned.
The reader who wants to explore the Chinese essay in more detail would have benefited greatly from some guidance as to which anthologies are best, and which exerted the greatest influence.
Because of the infancy of the study of the Chinese essay in English, an anthology like this and its introduction are potentially seminal statements, situating this genre in the field of Chinese cultural studies in general, justifying our interest in it, and pointing the way to avenues of further inquiry.
But if answers the question, Why publish or read such an anthology? Pollard observes that there has not been a general anthology of Chinese essays published since Herbert Giles’ 1884 , so his argument begins from a gap or lack in the representation of a genre.
After detailing in the Preface negative aspects of traditional Chinese culture and literary conventions that explain why premodern Chinese essays do not resemble those of Montaigne and Bacon, Pollard does go on to list what he feels are some of the positive aspects of the Chinese essay in general: “The qualities are on the one hand common to mankind, on the other particular to Chinese literary arts.
The first kind includes the expression of character in the writer, either impressively strong or appealingly weak; the expression of sentiment, usually to commemorate friends and relatives; nostalgia for past times; appeals for justice and compassion; pleasure in diversions.
Yet this general-audience orientation is belied by the inclusion of Chinese characters for authors’ names and titles to works.
Indeed those who would benefit from the Chinese characters (most of the likely audience of this collection) will generally want more bibliographical information, as well as some engagement with scholarship in the field such as Yu-shih Chen’s .
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.