Chinese Studies in North America - A Scholarly Review of...

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A Scholarly Review of Chinese Studies in North America Edited by Haihui Zhang Zhaohui Xue Shuyong Jiang Gary Lance Lugar A SIA P AST & P RESENT Published by the Association for Asian Studies, Inc. Asia Past & Present: New Research from AAS, Number 11 北美中国研究综述
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Literature: Early China Martin Kern Definition of the Field Since the 1970s, the study of early China has experienced impressive growth in North America, especially the United States but to a lesser extent also Canada. Thirty years ago few of the major institutions had specialists for early China, and those in the field were mostly focused on transmitted texts. By now the situation has completely changed. Scholars of early China occupy positions around the country, and few institutions have two or more such specialists on their faculty. Moreover, the field maintains its own journal, Early China , which was founded in 1975 as the annual publication of the Society for the Study of Early China. In addition, the Society publishes the Early China Special Monograph Series and maintains the highly informative Early China website. 1 In the development of the early China field, much of the attention has shifted to the study of bronze inscriptions and excavated manuscripts, and here especially to the study of early history, intellectual history, and religion. As is often the case for ancient civilizations, these fields are closely interrelated, and literature is closely connected to all of them; strictly speaking, there is no defined field of “early Chinese literature” that could be separated from the study of Chinese antiquity altogether. It lies in the nature of ancient societies that they require integrated, interdisciplinary research instead of isolated approaches guided by modern categories such as “history,” “religion,” or “literature.” However, in the present survey, I nevertheless attempt to isolate “literature” (in the more narrow sense) from the other subfields in the study of early China (history, philosophy, religion, etc.) that are dealt with in other parts of the present book. In doing so, I am not asking “What is literature?” but instead, “What do we recognize and study as literature?” Literature in its broadest sense includes all forms of texts. In a first attempt to narrow this definition, we normally focus on all forms of aesthetically shaped writings—what the Chinese tradition calls wen —that is, texts with significant features that cannot be reduced to the mere expression of information. In this view, a list of bureaucratic titles is not literature, but a Western Zhou bronze inscription, showing (however irregular) use of rhyme and tetrasyllabic meter, is a work of literature and even poetry. Eloquent historical and philosophical writing, for example, in the Shiji or Zhuangzi , qualifies as literature—and should be studied with close attention to literary form!—and so might a Western Han imperial edict or memorial. By contrast, the most narrow or pure sense of literature in
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  • Summer '15
  • Han Dynasty, Early China, Shijing, Early Chinese Literature

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