Wen xuan, or Selections of Refined Literature. Volume 3, Rhapsodies on Natural Phenomena, Birds and Animals, Aspirations and Feelings, Sorrowful Laments, Literature, Music, and Passions (review)
- China Review International
- University of Hawai'i Press
- Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 1998
- pp. 165-168
- Additional Information
Reviews 165© 1998 by University ofHawai'i Press David R. Knechtges, translator. Wen xuan, or Selections ofRefined Literature . Volume 3, Rhapsodies on Natural Phenomena, Birds and Animals, Aspirations and Feelings, Sorrowful Laments, Literature, Music, and Passions. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996. viii, 449 pp. Hardcover $75.00, ISBN 0-691-02126-0. Wen xuan, or Selections ofRefined Literature, is the most influential literary anthology from medieval China. Compiled under the direction ofXiao Tong (501531 ), Crown Prince in the Liang dynasty, the Wen xuan, containing a total of 761 pieces ofprose and verse by 130 writers from the period of the late Zhou (770-256 B.c.E.) through the Liang (502-557) dynasties, was the paramount collection for all educated Chinese from the Tang (619-907) to the Qing (1644-1911) and an important reference tool for diose who were eager to pass the civil service examinations . A common saying during the Song dynasty (960-1279) was, "When your Wen xuan falls to pieces, you are halfway to becoming a Xiucai" I&JiflSi ' ^r^T^r The study ofthe Wen xuan, therefore, was considered a field oflearning—"Wen xuan Studies"—by Chinese scholars. In the past few years, the study of the Wen xuan (or Wen xuan studies) has drawn the serious attention of sinologists. This remarkable development can be attributed to the great effort by Professor Knechtges in his ongoing complete English translation ofthe Wen xuan, in eight volumes. Published separately in 1982 and 1987, the first two volumes were well received. Their publication was regarded as "an event ofthe greatest importance for all scholars ofpremodern China."' Now it is a pleasure for all of us to see the new volume appear. This third volume contains thirty-one individual works by nineteen authors that make up chapters 13 through 19 (excluding the lyric poetry section in chapter 19) ofthe Wen xuan. It completes the translation ofthe rhapsodies (fu). Ofthese thirty-one pieces, eighteen have already appeared in English, including one piece translated by Knechtges himself. This leaves thirteen pieces that have never previously been rendered into English: Xie Zhuang's "Rhapsody on the Moon," Zhang Hua's "Rhapsody on the Wren," Yan Yanzhi's "Rhapsody on the Russet and White Horse," Bao Zhao's "Rhapsody on Dancing Cranes," Ban Gu's "Rhapsody on Communicating with the Hidden," Zhang Heng's "Rhapsody on Contemplating the Mystery," Wang Bao's "Rhapsody on Panpipes," Fu Yi's "Rhapsody on Dance," Ma Rong's "Rhapsody on the Long Flute," and Pan Yue's "Rhapsody on Living in Idleness," "Rhapsody on Recalling Old Friends and Kin," "Rhapsody on a Widow," and "Rhapsody on the Mouth Organ." Unlike the previous volumes, the rhapsodies in this volume are relatively short in length except for Zhang Heng's "Rhapsody on Contemplating the Mys- 166 China Review International: Vol. 5, No. ?, Spring 1998 tery," and most of the pieces are examples of the so-called short form ofrhapsody (xiaofu A^W,). Unfortunately, relative shortness does not make the translation easier. The tendency of medieval Chinese writers to display serial binômes is still present in the short form of rhapsody, which often makes translation a daunting task. The method that Knechtges has used in this and the previous volumes is to translate binômes into two alliterative—often synonymous—English words while preserving the linear structure of the original by using free-verse format. He tries to the greatest possible degree to be faithful to the original text. In fact, his translation is intimidatingly painstaking. Knechtges not only provides accurate, copious , and updated translations of these linguistically difficult materials—some are nearly impossible to render into English; he also brings us an abundance of extremely useful and unprecedentedly detailed annotations dealing with all aspects of traditional commentary, quotation, identification, and pronunciation. He forthrightly faces up to every uncertainty by providing various interpretations along with his own opinion. In general, his judgment is sound or is at least the closest possible answer to a problem. One good example: he has emended wang ?? ( i.e., King Xiang of Chu /?????? ) to yu (i.e., Song Yu ^3£) in "Rhapsody on the Goddess." By this reidentification, the person who met the beautiful goddess...